Summary (from Goodreads):
Eighteen-year-old Andrea moves to Barcelona to stay with relatives she has not seen in years while she pursues her dream of studying at university. Arriving in the dead of night she discovers not the independence she craves, but a crumbling apartment and an eccentric collection of misfits whose psychological ruin and violent behaviour echoes that of the recent civil war.
As the tension between the family members grows in claustrophobic intensity, Andrea finds comfort in a friendship with Ena, a girl from university whose gilded life only serves to highlight the squalor of Andrea's own experiences. But what is the secret of the relationship between Ena and Andrea's predatory uncle, Roman, and what future can lie ahead for Andrea in such a bizarre and disturbing world?
Nada is hard to review, especially given how slim it is.
I have wanted to read this novel for quite some time - it is a Spanish classic written and set in the aftermath of Civil War, a period of history I don't know much about, too recent to be objectively taught at Spanish schools. After all, people from the previous generation lived a good chunk of their lives under a dictatorship, and the country still bears some wounds from the War.
Nada is a good window to the past. While Civil War is not at the focus of this story, it looms over the characters like a storm. Andrea, newly arrived in Barcelona from the country, is a war orphan. Her relatives are all marked by the war, one way or the other. Her stay at the family apartment on Aribau is marked by all kind of shortages, contributing to the dense and asphixiating atmosphere that permeates the novel. Hunger takes on a predominantly role in Andrea's life, informing her life choices and sparking the conflicts with her family. Andrea debilitates day after day of that first year in Barcelona. She doesn't exactly mature, but wilts in that claustrophobic ambiance. She feels it is impossible to extricate herself from that thick tangle of miseries, and so the wide-eyed innocent girl thirsty for knowledge and life experiences gives way to a wiry young woman who ruminates over every thought and every feeling. The novel goes inward, instead of forward, yet it never fails being intriguing.
Family secrets are as abundant as food is lacking. Andrea is determined to avoid them at all costs, until her friend Ena casually meets Andrea's uncle, Roman, a former violinist prodigy with a history of violence. Ena comes from a different social class - she is wealthy and bright. She is the only ray of light in Andrea's life. Understandably, Andrea wants to save Ena from the curse that is her family. She is desperate to keep Ena unsullied, yet Ena can't help to feel fascinated by Roman. The tension between the three was electric, and it kept me glued to the pages. The rest of the characters are powerful expressions of the different forms of desolation and shame that were ever present in Spanish postwar landscape - her self-righteous aunt Angustias, her suffering grandmother, the crumbling marriage of Juan and Gloria, the petty maid Antonia, and Andrea's circle of friends composed of rich boho artists wannabes who hypocritically laud poverty. All of them unforgettable, all of them sad.
Laforet dissected every aspect of this alienated family, writing one of the best existentialist novels I've ever read. She is able to fully immerse in the story and carry the reader with her. I really felt oppressed while reading Nada. When I finished the book, it was like gulping for fresh air after being underwater for too long. And that is what I liked best about it.
Have you read this book? Please, leave a link to your review in the comments and I will link you here!