The Curriculum Vitae of Aurora Ortiz, by Almudena Solana, trans David Frye

The humanity that eludes human resources
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

At every turn, they block the passageways that lead from one state to another. We need to play their games in order to find a school, to enter university, to stand a chance of getting any job; to secure the cash and credit that buy food, travel and shelter; and to plead for the tokens of identity that now govern our entitlement to exist.

At every turn, they block the passageways that lead from one state to another. We need to play their games in order to find a school, to enter university, to stand a chance of getting any job; to secure the cash and credit that buy food, travel and shelter; and to plead for the tokens of identity that now govern our entitlement to exist.

Given the modern ubiquity of form-filling, an activity that everybody hates but everybody does, writers should have grabbed at the chance to explore the chasm between the living, breathing human and the bloodless cipher on the CV. Very few have; although many might claim that Franz Kafka had the first, and last, word on the subject.

This debut novel by a Spanish journalist is direct, charming, moving - and quietly profound. Its 30-year-old heroine is a country girl from Galicia who moved to Madrid with her beloved husband: a railway worker who one day drops dead leaving her, with a meagre widow's pension, alone in the big city. Aurora Ortiz never had the option of studying beyond the basic school-leaving age, but she loves reading. Fragments from her wide but wayward knowledge plausibly fill the novel: "Whenever an opportunity arises, I scatter the ideas I learn."

Aurora understands computers, but has never worked except as a shelf-stacker and hairdresser's assistant. Now, after three years of isolated grief, she wants to re-enter the job market; or rather, being Aurora, to find a post as a caretaker that gives her plenty of empty hours for voracious reading. To do that, she has to go along to the Talent employment agency ... and fill in a CV.

Faced with the chilly inhumanity of the "human resources" business, Aurora rebels. Instead of delivering the form, she writes long, eloquent letters to Guillermo, the frustrated psychologist who works as "hiring specialist". Interspersed with Aurora's healing trip back to Galicia, the letters tell him, and us, about her life, her dreams, her bereavement. Without a trace of sentimentality, Almudena Solana transmits the insight, curiosity and resilience of a "nobody" without status or certificates. She celebrates an Everywoman whose wisdom, forged in "the deepest sorrow", makes a mockery of the bureaucratic paper-chase and its demand for robotic clones to mind the machinery of profit.

This is a novel for anyone who has ever struggled to complete a bullying, intrusive form and then decided that the being in the boxes has nothing to do with you. David Frye's translation balances its warmth and intimacy with a certain gravity, which suits Aurora well. Harvill's blurb relates the heroine to Amélie and Almodóvar, but neither comparison sounds right. Aurora reminded me much more of a Madrileña cousin of the plucky, quirky survivors given voice by Mike Leigh or Alan Bennett. That should count as high praise indeed.

Buy any book reviewed on this site at www.independentbooksdirect.co.uk
- postage and packing are free in the UK

Comments