Los Aires Difíciles by Almudena Grandes
Read: 27 April - 29 May 2020
Release year: 2002
I want to share with you a book by one of my favourite Spanish authors: Almudena Grandes. I have read this book in Spanish, but it has been translated into other languages like English, German, Italian and Dutch. I was introduced to Almudena Grandes through her columns in El País (thanks to my Spanish teacher... ¡gracias!). During the COVID-19 lockdown, she wrote a column every two weeks on her experiences being confined at home in Madrid. She was writing down some things so familiar to me that I sometimes felt I was reading my own thoughts:
Sin embargo, ir a la compra es mi pequeña fiesta diaria.
Nonetheless, doing groceries is my little party every day.
Después de tantos años, he recuperado aquel frenesí de liquidarme una novela en dos días, en uno si es corta.
After so many years, I have recovered that frenzy of finishing a novel in two days, in one if it is short.
Para empezar, mis pantalones ya no me preocupan. La limpieza de la casa también ha descendido considerablemente en la escala de mis preocupaciones.
To start, my pants no longer worry me. Cleaning the house has also dropped considerably on the order of my concerns.
Los Aires Difíciles has two protagonists: Juan Olmedo and Sara Gómez. Both have recently moved from Madrid to the same neighbourhood in a village close to Cádiz in order to leave behind a turbulent past. Juan relocates with his niece Tamara and his intellectual disabled brother Alfonso, while Sara lives on her own. Every chapter covers three parts: two in the present which surround a passage about either Juan or Sara's past.
Juan's past covers his difficult relationship with his late brother Damián. It is revealed that Juan had an affair with his sister-in-law, Damián's wife. After his sister-in-law dies in a car crash and his brother after a fall from the stairs, he takes sole custody of their daughter Tamara. Sara's past includes her strenuous relationship with her family. She is raised by her godmother after her parents don't have enough money to raise another child.
Maribel, assistant to both Juan and Sara, plays a major part in connecting both households together. She is a divorced mother of Andrés who ends up befriending Tamara. Like the protagonists, Maribel also has a past to forget and an ex-husband to run from. Juan, Alfonso, Tamara, Sara, Maribel and Andrés form a new family, a strange, eccentric family.
Almudena Grandes alternates events in the present with those in the past (and in the past of the past) in a very intelligent way. Every chapter, the events happening in the past fit really well with those occurring in the present. Almudena also really excels in writing down the thoughts of her characters. She almost turns them into real-life persons as she describes their thoughts so realistic. A lot of times I was transformed into the minds of these characters, as I was living their lives.
Below is an example of Juan's thought process while questioning his actions surroundings his brother Damián's death after a fall down the stairs. He is actually already questioning himself throughout two chapters, but this part is were his thoughts all came together. I can imagine him being in shock in this situation and being confused what to do. Google translate does a decent job translating this in English if you can't read this in Spanish ;)
El mundo no era un lugar mejor sin Damián. Él no había matado a su hermano. No lo había empujado por la escalera, no había provocado su caída, no le había roto el cráneo cuando todavía estaba entero. Nunca lo habría hecho. Creía que nunca lo habría hecho. Se había dejado llevar por un impulso absurdo, estúpido, casi infantil, cuando Damián ya estaba muerto. Tenía que estar muerto, pero él no había querido comprobar si vivía aún. Habría sido muy fácil, tan fácil como alargar una mano hacia su muñeca, pero no lo había hecho. Nunca sabría si aún estaba vivo cuando estrelló su cabeza contra el escalón. Lo único que sabía es que es difícil sobrevivir a un golpe así. Y que, si de verdad le hubiera matado, tampoco habría servido para nada. El mundo no era un lugar mejor sin Damián.
You should take your time to read this book as the chapters are very long, but it will be worth it. I have already added two new books by Almudena Grandes on my 'To Be Read' list. ¡Vamos a leer!