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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Nevada Days

Bernardo Atxaga

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To purchase Nevada Days

Title: Nevada Days
Author: Bernardo Atxaga
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 338 pages
Original in: Basque
Availability: Nevada Days - US
Nevada Days - UK
Nevada Days - Canada
Nevada Days - India
Séjour au Nevada - France
Nevadako egunak - España (Euskera)
Días de Nevada - España (Español)
  • Basque title: Nevadako egunak
  • Translated (from Asun Garikao and Bernardo Atxaga's Spanish translation, Días de Nevada, not the Basque original ...) by Margaret Jull Costa

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Our Assessment:

B : fine, rich personal chronicle

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 10/8/2017 .
Le Monde . 2/6/2016 Ariane Singer
TLS . 16/1/2018 Amaia Gabantxo

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) subtle and touching book, offered as fiction but rich in topical allusions. It stands a canyon’s- length away from the stereotypical travelogue of the snobby European scoffing at transatlantic vulgarity and ignorance. (...) Closely observed, never patronised, Nevada becomes the "dream place" that helps the author settle with his past before a "return to our everyday life"." - The Economist

  • "Dire au revoir à son passé, sans s’en détourner toutefois : voilà ce que réussit ce beau livre d’exploration des grands espaces autant que des recoins de l’âme." - Ariane Singer, Le Monde

  • "It is a hybrid endeavour, bringing together journalistic excerpts, letters, diary entries, telephone conversations, memories, surreal night-time ponderings and dreams. In a sense it is nothing more complicated than a record of a time in this writer’s life (.....) There is no idealization here, no romanticism; just the closing of a chapter, a sense of the author’s need to recalibrate his positioning in the world." - Amaia Gabantxo, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       In 2007-8 Bernardo Atxaga and his wife were visiting scholars at the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, and though Nevada Days is ostensibly a work of fiction -- a novel --, it has a very documentary feel. In short chapters Atxaga chronicles many of the family's experiences while in Nevada, with real-life events -- from the American presidential primaries (Barack Obama comes to town on the campaign trail several times, and they also see Hillary Clinton up close) to the (literally) too close to home rape and murder of a young woman that is headline news for much of their stay, and the disappearance of adventurer Steve Fossett. Nevada Days isn't quite presented as a diary/travelogue -- but much of it is almost exactly that. But beyond that, Atxaga also includes longer stories and historical and biographical reminiscences of family and home, as well as the occasional 'Message to L.', a friend of his, and and even some newspaper clippings.
       Among much else, Nevada Days is about absence, distance, and loss. Atxaga presents some of his telephone conversations with his mother, back home in Spain, and invariably she has some difficulty understanding the time-difference -- an effective repeated reminder that Atxaga is not just physically far away, but also at another sort of remove --, and both her and long-ailing L.'s death are significant markers in the novel. Meanwhile, in Nevada, Atxaga's two young daughters and their activities are a constant reminder (and concern) about the next generation.
       There is a pervasive sense of proximity to menace, from natural threats, such as a raccoon that is often near the house, spiders, and snakes to the human element, from a drug bust the family finds themselves more or less in the middle of at a local fast food joint to a group of prisoners on work detail in the middle of nowhere. The harsh landscape and environment of Nevada beyond the city is also something Atxaga repeatedly encounters, with some situations that are outright dangerous. And then there's the criminal on the loose, beginning with nearby attempted rapes, escalating to kidnapping -- a girl disappears -- and then murder -- her body is found.
       Atxaga is aware of being in a very different place, but he is not very judgmental and the present-day-America sections of Nevada Days avoid much of the usual stranger-abroad approach. Atxaga and his family take it in -- sometimes very much as foreigners; occasionally, especially when straying beyond Reno, very touristy -- and obviously find much that is odd and strange, but for the most part simply go along with things. (Atxaga does have trouble sleeping -- but then there's a lot on his mind, locally and thinking of back home.)
       The surprisingly large Basque footprint left in the vicinity -- lots of shepherds, back in the day, among other things -- also make for an amusing connection to their roots, beyond the (barely mentioned) Center for Basque Studies. Among Atxaga's longer story-asides is quite a bit about legendary boxer Paulino Uzcudun -- feeling like a bit of a digression, like much of the material, but certainly also interesting.
       There's closure at the end of the novel, but not really in the form of a focus on the end of the trip/stay; instead, it's on Atxaga's mother being laid to rest -- though Atxaga also then offers several newspaper clippings to tie up some of the loose ends of their stay: the arrest and then sentencing of the murderer-rapist, the discovery of the remains of Steve Fossett -- and another story of how menace still lurks in Reno.
       Nevada Days is a fine work of a family spending nearly a year abroad -- and of personal transitions, more generally --, with Atxaga not trying too hard to make what they experience seem all too extraordinary; the tone is surprisingly restrained and level-headed, even when they can't quite maintain their calm, given some of the situations. But it's an odd kind of not-quite-novel, very obviously a based-on-life first-person account, embellished with some stories but by and large a chronological account of (much of) what they experienced. It feels only barely, ever so lightly fictionalized -- but the insistence that it is a novel is a constant reminder that it is not meant to be taken as straight fact. A more decisive turn, one way or another -- to 'real' fiction, with a more creative appropriation of experience, or to a full embrace of the documentary approach -- might have been more satisfying.
       Still, Nevada Days is certainly an always enjoyable and interesting read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 May 2018

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Nevada Days: Reviews: Bernardo Atxaga: Other books by Bernardo Atxaga under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from Spain
  • See Index of Travel-related books

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About the Author:

       Basque author Bernardo Atxaga (actually: Joseba Irazu Garmendia) was born in 1951.

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© 2018 the complete review

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