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the Complete Review
the complete review - memoir

Forbidden Territory

Juan Goytisolo

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To purchase Forbidden Territory

Title: Forbidden Territory
Author: Juan Goytisolo
Genre: Memoir
Written: 1985 (Eng. 1989)
Length: 235 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: in Forbidden Territory and Realms of Strife - US
Coto vedado - US
in Forbidden Territory and Realms of Strife - UK
in Forbidden Territory and Realms of Strife - Canada
Forbidden Territory and Realms of Strife - India
Chasse gardée - France
Coto vedado - España
  • The Memoirs of Juan Goytisolo 1931-1956
  • Spanish title: Coto vedado
  • Translated by Peter Bush
  • See also our review of Realms of Strife (Memoirs 1957-1982)

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Our Assessment:

A- : well-written memoir of Goytisolo's early life

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The New Criterion . 12/1988 Lauren Weiner
The NY Times Book Rev. A 12/2/1989 Wendy Gimbel
TLS A 7/11/2003 Ryan Prout
Virginia Q. Rev. . Summer/1990 David T. Gies

  From the Reviews:
  • "Forbidden Territory dramatizes a child's attempt to construct his small world while the larger one comes tumbling down about him. It is against wanton destruction that Mr. Goytisolo writes; at least that is the most powerful effect of his memoir. And beneath his anger at the dreadful ruin, there lies a belief in human survival that is immensely reassuring." - Wendy Gimbel, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Juan Goytisolo's autobiographical writing ranges in style from the pithy and proverbial (...) to the virtuoso, and Bush conveys both ends of this range. His translation reads well without sacrificing the idiosyncrasies of Goytisolo's voice." - Ryan Prout, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Goytisolo is cynical, ironic, and humorous in turns as he details his awakening to Marxist doctrine and his attraction to the clandestine and illegal Communist Party in the 1950's. He weaves the details of his life together with those of his early novels, underscoring the genesis of certain works or highlighting emotions which he later transformed into fiction." - David T. Gies, Virginia Quarterly 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 remarkable Spanish novelist Juan Goytisolo's memoirs (see also our review of Realms of Strife (Memoirs 1957-1982)) offer a great deal of background that explains the author and his works.
       Goytisolo was born in difficult times, in a difficult place. The shadows of the Spanish Civil War, and then World War II, cast a dark pall over his youth. The Spanish Civil War is generally viewed from other perspectives; Goytisolo's account of his childhood offers a useful additional point of view. Goytisolo's family, though generally fairly comfortable, was not successful. Politically they supported the despicable Franco. Juan was too young to make much of the political debate at the time but it, and the war that raged nearby, made a strong mark on the future Marxist.
       Among the defining incidents in the author's life is the tragic death of Goytisolo's mother, killed in a bombing attack.
       Fraud and deception abound in the family -- from an invented coat of arms to lend the family name some glory to the explanations of Juan's mother's death (killed by Fascist bombs the blame is still placed on the revolutionary forces) to Goytisolo's own lies. Goytisolo describes many of his own petty crimes from youth, including stealing money from his grandmother and the like. (Regarding his small thefts he suspects that his grandmother knows him to be the thief, but instead she just wonders aloud what can have happened to the money, distressed by her own absent-mindedness. As she then slowly really loses her mind Goytisolo's deception takes on a darker cast.)
       A grandfather who had previously been arrested for molesting a youth also molested young Goytisolo, events that had lasting effects on the sexually confused author. Shamed, the grandfather moved out of the house -- but only down the street. The molestation stopped, but the ambiguous messages of disgrace, humiliation, and some form of tolerance (specifically regarding sexual matters) continued to weigh heavily on Goytisolo.
       Books always played a significant role in his life. Limited by those he could find, first in the household and then in Franco Spain where so much literature was censored and forbidden, he nevertheless read a great deal. One of his great regrets, however, remains that he was not able to read many of the great works of literature in his youth when they could have more profoundly affected him.
       Always eager to write he fills many pages from earliest youth on with his inventions. Goytisolo presents his literary development and how he was shaped into the author he became.
       Goytisolo wavers between studying law and his true love, literature, when he goes to university. He drifts away from his studies to pursue his writing -- with fair and fast success. He also experiments with radical politics and with sex. He drinks a great deal, he frequents prostitutes (still unclear about his desires he indulges in heterosexual sex for the time being), and he is lured by the world beyond repressed and repressive Spain.
       A memoir of growing up (under unusual circumstances) and about the making of a writer, Goytisolo's memoir is revealing and interesting. Goytisolo himself draws in many of his later works, suggesting connexions. The volume is fairly brief, and there is much that Goytisolo brushes over. Necessarily subjective, it is still a fascinating picture of the man and how he came to his work. It does not have to be taken for truth.

       Goytisolo writes very well, and his memoirs are more approachable than most of his fiction. Most of the narration is straightforward, though there are brief sections interspersed where the author addresses himself in the second person -- commentary and consideration of the life, a sort of stepping outside the book for a moment.
       Highly recommended even for those unfamiliar with (or indifferent to) Goytisolo's fiction.

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Forbidden Territory:
  • Verso publicity page
  • My private passion - Forbidden Territory as one of Colm Tóibín's favourite books (scroll down)
Reviews: Juan Goytisolo: Other books by Juan Goytisolo under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Juan Goytisolo (1931-2017) lived in voluntary exile since 1956, mainly in Paris and Morocco. He is the author of numerous highly regarded novels.

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