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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Wars of our Ancestors

Miguel Delibes

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To purchase The Wars of our Ancestors

Title: The Wars of our Ancestors
Author: Miguel Delibes
Genre: Novel
Written: 1974 (Eng. 1992)
Length: 237 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Wars of our Ancestors - US
The Wars of our Ancestors - UK
The Wars of our Ancestors - Canada
  • Spanish title: Las guerras de nuestros antepasados
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Agnes Moncy

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Our Assessment:

B+ : slow start and stilted language, but becomes quite gripping

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Hispanic Review . Fall/1994 Roberta Johnson

  From the Reviews:
  • "Moncy's rendition is smooth and nearly seamless, no small feat for a narrative criss-crossed with numerous voices and registers. (...) One hopes that this exemplary translation of a novel that reflects so well the late sixties and early seventies in Spain (the last years of the Franco regime that witnessed the sexual revolution, the breakdown of traditional rural society, growing materialism and the influence of Latin American magic realism in fiction) will find its way into comparative literature courses and courses on Hispanic literature in English translation. Delibes' ability to tell a captivating and durable story in an innovative way is worthy of comparison to the best efforts of Faulkner and Garcia Marquez." - Roberta Johnson, Hispanic Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Wars of our Ancestors is a novel presented almost entirely in dialogue. One of the participants, Dr.Bugueño López, sets the scene and then closes the curtain in a brief introduction and epilogue, but the bulk of the novel is made up a lightly edited transcript of "seven consecutive nights of dialogue".
       López is a doctor at Navafría Sanatorium, to which Pacífico Pérez was admitted in the spring of 1961 with "bilateral fibrosis with unhealed tubercular lesions". The doctor takes a particular interest in this patient, and gains his confidence. Eventually, Pérez agrees to allow some of their sessions -- chats over a glass of anisette at the end of the day -- to be recorded, and it is these that are presented here.
       Pérez is ill, but that's not his biggest problem at this time. His situation is, in fact, considerably worse than it first appears, but that is not immediately revealed to the reader.
       López prods Pérez to recount his life-story, beginning with early childhood, and the first few conversations revolve around Pérez's family and village life. Pérez doesn't come from any rural idyll. His native town is Humán. It's actually part of a twin-city, Humán del Otero, but the two sides -- each with a population of only a few dozen -- can't stand each other and so the locals are divided even on this level.
       The men in Pérez's family are soldiers: going to war and killing is an integral part of their being. Each has their own war they participated in, and it's that that defines them, even long after the fighting is done -- and it's also carried over into day-to-day life even far from the battlefields. As the doctor says:

One thing is plain: your great-grandfather and your grandfather were born soldiers. (...) Both of them and, from what you say, Uncle Teodoro, were all born to fight. Their aggressiveness exhibits some manifestations that are basic, yet also conclusive.
       Pérez doesn't fit into this family at all: sickly, shy, needing glasses, he eventually turns out to be so unfit for military service that there are three reasons to reject him. But even before that he has a hard time in this combative, aggressive family atmosphere. Nevertheless, he makes do, and eventually finds small success with some of his talents -- handling bees, raising chickens.
       Things change radically when a local girl, Candi, takes a fancy to Pérez. Delibes isn't very subtle in naming his character: just as Pacífico is as pacific as it gets, so also Candi -- short for Cándida -- is as no-nonsense as it gets. A smart, wild girl, far too big for this small town, she nevertheless finds something that appeals to her in Pérez. She toys with him, but also truly seems to love him. (Among the most impressive scenes in the book are the descriptions of their adventures in a near-by deserted town which they make their own.) The problem with this relationship is: she has a brother, Teotisto, and if Teotisto ever finds out .....
       Naturally, Teotisto finds out, and it's here that we find out what has actually happened to Pérez: he killed Teotisto, and was sent to jail. (The act of violence actually generally pleases his family members, who didn't think he had it in him, but in this way has proven himself to be a man after all.) López has some doubts about what actually happened -- the confrontation and act seem so unlike Pérez -- but Pérez sticks to his story.
       The rest of the book focusses on Pérez's time in jail, where he actually feels quite comfortable. But unfortunately he also got himself into a spot of trouble there too: his cellmates planned a jailbreak, and even though he had no desire to flee he was forced to join in, with disastrous results.
       Pérez is a naive man, and a straight arrow, unwilling to think bad of almost anyone, even those who obviously betrayed him. The conversations with the doctor are conducted before his trial for the events surrounding the attempted jail-break, but he's unwilling to even take the doctor's advice about how he can present himself in the best light: all that's important to him is living life the way he feels is right, which includes trusting those he believes in. It hasn't worked particularly well for him so far (and doesn't afterwards, either), but he's one who never learns much from experience.

       The Wars of our Ancestors is an odd book, describing Spanish rural life and values, and the damage they can cause, generation after generation. Delibes does some things very well: the characters, especially, are a rich and fascinating lot, from all of Pérez 's family to Candi and then the other prisoners. The small stories -- from the suicide of a boar to prison life -- are often gripping, too. The novel begins a bit slowly -- Pérez's family is interesting, but it's unclear where the story is headed when the focus is on it -- but picks up once Candi enters the scene, and, surprisingly, the prison-years are the most fascinating.
       One big issue with the novel is the translation. Delibes has the doctor apologise for Pérez's "stammering and awkward phrases", but leaves that in the transcript "not only for textual fidelity but also as exponents of a life-style, a manifestation of the rural lexicon of Castille". Unfortunately, it's an incredible challenge to translate that, and Agnes Moncy is only half-successful. The language sounds more stilted than it should -- though at least one gets the feel of Pérez's awkwardness every time he opens his mouth.
       A dark work that doesn't fully succeed as social commentary, The Wars of our Ancestors (still being fought today) proves to be a colourful, compelling tale of one good man and his fate in a world he's not entirely fit for.

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The Wars of our Ancestors: Miguel Delibes: Other books by Miguel Delibes under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Miguel Delibes was born in 1920 and died in 2010.

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© 2004-2010 the complete review

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