Toward the end of the Spanish Civil War, Manuel’s biological father, Jorge de Son Major, dies, finally recognizing him in his will. His social father, Jose Taronji, had been killed only two years before. Manuel, newly rich but philosophically impoverished, seeks a secular spiritual father in "Jeza", an imprisoned rebel leader, and Jose’s comrade. When Jeza is killed, Manuel informs his wife, Marta, and together they plan a final revolt. They use Jorge de Son Major’s boat, Antinea, to deliver rebel documents, then make one final, "crazy," fatal stand, to honor and mourn Jeza, to remember and create themselves.


The deaths of his three fathers (the first recounted in School of the Sun. see this database) punctuate Manuel’s brutal transition from adolescence to adulthood, and from a religious to a secular consciousness. "Good" and "Evil" no longer resonate with absolute moral authority, but rather with a social hierarchy justified by the Church. The social injustices which touch him as an individual, as part of two socially distinct families, and as a member of a broader community, make the Republican cause, already lost, the only source of a meaningful life and death.

Matute’s narrative juxtaposition of past, present and future and her poetic layering of metaphors give depth and texture to the existential theme of engagement. At once suspended in time and grounded in history, her poetic prose renders universal, beyond its archetypal reference points, a particular narrative. The alternance of first and third person narration contributes to the reader’s simultaneous impression of intimacy and distance. Together these attributes create a novel of "la posguerra" (a post Spanish Civil War novel) that leaves the reader dazed by its complex simplicity and bewildered by its publication in the time of Franco, begging the broader theoretical questions of writing and reading under censorship.

This is the second novel of a trilogy, preceded and followed by Primera memoria and La trampa (1969), respectively. The title of the entire trilogy is Los mercaderes. See entry in this database, School of the Sun, for the first part of the trilogy.


Trans. by Robert Nugent and Marma Jose de la Camara. First published in 1964 as Los soldados lloran de noche.


Latin American Review

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