The OF Blog: Jesus Torbado, Las corrupciones

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Jesus Torbado, Las corrupciones

It is now a trite and often misleading thing to label an artist "the voice of a generation."  Too frequently, this praise thrusts the artist and his/her work into a glaring spotlight that happens to accentuate any imperfections there might be in the work.  Yet sometimes, despite the ridiculousness of such encomiums, there are those works and those writers, even if it is only a singular work that does not affect subsequent generations as much, that do capture much of the essence of the espirit du temps in which the work was conceived.  For those born after the Spanish Civil War and who grew up in Franco's Spain, the gradual liberalization of the 1960s was a memorable time, in some ways comparable to other 1960s movements yet with some key differences.  In the inaugural Premio Alfaguara, awarded in late 1965 for his debut novel Las corrupciones, Jesus Torbado eloquently tells a tripartite corruption of a seminarian, as he loses faith in God, others, and ultimately himself.

 In telling José Antonio's story, Torbado does not resort to tried and moldy-true moralistic panderings.  Instead, as the reader witnesses these changes in his life, we come to see that his experiences are typical, expressions of the Zeitgeist then in which the pillars of Spanish society, most notably the Church, have come under closer scrutiny for failing to provide comfort for the rising generation that knew of no other ruler but General Franco and no other faith but that of the conservative Church.  These "corruptions," are in some sense ironic, in that pleasure and comfort is found beyond the abandonment of old principles and faith.  As José Antonio goes on his prodigal tour from the seminary to the wine bottles and women of Paris, Torbado provides great insight into José Antonio's character and how his new experiences are a liberating one for him.

This story largely succeeds because Torbado's prose is to the point and yet has a hidden grandness to it.  The characterizations are fleshed out very well and the changes in José Antonio's life are plausible not just in detail and description, but also in how they are reflected in his own mental state.  Divided into three parts in order to accentuate the three main "corruptions," Las corrupciones's detailed focus on each of these three (loss of faith in God, others, self) works because developments that occur in one part are manifested in a subsequent part, without there being a sense of abruptness or lack of transition.

Yet if there were a weakness to the novel, it might be that its themes, so fresh and vibrant in the 1960s, have been played out in the following half-century.  While Torbado does a good job in developing character and scene, both the character type and setting felt a bit dated, at least to this reader who wasn't born until nearly a decade after the book was published.  This is not a criticism of the book as much as it is a passing commentary on how readers and their own life experiences can affect the enjoyment of a story.  Despite this sense that the story was a bit "historical" due to the lapse of time between publication and personal reading, Las corrupciones is still a very strong novel that was worthy of being the inaugural Premio Alfaguara winner.

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