At the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, while her father fights for the Republicans against Franco's forces which her deceased mother's family supports, fourteen-year-old Matia is forced to leave her elderly nanny and go to live with her maternal grandmother, aunt, and her fifteen-year-old male cousin, Borja. This is the summer the frightened, rebellious, and homesick Matia struggles with her changing body, and the changing relationships and behaviors she must have as a woman in her society. This is the summer Matia learns of social class, politics, sex, and family secrets; of love, honor, and betrayal.


This sensitive and searing novel spares none of the feelings of adolescence, neither the more tender and endearing, nor the more prideful and cruel. From a spatial and familial position eccentric to the Spanish Civil War, it gives at once a portrayal of a particular adolescence in a specific historical time and place, and a more universal expression of loss, bewilderment, estrangement, and guilt. Matia's description of her growing awareness of her self, the others around her, and the social structures into which she must enter never dips into cliched "torment," but rather evolves subtly from innocence to experience broadly understood. The horrific conclusion leaves the reader gasping with the same surprise, shame, and guilt that marks Matia's passage from youth to adulthood.

Matute's narrative style, delicate and lyrically powerful, draws the reader through his or her own movement from Blakean innocence to experience. Her nuanced characterization and intricate plot structure, combined with a deceptively simple "transparent" narrative stance, heightens the impact of the climax. Neither embittered nor romanticized, the denouement suitably closes this "first memory" and opens the text to the next two volumes of Matute's trilogy.

This novel, originally published as Primera memoria in 1959 (Ediciones Destino, Barcelona), won the Premio Eugenio Nadal. It is the first part of the trilogy, Los mercaderes (second and third parts entitled Los soldados lloran de noche and La trampa, respectively). The second part of the trilogy, Soldiers Cry by Night (English title), has been annotated in this database.


First published: 1959. Translated by Elaine Kerrigan.


Columbia Univ. Press

Place Published

New York



Page Count