Books: Roads to freedom
Ex-terrorists may give up the gun, but the cause won't let them go. Julian May takes a bus with the Basques; The Lone Woman by Bernardo Atxaga, tr. Margaret Jull Costa Harvill, pounds 9.99, 120pp
Saturday 24 April 1999
The title of this new book from Atxaga, the first writer in Basque to be published in English translation, suggests a similar preoccupation. Sure enough, Irene is a compromised ex-terrrorist. She has cut a deal with the state and been released after four years in a Barcelona prison. Atxaga deftly delineates the bleakness of her freedom: her family has rejected her; her lover, an activist with a different organisation, has been murdered, probably with the collusion of her own group, which is now suspicious of her. Before, she was a nurse; now she has no job. But she returns to the Basque country, and The Lone Woman recounts her journey to Bilbao by coach.
This proves to be a remarkably effective device. As the bus speeds through an unreachable landscape, there is no escape from other passengers: a large lady in the next seat who discusses her ailments, a hostess who refuses to switch off the soft-porn video that offends two nuns and, it becomes clear, a pair of special-branch men.
There is no escape either from the seediness of the journey save in reading and sleep. Three times Irene drifts off and dreams; of her lover doomed by the internecine complexity of the struggle for independence; of Margarita, a cell-mate, who counsels her to move away; of the nuns' hospice where she might find fulfilment as a nurse.
Irene rebuffs the handsome policeman's softly-softly attempts to recruit her as an informer, and suffers threats from his heavy sidekick. But with surprising courage and humanity, the large lady offers solace and the nuns protect her.
Irene's journey is from prison to freedom, from exile to home. To begin with she has no options, but by the time she gets off the bus in Bilbao, dodges the cops, her life is filled again with possibility. The fictional journey is almost always mythic, but in Atxaga's hands this ride becomes a psychological thriller reminiscent of Greene.
Atxaga's work is not restricted by the Basque experience. We never learn what Irene did;, ETA is not mentioned. This may be expedient, but it enables him to focus on the state of mind of the terrorist who wants to stop. Atxaga's story could be told in Ireland, Corsica or Kosovo. One only hopes that he will be read in such places.
A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend
A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Michael Brown shooting: Amnesty International sends team within US for first time as National Guard deployed
- 2 James Foley 'beheaded': Isis video shows militant with British accent 'execute US journalist' – and warns Obama of more to come
- 3 Reading Festival 2014: Tesco branch replaces salad and potatoes for Jagermesiter and vodka
- 4 Here’s the damning letter Robin Williams wrote to his Mrs Doubtfire co-star's principal after they expelled her
- 5 Ferguson protests: 90-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein ‘arrested’ by police during St Louis demonstrations
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness
JK Rowling releases new Harry Potter story on Pottermore: Introducing Celestina Warbuck, the 'Singing Sorceress'
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Reading Festival 2014: Tesco branch replaces salad and potatoes for Jagermesiter and vodka
Kate Bush: Previously unseen photographs reveal new side to comeback star
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Russell Brand calls for Israel boycott: Comedian urges big businesses that 'facilitate the oppression of people in Gaza' to pull funding
Ukip MEP calls for reintroduction of death penalty on fiftieth anniversary of last deaths
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head