Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Social Determinism: All That Followed a novel by Gabriel Urza

All That Followed by Gabriel Urza is a historical novel about Basque residents of the small town of Muriga. Like small towns around the world, citizens of the town in Northern Spain know each others' business and foibles even if they do not have close social relationships. Even in the small town, the politics of Spain in the post Franco era determine in a predictable and irreversible way the thoughts and behaviors of individuals in Muriga.

It is interesting that people cannot abide the peaceful life in a quiet town and will seek a way out via behaviors that may disturb the peace and cannot be dealt with locally. The novel focuses on the remnants of Basque traditions and language affecting generations of residents and a few ex-patriots passing time with limited ambitions.

The early short chapters describe life in Muriga, past and present, like a rowboat on a lake with storm clouds on the horizon. Narrators shift from Joni, a 50 year resident ex-pat American teacher, to Mariana, wife of a pro-government Basque Councilman, to Iker a teenager with minor rebellious political attitudes and vague academic ambitions. The metaphor of a rowboat carrying them on a placid lake plays out with the storm steadily approaching. There is some effort of the three to row to shore, but the storm of fate gains and overwhelms them. Joni’s sensitive and mentally disturbed partner, Amaia, states with an inappropriate smile that there is no use rowing when the storm is already here.

Amaia’s severe depression, Iker’s increasing revolutionary actions, Mariana’s emotional disengagement from her socialist Councilman husband, and Joni’s ineffectual intervention with these people, allow the storm of events to overwhelm their peace in Muriga. The personal stories of the individual characters recapitulate the separatist history of the Basque region.

But, the storm will devastate then pass and the Basque culture will endure, significantly more detached from tradition and language with each successive generation.

I enjoyed the history, character development, narration, depiction of the passage of time, and low-key resilience of the players. All That Follows is a very good first novel by Gabriel Urza, a graduate with an MFA from Ohio State University and a Notre Dame trained lawyer.