A father and son take shelter from the rain. Suddenly, a 76-year old man arrives, wedging himself in between the two of them. After a throwaway remark about the downpour, a question alters the course of the conversation.
“During the war, you weren’t in Fonfría by any chance?” the man asks the father, referring to the province in the north of Spain.
The word “war” transports them both straight back to the past; however, the memories that spring to the younger man’s mind — the best years of his life as a Falangist, a member of the fascist movement on one side of the Spanish Civil War — are not the same as the ones that Graciano Custodio Alvarez is referring to.
“Don’t you remember?” says Graciano. “Don’t you remember a man who arrived on foot with a child? That man was named Angel Custodio Reguera and he was my father. I am that child.” The father, we will find out later, was executed by Falangists in front of his son.
This is how in his novel Ayer no más"Yesterday No More" Spanish writer Andrés Trapiello broaches what is still the one of the most sensitive topics in Spain: the wounds of the nation’s civil war, which — 70 years on — are still unhealed. Through the eyes of different characters, Trapiello helps us see that, however much many Spaniards might like to “forget” this past, the dead and the survivors continue to demand justice.
The book’s protagonist, José, a university history professor specialized in the Spanish Civil War, is the Falangist's son — and now that he discovers the full story, he couldn’t find himself in a worse predicament. Despite the fact that his father didn’t pull the trigger, he could easily go down in history as the Fonfría killer. At the end of the day, justice consists of judging someone without worrying about whether that judgment stands as a symbol of something else. Such an approach is vital in making sense of a war in which it is often said that, although over half a million people died, nobody killed anyone.
Surrounded by questions, “Am I going to turn him in? Could I really do it? Is this what I want?,” another civil war erupts in the family: father against son. José believes that it is not just about identifying the final executioner of a killing, but the accomplices who have as much blood on their hands.
This novel demonstrates how, in conflict, the truth can easily fade because neither side feels any sense of guilt. Everyone is in search of whatever justification is needed for what they did, and feels entitled to be pardoned if indeed they did do something wrong. And thus such terrible phrases as “We did it for God, family and country” converts extremely serious crimes into shocking justifications.
And so the awful question must be asked: How can we convince the guilty that they committed crimes if all parties end up believing in their own innocence? Beyond the fundamental quandary of who were the good guys and who were the bad guys, the only thing left is memory. Memory, of course, viewed from all angles. “We must remember, because remembering is a moral duty,” Trapiello writes. “We have a debt to the victims. By remembering and telling their story, we save the victim from a second death: death by amnesia.”
The trepidation with which the Spanish approach their Civil War, even 70 years later, makes me think about our conflict, here in Colombia, which still isn’t over. Our wounds haven’t even begun to heal, even as the list of victims continues to creep higher. Withstanding the war continues to weigh on the nation. At some point the next stage will arrive, where we can say that it happened just yesterday.