Basque Country by Way of the Upper Midwest: Mornings with Atxaga's Obaba

I discovered today that there's a possibility of a move in my near future, and also a possibility of a lack of employment without an urgent lack of security.  I'm talking a move that I wouldn't be particularly keen on making in and of itself.  I'm talking a move that I would primarily be making for someone else but that could end up benefiting me in the long run.  I'm talking a move that would take me out of the secure little hippie liberal university bubble that is Madison, Wisconsin, and into a suburb of the other notable city around these parts.  I'm talking far enough to be inconvenient and require a period of stressful adjustment, but close enough to evoke no real excitement.  Close enough, and also bland and familiar enough.  It might not happen, but it has me thinking.

I'm currently reading Obabakoak: Stories from a Village (Graywolf Press) by Bernardo Atxaga (translated by Margaret Jull Costa).  The book, which seems to be a loosely linked collection of short stories, takes place in Obaba, a fictional remote village in the Basque Country.  Rather than just being about a place, the book seems to play with the idea of place.  I'm only about a third of the way through, but so far several of the stories seem to be about inhabitants of the village who are not entirely steeped in its traditions, whether because of not being natives, having questionable parentage, or being outsiders in other ways that are beyond their control.  Two are about women who move to the town with the intention of being schoolteachers and go slightly mad from the isolation and their desire for (specific) men (who live elsewhere).

(Side note:  I didn't feel that either of these scenarios was conveyed in a sexist or patronizing way, as in what is a woman without a man, etc.  There have also been a few instances so far of guys going crazy and it not being directly linked to a woman, this being the opposite of what you usually see in mainstream TV, movies, etc.)

Isolation, belonging, and just plain longing are all shaping up to be central themes.  As I contemplate my own general lack of belonging coupled with the idea of moving someplace that will physically take me further away from the paltry connections I've built up over the past decade in a place I have never found to be entirely welcoming or stimulating, I find these stories to be both.

Paperback at Graywolf Press 


Paperback on Amazon


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