Bernardo Atxaga - The Accordionist's Son

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The Accordionist's Son by Bernardo Axtaga: Basque History Fictionalized

May 25, 2010
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:relatable voice, riveting story

Cons:dense, and can be confusing without clear explanation of who is on what side.

The Bottom Line: The Bottom Line has a hold list as long as your arm these days.


The death of my computer leaves me with a lot of reading time lately, and a recent library find was The Accordionist's Son by Bernardo Axtaga, a novel translated twice, first from Basque to Spanish, then from Spanish to English.

::: Plot :::

The Accordionist's Son is a novel-within-a-novel. When the book opens, Joseba, a writer, is about to leave California to return to his home in Basque Country after his childhood frien David has died. David's widow gives Joseba a copy of David's memoirs; written in Basque, a language only Joseba would be able to read, the book is destined for the library in the men's hometown library, in the fictional town of Obaba.

Joseba reads the memoirs upon his return home, and lets his friend's wife know that not only has he left the book with the library, but he's also made a copy for himself. He plans to use his friend's version of events to write a book of his own about their experiences as well as their history as part of the Basque movement in Spain.

The book skips around time-wise, from David's notes to his wife and daughter to his experiences growing up with a father he thinks may have murdered men during the Spanish Civil War, then back and forth between his years as a teen and as a young man caught up in a political movement he wasn't sure he believed in.

::: Reading :::

For a book that's been translated twice, The Accordionist's Son does a great job conveying the voice of the characters. The majority of the book is told through David's point of view, even if Joseba makes several appearances, and the reader can sense David's reluctance to choose a side in the rapidly escalating tension in the Basque region, as well as his teenage hormonal interludes that distract him from both his studies and politics.

For those unfamiliar with the history of the Basque people, however, the novel can be confusing. It's dense, and assumes that the reader is well-used to the conflicts between the Basque people and the changing Spanish government. Even with a basic knowledge, online reviews show how easily readers can be confused; some aren't sure whether the townspeople David thinks his father may have murdered were supporters of the dictatorship or the nationalist movement.

The Accordionist's Son, however, is a rich story that convey the political strife of a region not many outside of Europe are familiar with a very personal and relatable voice.


Recommend this product? Yes


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