Rafael Sanchez-Ferlosio (Spain, 1927)
Industrias y Andanzas de Alfanhui (1951) +
El Jarama/ The River (1955) ++
takes place on a single hot sunday in a location
by the river Jarama where a bloody month-long battle was fought during
the Civil War of 25 years earlier; and it involves
a large revolving cast of characters, with no real protagonist.
The novel is simply a sequel of conversations, some of them in the tavern
where the novel begins, and some of them at the river, where tourists are
The dialogues are so detailed that the novel feels more like a theatrical
play or a movie script.
The conversations consist mostly of gossips and jokes, as if there was nothing
serious to discuss, despite the fact that they are in the place where thousands
of people killed each other.
It takes a while to appreciate what Ferlosio is doing. In reality,
300 pages of dialogues constitute a meticulous psychological built-up
to the tragedy. For a while it appears that the novel has no real plot
and just drifts aimlessly; but then the plot is revealed in all its
shocking tragedy. The method is related to Ivy Compton-Burnett but where she
contents herself with a fresco of society, Ferlosio uses the dialogues in
a manner similar to the way
Georges Seurat uses dots for his pointillistic style.
At the same time, the dialogues create a cacophony, and then a cacophony
of cacophonies, as an ever growing crowd splits into mini-crowds so that the
main story splits into many parallel stories.
The constantly expanding cast of characters during the day feels like a flood
tide that in the evening becomes a receding tide as they begin to return home.
By the end it becomes obvious that the novel is a social fresco that relies
on contrasts. There is the contrast of generations: the old men who live
in the countryside, playing domino
and other indoor games while gossiping about everything and everybody, versus
the young people who come from the big city heading for the beach.
The old are mostly men (only two come accompanied by their wives).
The young are mostly couples:
The young singles (Daniel, Tito and Luci) are actually the protagonists of
the non-trivial episodes.
Then there is the contrast between city people (with their studies and jobs)
and rural people (with their simple routines). The city people have names.
The people of the village are mostly defined by their occupation: the barber,
the butcher, the shepherd, the driver; or by the way they look: the one-eyed
man, the man with white shoes, the cripple.
By the end of the novel, we are also delivered the contrast between the living
and the dead. Only one person dies, but the comments apply to a lot more
people when viewed in the context of the civil war that has just ended,
and that killed many young people.
Mauricio runs a tavern by the river that is popular with tourists
in a village located three train stations from the capital city.
On that sunday
his daughter Justina has decided to join the crowds at the river, and so
Mauricio looks in vain for a helper. The good and strong Demetrio who brings
ice to the tavern is not available either. He grew up an orphan.
Lucio is the first customer. He has been in prison with Mauricio.
Then a couple of young lovers arrive, Sebastian and Paulina. They come from
the capital on a motorbike. Their friends are instead biking.
Miguel, Alicia, Mely, Tito, Lucita, Carmen, Fernando, Santos, Daniel, etc.
More friends are coming from the capital, led by Zacarias, but they are
coming by train. Meanwhile Fernando remembers an uncle who died there in
the bloody battle.
The barber (often referred to as "the man with the white shoes")
walks into Mauricio's tavern and complains that a customer, Julio,
came to gossip against his tenant Guillermo, and now Guillermo's friends are
mad at the barber.
The butcher (Claudio) walks in with the news that he killed a goat that morning.
The bailiff Carmelo is with him. They watch the vultures feeding on carrions and
someone remarks that vultures are useful because they clean up the streets.
At the beach Tito and Fernando get into a fight after Tito pulls Mely's leg
while she is swimming. Santos tells his girlfriend Carmen that the attractive
Mely is stupid. Carmen is afraid of the water and Santos tries in vain to
get her to swim.
El Chamaris walks into the tavern with his dog, which in their minds evokes
the times of the Civil War when starving people were eating dogs and cats.
Justina returns home.
At the beach Luci consoles Tito, blaming the spoiled Mely for the fight.
Mely wears men's trousers and Luci is envious of her courage to do so
in such a conservative country.
The young Aniano lectures Lucio that he should look for a job, but this upsets
Lucio who has the disadvantage of a prison record and whose business partner
robbed him of his old bakery while he was in prison.
They get into an argument and the young Aniano leaves.
At the beach
Mely and Alicia smoke cigarettes (unusual in those days). Luci is the innocent
one. The group of friends do a lottery to decide who has to go and pick up
the lunch boxes. Daniel and Fernando get picked, but Daniel refuses and then
Mely the troublemaker stirs up Fernando to refuse to.
Miguel and Tito volunteer to go. They reach Mauricio's tavern
The bailiff Carmelo is a little drunk and starts talking to Miguel, who has
the reputation of being a good singer.
A little girl, Mari, walks into the tavern to tell her dad El Chamaris that
his wife wants him at home.
A taxi owner, Felipe, an old friend of Mauricio, arrives with his wife
his brother Sergio and his wife Nineta.
Mauricio's wife Faustina and their daughter Justina take care of the guests.
Earlier, Faustina has told Mauricio that Justina's boyfriend Manolo disapproves
of the girl being asked to serve the customers; Mauricio now confronts Justina
who swears knows nothing of this and will
The barber tells Lucio the story of his life: he came back from the Civil War
to find that his father had died and his mother had remarried. Ashamed of her,
he left the house and learned the trade of cutting hair.
Lucio confesses that he was the cause of his family's disgrace, but doesn't
Justina is waiting for her boyfriend Manolo who is supposed to take her to the
just when the barber leaves,
El Chamaris comes back with the bailiff, the butcher and another butcher,
and he insists that Justina plays with them at Frog in the garden.
At the beach Fernando and Tito make peace.
Santos volunteers to buy ice cream for everybody from the ice-cream man.
The old Schneider comes to Mauricio's tavern with a gift for Justina.
He's a kind German man, respected by everybody, who tragically lost his daughter:
she was seduced by a young man from the capital, got pregnant, he gave her
a potion to cause the abortion, and she died of it.
Fernando and Mely go for a little walk along the beach. They stumble onto
another party, then a cemetery. The local people stare at Mely, who is wearing
men's trousers and not enough on her upper body. Fernando remarks that the
villagers need to get used to casual unisex clothes because some workers are
coming from the USA to build a new military airport. But two civil guards admonish Mely
that she's being disrespectful, especially near a cemetery,
and send them back to the beach. Fernando apologizes sheeply in order to
avoid further trouble, and Mely later complains that he's behaved like a coward.
Meanwhile, Manolo arrives at the train station and walks to Mauricio's tavern.
An invalid, Coca, asks for help: Manolo takes care of his wheelchair while
Coca's friend Marcial carries the invalid inside.
The brothers Sergio and Felipe chat about Sergio's friend Natalio, a traveling
salesman. Sergio advises Felipe to get a new car, and Petra shoots up that she's
been saying the same things for years, but Felipe is attached to his 12-year-old car.
Coca, Marcial, Carmelo and Schneider start a game of domino.
A truck driver walks in after a long work day.
At the beach Sebastian annoys Miguel with personal questions.
Miguel cannot marry his girlfriend Alicia because his family depends on his income.
Sebastian advises him to get married anyway.
Sebastian's girlfriend Paolina tells him to shut up.
Santos and Carmen are kissing. They have been engaged for two years and don't
seem in a hurry to get married.
Daniel, Luci, Tito are eating from the lunch boxes.
At the tavern
Petra and Nineta talk about the convenience of sewing machines.
Felipe and Petra get into an argument on how to raise their children: Petra
wants to control them all the time, Felipe lets them go out and play.
Justina is playing Frog with the two butchers and El Chamaris when Manolo
arrives. Manolo doesn't think it is proper behavior and leaves furious.
They break up. Mauricio, how never liked Manolo, is delighted.
The bailiff, Marcial and Coca are playing domino.
A one-eyed man walks inside to alert them that the children are doing
something dangerous: the boys took Coca's wheelchair, put the girl inside and
they are pushing it downhill. Felipe runs outside, yells at them and brings
them back inside.
The one-eyed man says that he lost his sight in an accident when he was 18
but the good news is that he was not drafted for the war.
At the beach Mely and Fernando rejoin the friends after their long walk.
Mely tells Alicia that she was stopped by the civil guards for her dress.
Alicia feels it was a happy day, Mely thinks it was boring.
Paulina and Sebastian stay behind while Miguel, Alicia, Mely, Fernando
leave the beach. Santos and Carmen lead the way to the tavern.
Daniel, Tito and Luci have been drinking wine and are drunk. Daniel falls
Santos and Carmen are the first ones to run into Zacarias' group, eight people
in all, notably Zacarias' best friend Samuel with his blonde girlfriend
Marialuisa, but also Lucas the gramophone man, Lolita and Ricardo.
Mely immediately inquires whether they brought the gramophone because
she's dying to dance. The main attraction of the new group is the exotic
Korean beauty Mariyayo.
Santos and Carmen decide to go home on Santos' bicycle because they are getting
tired, while the others enter Mauricio's tavern where Felipe, Petra, Sergio
and Nineta are getting ready to leave, the domino players
(Carmelo, Coca, Schneider) are still playing,
and Lucio, El Chamaris, the butchers Claudio, the other butcher,
the one-eyed man and a newcomer, the shepherd Amalio, are chatting.
Fernando dances with Mariyayo while Mely initially doesn't dance.
Samuel and Zacarias smoke marijuana.
Luci and Tito chat in the dark at the beach. Tito kisses her and Luci starts
crying. Santos and Carmen stop to admire the view of the capital city at night.
Paulina and Sebastian reach the place where Tito and Luci still are,
and convince Luci to jump into the water even if it's past sunset while Tito
watches their clothes.
At the tavern Zacarias flirts with Mely, and Fernando with Mariyayo, who works
night shifts in a cafe. They youth finally convince Lucas to play a dance
song on his gramophone and they start dancing in the dark:
Samuel with Marialuisa, Miguel with Alicia, Lucas with Juanita.
Then Justina turns on the light.
A young man molests a rabbit. Ricardo insults him. The two are about to
start a fight but Zacarias intervenes with a joke.
The domino players have ended their game and they are now chatting with
the other older patrons of the tavern. They discuss marriage. The 61-year
old Lucio is bitter about how life treated him.
At the beach suddenly Paulina and Sebastian realize that Luci is drowning but
too late to save her. People rush from all over and join the search for
At the tavern a drunk Lolita dances on top of a table while the other young
people are clapping.
At the beach two civil guards are summoned. They ask the three friends to
stay, also the two who rescued the body, and send everybody else away.
Daniel arrives, having finally awakened, and learns the terrible news.
He is dispatched to the tavern to alert the other friends.
One of the civil guards reaches the nearest telephone and calls the judge.
Luci's body cannot be moved.
At the tavern El Chamaris and the two butchers leave, and then a new customer,
Macario, walks in. He has five children and his wife is expecting the sixth.
Marcial and Coca leave. Marcial has to carry the cripple Coca in his arms.
Coca behaves like a mean child, making fun of Macario. Daniel reaches the
tavern. Mely is the most devastated by the news. She, Fernando, Miguel and Alicia start walking towards the beach.
Lucas' group decides to go back to the city by train.
Mariyayo tells Zacarias to follow Mely who needs support.
When Mely sees Luci's body, she loses her mind. She even insults the civil guard
who doesn't want her to touch the body, risking an arrest.
At the tavern Mauricio, Lucio, Macario,
the shepherd Amalio, the truck driver,
the one-eyed man, Carmelo discuss the accident.
Lucio remarks that old people are actually more attached to life than young
The driver leaves.
A judge, Angel, summoned from the telephone of the nearby restaurant run by
Aurelia, arrives at the river, accompanied by the clerk Emilio, in a car driven
by the chaffeur Vicente.
On the way to the river, their car is overtaken by a US-made car full of
US workers. They simply state the obvious: that their car is much slower.
They interrogate Rafael, the young man who rescued
Luci's body, and then all the others. They need to move the body somewhere
and ask permission to use a room in Aurelia's restaurant.
Meanwhile Santos and Carmen, who left early, are happily biking towards
the capital city. Santos is biking and Carmen is hugging him, enjoying
The judge orders the guards and his driver to load the corpse in the
car. Then they drive it to the morgue, where a pathologist will examine it.
Mely, Fernando, Miguel, Alicia, Tito, Zacarias and Daniel walk back to Mauricio's tavern.
They have an argument about who should tell Luci's mother. Then they agree
that they should all go together to deliver the terrible news. They pay the bill
and take off on their bicycles.
Macario, Carmelo, the shepherd, the barber with the white shoes, briefly
criticize the people from the capital city, but then pay and go home.
Only Lucio and the barber are left. Lucio asks Mauricio about his friendship with Felipe.
The two met at the hospital where they were both patients. Lucia doesn't
like Felipe's last name because it reminds him of his prison.
The barber smells the food that Faustina and Justina are cooking for Mauricio's supper
and throws up, still shocked by the death.
The barber pays his bill and leaves. Only Lucio is left.
Justina scolds Lucio for keeping her father Mauricio from having his supper.
Before leaving Lucio confesses to Mauricio that he found a temporary job
to help a baker with cakes and tarts but the baker hasn't seen him in person
and Lucio is afraid that the baker will reject him when he sees how old he is.
Lucio walks home in the moonlight.
The novel ends with more details about the course of the river.
El Testimonio de Yarfoz (1986)