And Yet They Exist
Original title: Et pourtant ils existent
First there comes the night, the moon and the sea, and a secret execution on the beach. A man falls onto the sand, whereupon the novel commences. A little girl is woken one morning by her mother with the news that her heroic great-grandfather has died. At the Café du Croissant in Paris, Jean Jaurès has no time to finish his strawberry tart before he is shot in the head at point-blank range. War is on the way. A century collapses in slow motion before our eyes and the novel traces the interwoven strands of a common history that flickers and hobbles and hiccups its way forward, with legends being created in the process.
A succession of voices take it in turns to recount the story, casting both shadow and light on events and alternating between different decades of ad hoc idealism that is constantly assailed by contact with the real world.
In Ibiza, Jaurès’ assassin begins to build a senseless house that is never finished, writes poems in a Spanish that he appears to have invented himself, proclaims his love for Joan of Arc to anyone who will listen, and asks for somebody’s hand in marriage seemingly at random. The locals refer to him as the Madman, or the Frenchman. Meanwhile in Madrid, the heroes of the Spanish Civil War have held on to the city’s strategic defense points as long as they could. Some lose their lives in circumstances that will remain obscure, others lose their limbs, and virtually all of them lose their illusions. As for the anarchist Florentin Bordes, grandfather of Ariane and great-grandfather of Rose, it seems that he may never rediscover the appetite for the struggle. Is this really the final straw?
All these characters are drawn together by quirks of fate and coincidence, the electric tension of historical tipping points, reverberating wounds of pride, love and war, and the persistent echo of the dreams of child and political engagement, which are ultimately always a matter of faith.
Part merry-go-round and part magic lamp, Et pourtant ils existent guides us with understated virtuosity through these moving and uncertain sands of utopian dreams where truth, history and literature intersect.