Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Cosmofobia" by Lucía Etxebarría

Year of publication: 2007
Genre: novel
Setting and Time: Madrid, present time (with flashbacks)
Themes: multiculturalism, love, friendship, entertainment business,

Plot: The story is set in the neighbourhood of Lavapiés, in Madrid, where many people from extremely different backgrounds live together, not without frictions. From Moroccan immigrants to former rock stars and fashion models, Etxebarria intertwines dozens of stories about love, friendship and family relationships.

Some thoughts: This is the proof that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. The cover of the Italian version of the novel shows the faces of people of all ethnicities and ages. From the description on the back cover, I thought this would be an amazing read: a multicultural neighbourhood in Madrid can’t be so different from a multicultural neighbourhood in Italy, I thought. Since I’ve been working with immigrants until quite recently, I thought it was a great idea to read this novel, at least to find something I’m familiar with.
At the beginning, the book is exactly as you expect it to be: Moroccan men living with Spanish women and Spanish men living with African women, all trying to find their place in Spanish society. The story of Antón, who works as a volunteer in a community centre, reminds me of my volunteer job here in Italy, so I was happy that the protagonist of the novel was Antón. Only, the protagonist of the novel is not Antón. The novel soon reveals to be an endless series of stories about people who have forlorn love stories. At the beginning the focus is on the relationships between immigrants and Spanish people, but towards the end of the book, Etxebarria forgets what the novel should be about and starts writing about former rock stars, fashion models and famous actors, telling us of the world of the rich and famous. As if we didn’t get enough of that from the television. This novel is in most parts banal and naïve; it almost feels like chick lit with the ambition to be cool (because writing of multiculturalism, à la Zadie Smith, is very cool).

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