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Les veus del Pamano (Voices from the Pamano)

by Maria Roser Trilla
When is a crime time-barred from a moral point of view? Does a person ever cease to be liable for their own acts? Les veus del Pamano (2004) is the story of the investigation of events that occurred some sixty years earlier, in order to uncover the truth that has been manipulated and distorted over time. It is a plea against forgetting, a passionate defence of the need to keep memories alive, a fight to ensure that history is not written only by the winners. “Father, do not forgive them for they know what they do.” is the quotation from Vladimir Jankélévitch that introduces this reflection on forgiving, remembering and forgetting.

Les veus del Pamano is set in Torena, an imaginary village in the Vall d’Àssua in the heart of the Catalan Pyrenees. Tina Bros, originally from Barcelona, is a school teacher in Sort, the nearest town, and an amateur photographer. In the deserted village school in Torena she finds a notebook containing a kind of journal written by Oriol Fontelles, also originally from Barcelona, the former village schoolmaster and an amateur artist, who was known at the time as a hero of the Franco regime. The journal reveals the true story of Oriol Fontelles, which Tina tries to make public so that his memory is preserved intact for posterity. The novel develops basically over two periods: the early post-war years (Oriol) and the beginning of the twenty-first century (Tina).

The link between these two periods and the two teachers with their many parallels is the ever-present, powerful, immortal figure of Elisenda Vilabrú. She is the central character in the book, the incarnation of absolute everlasting power. But in addition there are a great many other people from very different eras, places and classes. In fact the whole spectrum of the social fabric is present, from a cat with a forename, surname and pseudonym, to the Pope himself. There are characters from Oriol’s life, in the hard years following the Civil War, and from Tina’s life in the present day. And there are also the characters from Elisenda’s long life: uncle, chauffer, maid, husband, son, son’s friends, daughter-in-law, grandson and many more. Making an appearance too are the inhabitants of Torena, where the effects of the Civil War were particularly harsh: victors and vanquished, petty tyrants and dissenters, as well as the splendid Serrallac family, father and son, creators of the beautiful gravestones that enrich the novel both verbally and visually.

The book is structured in seven parts, each headed by a quotation; this is followed by a unnumbered chapter describing part of a ceremony only begins to make sense as the action unfolds; and after that the numbered chapters, the last of which ends with a gravestone and a comment by one of the Serrallacs or a dialogue between them. The plot is certainly action-packed, with adultery, betrayals and murders, all set against a well documented historical background.

But once again, the great discovery in Les veus del Pamano is its meticulously crafted style: the use of the regional dialect and the way it evolves over the years, for the young Serrallac speaks very differently from his father; the way the language fits each character like a glove; the variety of registers, some of them highly comic, particularly when poking fun at current fashions; the changes in viewpoints, sometimes in the same paragraph, or even in the same sentence; the fusion of narrative planes; the flashbacks and the fast-forwards. In each chapter there are chronological leaps that although they take the reader by surprise do not hinder the understanding of a superb text.

The precise, very specific toponyms place this novel in a land of hate and revenge marked by the aftermath of the Civil War. Through it flows the river with a thousand names – the Pamano – from the waters of which emanate the voices of those who have drowned and who will drown in it. If the river can be heard from Torena, it is certainly a sign of death.

Translated by Joanna Martinez
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