A review of

Marks of Identity

by Juan Goytisolo

Central question: When your country changes into something you abhor, what to do with your life?
Format: 352 pp., cloth; Size: 5" x 8"; Price: $13.95; Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press; Translated by: Gregory Rabassa; Language novel was first written and prohibited in: Spanish (banned in 1966 by the Franco regime); Representative sentence: “Little by little, the town grew smaller, huddling below the bulk of the castle, and a stranger looks with astonishment at the dark curtains of its walls, with the towers, machicolations, loopholes—all in the form of the inexorable geometry that the past had conceived, like a splendorous challenge, now just a slab of stone, enduring and inert, covering over the fate of its resigned inhabitants.”

For close to fifty years, Juan Goytisolo has been one of Spain’s most celebrated writers, although Goytisolo doesn’t see much to celebrate about Spain. In fact, most of his work revolves around his passionate rejection of traditional Spanish culture. Yet the Spanish can’t get enough of his incisive critiques of sexual conventions or of Spain’s disconnect with the Arab world across the Atlantic in Morocco, where Goytisolo prefers to live.

In one of his strongest novels, Marks of Identity, deftly translated by Gregory Rabassa and recently reissued by Dalkey Archive Press, Goytisolo follows the wanderings of several characters whose lives are irrevocably altered by the Franco regime. His iconoclastic impulse shapes the novel at every level. Even the structure of the writing is a protest against what he once called the “tyrannical conception of genre” in a 1984 interview published in the Review of Contemporary Fiction. Goytisolo wrote Marks of Identity nearly two decades before the interview, and the intervening years led to books increasingly varied in format, though not all as successful as this one.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Idra Novey

Idra Novey’s recent poems appear in the Paris Review, Ploughshares, and Barrow Street. Her chapbook of poems The Next Country won the 2005 Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship and her translations of Brazilian poet Paulo Henriques Britto received a PEN Translation Fund grant; the book is forthcoming from BOA Editions in fall 2007.

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