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Juan Goytisolo: Reivindicación del conde don Julián (Count Julian; Don Julián)

This book has been compared to Ulysses and, while I can see why the comparison has been made, I am not sure that it is entirely valid. As the title indicates this books refers to the legendary Count Julian, whose identity, name and actions are all lost in history but who seems to have helped the Berbers conquer Spain at the beginning of the eight century, possibly because the Spanish king impregnated his daughter, and is therefore considered a traitor by the Spanish. As the Spanish title (but not the English title) indicates, this book is about vindicating the name of Count Julian.

The book is told by an unnamed narrator over the course of a day. The narrator may well be Goytisolo; indeed, he is almost certainly based on the author. He is living in exile in Tangier. Like the author and like Count Julian, he is bitter towards Spain. Goytisolo is, of course, not only bitter about his exile, his parents’ death during the Civil War and the Francoist regime but is also highly critical of Spain’s outmoded ways of thinking. Much of the novel is told in short, staccato phrases, describing his current situation, from his syphilis (for which he takes shots) to his everyday activities. But he also lambastes Spain or, more particularly, the current situation in Spain, using myths and legends, recalling his childhood in Spain and creating mock history, as he”invades” Spain in his mind in a fairly brutal way. Spanish legendary characters are torn apart and Spanish history is ruthlessly mocked and, of course, the Catholic Church is especially savaged. Some of it is funny, much of it is simply vicious and cruel and not for the squeamish. From Seneca as a female American tourist to Queen Isabella’s vagina, Goytisolo spares few of the sacred icons of his country. I cannot say that I enjoyed this book but I do recognise its importance, both in giving a new experimental form to Spanish literature which had, till then, all too often been mired in traditional realism and doing what every country probably needs now and then, having its myths re-examined and, perhaps, torn apart.

Publishing history

First published in Spanish 1970 by Mortiz
First published in English by Viking in 1974
Translated by Helen Lane