Trans. Margaret Jull Costa
Graywolf Press, available now
Review by Thea Brown
Bernardo Atxaga’s The Accordionist’s Son follows, primarily, the childhood story of David, a boy growing up in Spanish portion of Basque Country shortly after the Spanish Civil War. While the small events of adolescence — friendship, love, school — loom large for David as they do for anyone his age, he’s also confronted with the residual impact of the war. Specifically, David must come to terms with the Basque separatist movement that infiltrates even his sleepy rural hideaway, and the murky degree of his father’s involvement in wartime executions.
The introductory section of The Accordionist’s Son spells out the central trope of the novel. Joseba, a childhood friend of David’s, narrates this section from the few days in 1999 following David’s death in Three Rivers, California. He explains that before he died, David wrote a memoir in the Basque language and that he, Joseba, will be using David’s story as the skeleton for his own retelling of the events of their growing up. That said, Joseba promises to be faithful to the spirit of David’s tale but suggests that he will take creative liberties if he deems them appropriate: “I wanted to write a book based on what David had written… in the spirit of someone finding a tree, on which some long vanished shepherd had left a carving, and deciding to redraw the lines so as to bring out and enhance the drawing and the figures.”