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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Juan Goytisolo

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To purchase Makbara

Title: Makbara
Author: Juan Goytisolo
Genre: Novel
Written: 1980 (Eng. 1981)
Length: 270 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Makbara - US
Makbara - UK
Makbara - Canada
Makbara - India
Makbara - France
Makbara - España
  • Spanish title: Makbara
  • Translated by Helen Lane

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Our Assessment:

B- : odd, dreamy, difficult fiction

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 11/6/1993 Amanda Hopkinson

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The complete review's Review:

       Makbara does not present itself as the most approachable of texts. The first letter of sentences is not capitalized, and they do not end with periods (though there are occasional exclamation and question marks). Sentences flow on with colons: leading from section: to section. And the sentences do run on, with rich and evocative descriptions, from the very first, multiple words used because no single word will do:

alarm, anguish, terror, chemically pure pain?: prolonged, sustained, piercing, to the limits of the tolerable: phantom, specter, monster from the nether world
       And so on. It can be tough going. Worthwhile, often, yes, but still a tough slog.
       There is a story here too, related in fifteen chapters. Goytisolo spans the world (and the first chapter is "Come from the Nether World"), and his chapter-titles are cosmopolitan: some were in Spanish in the original, but beside these one finds a multilingual selection: "Radio Liberty", "Sic transit gloria mundi", "Dar Debbagh", and "Le Salon du mariage".
       "Makbara" is Arabic for cemetery -- referring, so the copy on the book-flap, to "those parts of North African cemeteries where young couples go to get away from their elders and hang out." The dead are raised here -- or at least an angel of ambiguous gender appears, drawn to the well-endowed main character. Not your usual love story, but not that unusual either in its outlines (and its ending, as the angel makes the tough choice about its future).
       God forbid that Goytisolo would leave things as simple as this: there is a narrator hidden in the story too, who eventually comes to the fore, adding another layer to the complex tale. Goytisolo likes to write about writing, and that is also part of the tale:
to live, literally, by storytelling: a story that, quite simply, is never-ending: a weightless edifice of sound in perpetual de(con)struction
       There are funny and well-told episodes in the novel, and some fine passages. But it is also a bit much.
       An interesting text, but one that requires patience (and humour) on the part of the reader. Be aware of what you are getting yourself into

       Note that the novel also contains a horrible little section early on (pp.17-8 of the Serpent's Tail edition) about human evolution. All the worst misconceptions about how Darwinian evolution works can be found here, as Goytisolo describes "the gradual mutation of the organism in response to new technical and environmental conditions", and the prediction that bodies of the future will be shaped to fit perfectly behind the wheel of a car (since no one will walk any more), with "tibias of precisely the right length to reach the clutch pedal, brake, and accelerator", etc.
       As you must know, this is not how evolution works and this is not what we should expect from evolution. Goytisolo's description could charitably be described as pseudo-Lamarckian, but even there his expectations are off. There is no excuse for writing such drivel.
       Please read Darwin's The Origin of Species (see our review) for a fuller understanding of how evolution does work.

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Makbara: Juan Goytisolo: Other books by Goytisolo under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Juan Goytisolo (1931-2017) lived in voluntary exile since 1956, mainly in Paris and Morocco. He is the author of numerous highly regarded novels.

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