Review: Munoz Molina's "A Manuscript of Ashes"

In 2003, the acclaimed Spanish writer and journalist Antonio Muñoz Molina took the English-speaking world by storm with the translation of his work "Sepharad." Now Anglophone readers will get to revel anew in Muñoz Molina's sensual prose and fluid plotlines with the translation of his first novel, "A Manuscript of Ashes" (published in Spain as "Beatus Ille" in 1986). The story revolves around the student Minaya, who—on the run from Fascists—arrives at his uncle's Andalusian mansion under the pretense of writing a thesis on a deceased family friend, the obscure revolutionary poet Jacinto Solana. As Minaya follows the worn threads of Solana's writings and others' recollections of the proud and iconoclastic man, he encounters the increasingly sinister mystery of a dead bride—loved by both Solana and his uncle—whose disappearance has arrested the house's inhabitants in a forgotten time and made them into living statues. As in his later tales, Muñoz Molina sets his characters against the backdrop of 20th-century Europe's horrors (in this case, the Franco regime), which provides a grim stage on which to explore how memory inexorably infects the present, and how one can ever discover only half-truths about the past.

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