Albert Salvadó: Una vida en joc [A Life at Stake]
Albert Salvadó is best known for his historical novels, set well in the past. While this novel is a historical novel, in the sense that it is set in the past (1912 to be specific), it does not read like a historical novel as there are no swords or kings or daring deeds. Indeed, apart from the historical background, which Salvadó gives us, there is little indication that it is a historical novel. It is set in Barcelona and mainly revolves around a casino, La Rabassada (apparently, according to Salvadó’s afterword, a real casino, long since defunct), which is mainly owned by a group of French investors. The main character is Víctor Pons, head of security for the casino.
Pons is the son of Josep Pons. We learn early on that Josep was born Giuseppe Ponte in Catanzaro in the South of Italy. We also learn that Josep was a mafioso. He had worked his way up the chain of command, thanks to the fortuitous deaths of some of his rivals (the implication is that Josep was the cause of their deaths). Then he has to travel one day and, while away, learned that his wife and son had been shot and that he escaped a similar fate by his lucky absence. He realised that his life was no longer safe, so he fled to Barcelona and changed his identity. As we later learn, he has not led an entirely honest life since then but has not been found by the Mafia. During the course of the novel, he is revealed as a sad and not very healthy widower. His son, however, has got into the security business and worked his way up to become the head of security at the new casino.
Víctor generally keeps himself to himself. He visits his father. He has a girlfriend, Manuela, whom he treats rather badly. He has managed to find a nice flat which he has furnished inexpensively but well. In short he has few commitments and few interests, except in succeeding professionally. His job as security chief is eventful. His boss, a French man called Boudineau, is naturally concerned at having no disruption to the casino, so Víctor has to keep an eye not only on what is going on in the casino but also on outside events, which might affect the casino., These include, in particular, a strike which might spread from Bilbao. Víctor knows the full story behind it. Two key events change the story. The first is that Víctor meets Clara, whose brother is an inveterate gambler but whose father is well-off. He falls for her and we follow their courtship, which Salvadó builds up slowly. The second involves events relating to his job, namely that two unknown men apparently commit suicide in the casino. The Barcelona administration is keen on getting an excuse to close down the casino (according to Salvadó’s afterword, the real casino will be later closed) so both have to be kept quiet and this is Víctor’s job. Much of the novel is about how he does this and the consequences thereof which, of course, are not entirely predictable.
Salvadó tells a good if not great story, full of local colour and references to current historical events, both local (such as the strikes) and international (such as the Spanish war in Morocco). Indeed, the book more or less ends with the sinking of the Titanic, which has implications for the story. We learn a lot, of course, about the Mafia but also about the seedier side of Barcelona and also how Barcelona is rapidly growing (they win their first football championship during the novel) and becoming an important city. Sadly, of course, this novel will never be translated into English.
First published by Columna in 2010
No English translation