The Heretic

In general, having the world’s dominant language as your first
language is an advantage, but it does mean that you don’t
necessarily hear about writers in other languages who write books
you might be interested in.

In the case of Miguel Delibes, I never heard of him until I
read his obituary.
It said, “Known for his humble nature, his empathy for the poor
and a lifelong commitment to rural Spain and its traditions, he
wrote of sheepherders, cheese-makers, blacksmiths and hunters. His
characters are complex, often reflecting the cultural and
political struggles that followed the Spanish Civil War.”

This sounded like an author I would enjoy, and it also said,
“The last novel Mr. Delibes wrote before he was operated on for
colon cancer in 1998 — “El Hereje” (“The Heretic”) — is the one
he wanted to be remembered by…” so I took that one out of the
library.

It took me a while to get into it — at least in translation
the writing is a bit dry, and there are long lists of characters
who are mentioned by name before they’re described. But really,
if you wonder what life in Spain was like in the sixteenth
century, or what would cause you to become a Lutheran when you’d always been a
Catholic, I’ve never read anything remotely as good as this.

Here’s the description of the moment of becoming a
Lutheran:

One day in April, while Antón was blaring out an
ardent screech from the top of the little pedestal despite the
stubborn silence fo the surrounding fields, Pedro Cazalla
brutally, with no preparation whatsoever, told Cipriano there
was no purgatory. Even though he was seated, Salcedo reacted to
Cazalla’s harshness with a strange weakness in the knees and a
vertigo in the pit of his stomach. The priest looked carefully
at him out of the corner ofhis eye, waiting for his reaction.
He saw Cipriano turn pale, as he did the day they saw the frog,
and then try to straighten his legs in the tight space of the
hunting blind. Finally he muttered: “Th…this I cannot accept,
Pedro. It’s part of my childhood faith.”

They were inside the blind, sitting on hte bench, one next to
the other. Cazalla with his loaded shotgun between his legs,
both oblivious to the partridge. Cazalla spoke sweetly,
shrugging his shoulders: “It’s very hard, Cipriano, I understand
that, but we must be coherent within our faith. If we observe
the commandments, there is nothing for which we are not forgiven
thanks to Christ’s Passion.”

Salcedo looked as if he were going to burst into tears, such
was his desolation: “You are right, father,” he said at last,
“but with that revelation, you leave me forsaken.”

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