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Jordi Puntí: Maletes perdudes (Lost Luggage)

Cristòfol, a translator of novels, mainly from the French, lives in Barcelona. One day, the police come to his door and ask him if he knows Senyor Gabriel Delacruz Expósito. He has to think a bit before realising that that is the name of his father. He had not seen or heard of him for many years and had almost forgotten him. It turns out that Gabriel had lived in a flat in Barcelona. The neighbours had complained of the smell from it and the landlord complained that he had received no rent for a year. The police entered the flat. While they did not find Gabriel or any other source of the smell, the flat seemed occupied, with the usual paraphernalia of flat owners still in place. What they also found was a list of four names on a bedside table. Cristòfol was the only one they could track down. He is told that the flat should be emptied or the rent paid.

Cristòfol visits the flat and searches through the mass of documents and eventually finds that he has three half-brothers and three step-mothers of whose existence he was completely unaware. More interestingly, his half-brothers are all called Christopher or, rather, national variations of that. One lives in France and is Christophe, one in England and is called Christopher and the one that lives in Germany is called Christoph. The reason for this choice of name is explained at the end.

Cristòfol tells his mother but she is in denial about it, having always hoped that Gabriel would return to her. However, Cristòfol does get in touch with his half-brothers and they all four get together (with English as their common language). Gabriel has left detailed records of his activities. They also get in touch with one of Gabriel’s former colleagues, Petroli. With the records, Petroli’s recollections and the half-brothers’ meagre memories of their father, the major part of the book is devoted to Gabriel’s story.

Gabriel was an orphan, found abandoned in a fruit and vegetable market. He is brought up in an orphanage, run by nuns, which he hates. He meets a fellow orphan, Serafí Bundó Ventosa, always known simply as Bundó, and they become lifelong friends. Bundó is older and is like a big brother to Gabriel. Bundó later finds out that his father was executed the day he was born.

It is Bundó that gets Gabriel a job with a moving company, La Ibérica Transport and Moving, in Barcelona. The two of them, with Petroli, soon become a team and move people’s affairs at first all over Spain and then, when the firm gets embassy contracts, all over Europe. A lot of the novel involves the stories of the movers.

There are two key elements to the varied and many stories. Firstly, they are badly paid, so they supplement their income by stealing items they move. The half-brothers know what was stolen as Gabriel has kept details in his records. Inevitably, they get into trouble for their thefts but always manage to cover up. Much of their clothing, for example, is stolen from the moves.

The other key element is, of course the opposite sex. Petroli and Bundó certainly have their affairs and, as we know, so does Gabriel. His relationship with the four woman is described in detail. For example, he meets Mireille, mother of Christophe in Paris in May 1968. They are moving someone to Paris and are somewhat concerned, as they have been listening to events on the radio. However, they manage to get to the place without too many problems. However, as they arrive, a young woman appears round the corner, running and asks them to hide her. They quickly put her in a wardrobe and when the pursuing gendarme arrives, the concierge tells him that she has fled in the other direction. She is, of course, most grateful.

Gabriel does not marry any of the four women but does keep in touch with all four by phone, carefully choosing a specific day to phone a specific woman and never confusing them. As they are all in different countries, there is never any danger of their meeting. However, Mireille, without warning, decides to visit him at Christmas with Christophe and she does. He carries it off without too many problems. He generally deters the women from visiting by describing Barcelona as a version of hell.

There are colourful accounts of his meetings with and relationship with the other mothers but also his meeting with other women. Gabriel supplements his income by gambling, at which he brazenly cheats. (Cristòfol finds clothes in the Barcelona flat with cards hidden in them.) On one occasion, on a cross-channel ferry in a storm, they are carrying a woman hitch-hiker, Anna, and Gabriel is gambling against a horse-owner. Gabriel, of course, wins (and nearly wins the horse) but Anna ends up riding the horse, naked, in a glorious, over-the-top scene.

A fifth half-brother, Cristoffini, turns up but he plays a smaller role. However, we do learn that “Gabriel gave up the moving business after a serious accident.

The final account of the brothers is by Cristòfol himself, about his mother, Rita. It is she who gives the book its title as she works as a lost luggage handler at Barcelona airport and, like Gabriel, she and her colleagues help themselves to unclaimed luggage. Cristòfol’s toys and clothes often came from this source. Her first meeting with Gabriel is decided by the stars but also occurs just as Gabriel is giving up the moving business.

It is only towards the end, when the half-brothers have exhausted their discussions and researches, that the four decide to find out whether Gabriel is still alive and, if so, where he is. Of course, there are twists and complications.

Puntí tells a first-class story, full of colour, humour and excitement. All three movers are somewhat larger-than-life characters and their trans-European adventures keep us entertained throughout his fairly long book, even while we are keen to know what has happened to Gabriel and why. The book has surprisingly been translated into English and is readily available in the UK and US.

First published by Empúries in 2010
First published in English by Short Books/Marble Arch Press in 2013

Translated by Julie Wark