Camilo José Cela: Mazurca para dos muertos (Mazurka for Two Dead Men)
This is definitely my favourite of Cela’s works. It shows a return to a more traditional narrative style, though it is not without its post-modernist elements. The story starts with the tale of the death of Lázaro Codesal, who was killed by a Moroccan when on service in Morocco, while masturbating under a fig tree. It has rained in Galicia ever since, so that the horizon cannot be clearly seen. But this story is really concerned with the death of the two men of the title. A blind accordion player, Gaudencio Beira, who worked in a brothel and played a variety of tunes but only twice did he play the mazurka called Ma Petite Marianne. The first time was when Afouto (called Lionheart in the English version) was killed and the second time when Fabián Minguela, known as Moucho, the assassin of Afouto, was killed by two dogs.
The novel, not untypical for Cela, is about sex, violence, death and isolation. Not only do we have the two framing deaths, death and violence permeate the novel set, as it is, during the Civil War. Libidinous sex abounds, often involving priests and sometimes involving animals and Cela clearly shows us that both animal and human sex is an important and integral part of life among the Galician peasantry and, of course, essential for the continuation of life. The peasants live in close contact with animals of all sorts and this contact involves not only food and sex but also violence, culminating in the canine attack on Moucho. Galician myths and legends and Galician codes of honour abound. And it is this aspect that make this novel, the Galician traditions and customs, the rampant sex and rampant violence and rampant death, all told against the background of the Spanish Civil War, a play off between an old-fashioned, even occasionally cartoonish way of life, and the deadly serious business of living. Cela, with his usual skill, mocks it all but you know, in his mockery, that he is being deadly serious.
First published in Spanish 1983 by Seix Barral
First English translation 1992 by New Directions