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three pairs of lovers with space

A review of Costa Brava by Frits Bernard, Rotterdam, 1960, translated from the Dutch by A. Ronaldson, Amsterdam, 1988.


                 2nd English edition 1988

Short and sweet   ****

It is July 1936 and the Spanish Civil War is breaking out. Santiago Capmany, a Venezuelan film producer on holiday in a village in Catalonia, is sitting on a seaside bench. Suddenly he is approached for help by a desperate Juan José, a boy on the eve of his 13th birthday whose father, a rightist politician, has just been killed.  Juan José is instinctively drawn to put himself in Santiago's hands and love him, as is Santiago to reciprocate, thus initiating their dramatic escape together from the war-torn country. 

Though the boy and man express their movingly depicted love with physical affection and the boy's physical attractiveness is described several times, it would be entirely possible to believe neither had any interest in a sexual fulfillment of it if it were not for the last three pages.  Only then reencountering a now adult Juan José years too late, does Santiago gently reveal it is physical attraction "given to us by nature" which drives "we few ... to offer help and support to boys of a certain age." Juan José delicately reveals in turn that he would have welcomed consummation and had ever since been tormented with regret over having missed this fulfillment before it was too late.

A rather melodramatic fairy-tale quality pervades the dialogue and action of this enjoyable novella.  Sometimes this strains its credibility, but fortunately never quite to breaking-point.  The emotions described are absolutely authentic.  These emotions are rarely described or understood today, and herein lies Costa Brava's true value.

I am not sure how to rate fairly something so simple and slender and yet so sincere and tender.


Reviewed by Edmund Marlowe on Goodreads.com, 3 May 2014.