At just 20 years old, Asier and Joseba joined the nationalist organization ETA shortly before that afternoon of October 20, 2011 in which the guerrillas announced "the definitive cessation of their armed activity" through a statement and a video.
The two young men, destined for the south of France, where they do not understand the language and where they live on a farm with very small owners, feel betrayed and decide – the two of them alone hidden in the nook and cranny of a small farm in the middle of the French countryside – to found their own nationalist organization and continue the armed struggle for the liberation of Euskal Herria (or Basque Country).
With this argument, the writer Fernando Aramburu (San Sebastián, 1959), consecrated with the famous Patria, returns to publish a fiction – satirical this time – with ETA as its theme and two rather silly militants as protagonists: Children of the fable (Tusquets). It will be this Saturday at 19 in the Victoria Ocampo room of the White Pavilion of the Book Fair.
"Hijos de la fábula", by Fernando Aramburu (Tusquets, $5,500 paper; $1,600 ebook).
ETA again, why?
At the beginning of this novel is ETA's declaration to stop armed activity in October 2011. And then I was asked a question and that is whether all the militants would agree or maybe not, and some on their own would continue with what they called armed struggle.
Then I imagined two naïve people who without weapons, without experience, without money, without social support, in a country whose language they do not master, decide to continue on their own. And pulling that end of the thread, I was designing a plot that gave rise to what is now Children of the Fable.
And these two characters, in addition to not handling weapons, or the language, or having experience, do not have many lights either.
It's not that they don't have lights, what happens is that their brain is colonized by the fable. That is, they see reality through the ideology they have assumed and that is the central point. Of course they seem clumsy to us because they are clumsy. But I want to say that they have a logic that seems sufficient to them.
In fact, in some of their conversations they even say that they need few thoughts. Few, but clear. Because in reality they are young people who live or act according to a goal they want to achieve and everything that does not serve that goal is superfluous or even counterproductive.
But it is a goal that is not even questioned.
That is why they are children of the fable that others created for them, for themselves and for many others that were in reality.
"The characters are children of the fable that others created for them," says Fernando Aramburu. Photo Martín Bonetto
What is it that attracts so much about the history of ETA, the Basque Country and the violence of those years to capture it into a fiction?
I don't know what can attract other people, but for me it's a question that is very attached to my biography. I was born in San Sebastian, Basque Country. It is the city where the most fatalities originated the ETA organization.
It is an issue that has accompanied me since childhood, in a painful way. So, it is reasonable to think that a writer who writes novels or short stories addresses a situation or an event that for him is of great personal relevance.
Is it true that you consulted a victim of ETA to see if he agreed with this story?
–It's true. I knew I was going to use some humorous elements in that novel. And the last thing I want is to hurt people who have suffered a lot. So I consulted the project before starting it with a direct victim of terrorism, a person whose name I will not reveal, but who is a person whom I have great esteem and admiration.
And I explained the project to him and assured him that in my novel there would be no victims of terrorism and that my candidates or would-be heroes would not cause any victims in the course of history. Having said that, he gave me his approval and in a way I felt free to tackle this project. I mean, I had that moral scruple. There is a red line that I draw myself and that I do not want to cross.
Isn't it time to write a satirical novel with a painful situation? After all, it is a fiction.
In this fiction, I don't laugh at terrorism, but I do laugh at terrorists. But there is a statement by the philosopher Fernando Savater that I think perfectly defines my novel. He, who was threatened by ETA and could not move freely, needed bodyguards to protect him, he said in a recent public intervention that we aspired, I quote, to survive the terrorists and then to laugh at them.
And when I heard this phrase I said gosh, this is what I, without realizing it, have intended, that is, mock the aggressors, leaving aside their victims and leaving terrorism aside. It is a matter of extreme and painful gravity.
Fernando Aramburu: "I think humor is very useful to delegitimize the violent, the totalitarian." Photo Martín Bonetto
Are there limits to humor?
Charles Chaplin parodied Hitler in that magnificent film that is The Great Dictator. But indeed, I believe that humor is very useful to delegitimize the violent, the totalitarian, because it shows it in one of its flanks in which it is not usually noticed when the violent acts and it is his ridiculous flank, if you can be a bad person and be ridiculous at the same time.
What happens is that when these people organize to hurt others and do it, we don't feel like laughing. We have enough with our tears and getting to safety. But I do believe that the time has come to take up the writing of this book, to effectively parody terrorist activity.
And in reality there has not been a controversy regarding it, at least in this, apart from the fact that my books are not required reading. Therefore, those who do not find them adequate or well made can avoid them.
They shoot with brooms, kidnap chickens, shoot with the fingers of the hand, these characters are a bit quixotic.
The comparison is inevitable due to the fact that it is a couple who leave home, who star in a series of adventures, but above all, because they are also, like Don Quixote, children of a fable, who have a fable in their heads that conditions their entire vision of the world and of others.
In the case of these young people in my novel, it is a certain ideology that they have not created, that they have assumed that others have prepared for them, so that everything that happens around them that they notice is not directly useful for the culmination of their ideological objective. Especially one of them, who is the most fanatical. The other has his weaknesses, his girl he left in the village, is a little more human, less ironclad, less fanatical than the other.
"And there's also something about Waiting for Godot. They expect something to happen that never happens.
The comparison with the two characters Waiting for Godot is deliberate. I also really like in my novels to introduce subtle layers of readings, a dialogue with other writers or with other works. And it does not matter if the reader perceives these layers or not, but there they are.
"Children of the fable. There is something key in this idea that leads us to wonder if we are not all children of a fable, of an ideology, and if it is possible to get out of that story.
I believe that every human being, from any place, from any time, needs fables. In fact, when we are born, our parents begin to write in our mind in white, they transmit to us a language, a religion, some habits, some preferences.
I remember that until I was six years old I still believed in the Three Kings and it was very bad when a schoolmate revealed the truth to me.
The problem is not that we are in life and observe it through fables that have been transmitted to us or that we tell ourselves, the problem is that these fables induce us to harm others, even considering that we are doing something good. That is the great danger that lies at the base, for example, of Islamist attacks. Their utopia, their conviction, requires them to do.
Advertising poster the series TV Patria a novela Fernando Aramburu set in San Sebastián city where he was set l that generated on the conflict ETA Basque Country.Photo CEZARO LUCA - FTP CLARIN S19 DSCF6424.jpg Z Guest
But isn't the construction of life in society also a great story, a great fable that we tell ourselves?
"This is a fable, exactly. But it is that the circumstance that we are an intelligent species forces us to put together fables that are also an aid to being all together, as long as they do not lead to cause harm to others. Well, I also have my favorite football team and I mythologize it.
When he wins, I put together my personal story, my euphoria, that's inevitable. Nor do I believe that one cannot intervene in fables, that one through reading, critical judgment, conversation with others, the healthy habit of traveling and knowing other ways of life, allows one to find elements to question their fables, to modify them.
–His football team, Real Sociedad. What fables have been put together about it?
"Since I don't live Sebastian, I follow him from afar. It's the team I would have liked to play for as a kid. I already idealized it, I already turned it naturally into a wonderful story that I couldn't participate in because I didn't play well. But this does not mean that I do not know how to objectify my fable, that is, to take it out of me, to observe it as an object from outside.
And what I cannot accept is fanaticism. This is something that just thinking about them causes me a lot of fatigue. I thank culture, books, music, painting, that has taught me things, I was a very nervous child, but by dint of serene and pleasant activities, I have managed to calm down and enjoy the tranquility, which is something that is not encouraged in our societies.
At one point one of the characters asks, "What are we?" Communists? And the other replies: "We are Basques."
"There is a hierarchy there. Naturally, when they are nationalists, they put the homeland before all other considerations. First they are Basques and then whatever is added. But first of all it is an us.
That's said in a somewhat cartoonish way. But it would not be uncommon to hear a similar statement on the streets of my homeland. I have met many people who expressed themselves and who carry that pride as if it had been a merit in life to have been born in a certain place.
CULTUREFERNANDO ARAMBURU writerphotos Martín Bonetto - FTP CLARIN 20230504BON05065-01BON05065-01.jpg Z
And what does "being Basque" condense?
It is the pride, it is the egoism of us, which hides behind all nationalism there is an egoism that is that of the ego, by which one puts oneself before everything, everything else or everyone else.
And then there is the plural of selfishness, which is nationalism. That is, it is egoism that regards a human group as a unit that is superior, better, greater, and more glorious than other units, and that you will go after others.
Are there Basques who take it badly?
–It's possible. The thing is, I live far away. If one were to pay attention to the comments of others... I don't need to please everyone, but if I didn't please anyone I would have to think about it. I like to provoke sometimes. It is an activity that I have taken quite a liking to in recent years.
-It is that as you have been careful with the victim of terrorism for this novel ...
-With the victims I am very respectful, because I always have a great empathy with them. And this is a moral principle imposed on me.
Vargas Llosa always said that it was in Paris that he discovered that he was a Latin American writer. You are based in Germany, does distance help to have a different look?
It seems impossible to me that the place where you live, the social circumstances that surround you do not influence your work. Living in Germany has given me a perspective, that's obvious. I see things from Germany and I have access to the German press, all this influences a lot I do not know if for better or for worse.
I don't know what would have happened to me if I had stayed to live forever in Spain, but I'm sure I wouldn't have written the same books. But I have no answer because in reality life is just a path with a multitude of possibilities on the sides that one did not follow.
*Fernando Aramburu will present "Children of the Fable" this Saturday at 19 in the Victoria Ocampo room of the White Pavilion of the Book Fair.