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In our March 10, 2022 issue, Colm Tóibín reviewed Parallel Mothers, Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film in which his characters confront the dark forces of their country’s past as they dig up the massive, anonymous graves of their relatives killed during the Spanish Civil War. Tóibín describes the filmmaker as “a moralist opposed to dishonesty and hypocrisy; His characters work toward recognizing aspects of themselves that were hidden or forbidden.”
This surprising description could perhaps also be applied to Tóibín, a prolific critic and novelist whose work candidly interrogates many of the themes also found in Almodóvar’s films: Catholicism, homosexuality, and masculinity. For two decades, Tóibín has been a regular contributor to the Check. He is currently Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and Chancellor of the University of Liverpool.
After graduating from University College Dublin in 1975, Tóibín moved to Barcelona, spending the next three years in the midst of the new Spain fever that arose after the death of Francisco Franco. His experiences there influenced his first novel, The South, which follows an Irish woman who emigrates to Barcelona. After her time in Spain, Tóibín returned to Ireland in 1978 and began working as a journalist. He left his native country again in 1985 and traveled through Europe, South America and Africa, experiences that led him to produce Bad Blood: A Walk Across the Irish Border Y The Sign of the Cross: Travels in Catholic Europe.
As a critic, Tóibín has often considered Spanish works of art and literature that confront the forces and legacies of fascism; In addition to Almodóvar, he has written about Javiar Marías, Pablo Picasso and Federico García Lorca, assassinated by Falangist forces at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.
Among the artists who represent the soul of post-Franco Spain, in his opinion, “several novelists emerged, but many of them playful, as interested in form and tone as in politics. But, even so, it is possible to obtain a portrait of modern Spain from Javier Marías, Almudena Grandes, Antonio Muñoz Molina and Enrique Vila-Matas. But the spirit of change also appears in the poems of Luis García Montero and in the paintings of Miquel Barceló.”
In his review of Lorca’s volume poet in spainTóibín makes it clear that artists are often weighed by the political, writing that “Lorca knew with an almost capricious certainty that in the Spain of 1936 the personal was political, and that the body itself, especially the body of a woman or a man homosexual, was as much a territory of conflict and destiny as the ownership of land or factories.
Although Tóibín acknowledges that Parallel Mothers “It could seem like Almodóvar’s most political film”, highlights the importance of the director’s first works during the Spanish democratic transition: “Bringing sexual strangeness into the light of normality has been a profoundly political act for him”.
Tóibín refers to motherhood as “one of Almodóvar’s great themes”. The same could be said of Tóibín, who has closely examined maternal dynamics in testament of mary, house of namesY mothers and sons. I asked if there is anything that seems to draw gay men to stories about mothers. “Yes,” she answered. “Gay men are nicer to their mothers than straight men, who seem to be very busy.”
Right now, he is reading Harald Jähner’s book. Aftermath, a history of everyday life in Germany in the decade after the fall of the Third Reich. “This gives us a fascinating account of what really happened in Germany in the lives of ordinary people after the war, but it also has a broader mission,” he said: “to show us how strange people behave and how often obvious It does not happen”. t happens and how well people adapt to the strangest of circumstances.”
Tóibín, although best known as a novelist, began writing poetry at the age of twelve. “It was more of an impulse than a decision,” he told me. “Poems and novels can spring from an impulse. Many times the impulse, the original, is enough to sustain a poem, but a novel requires many days of boring work.
His first collection of poetry, vinegar hill, will be released on April 12, and is the culmination of several decades of work: “If something occurs to me, I write it like the beginning of a poem. Other than that, I have finished two poems this year. Maybe by the end of the year I’ll have eight poems. When I’m not doing this, I’m working on a new novel.” Perhaps, like Almodóvar’s characters, Tóibín is revisiting the past “to insist that what happened is not forgotten”.