Not European, not Mediterranean, neither Latin nor Caribbean. The Canary Islands are all and none of these things at the same time. Their solitary sands, their abrupt landscapes –a face hardened by the eternal wind-, their tropical rainforests, all together, might sometimes resemble the wilderness from Africa, the nature from the Caribbean, and the culture from Europe, Cuba and Venezuela. This whole cocktail, however, has evolved and matured in the people, changing the ways they feel about life, and embedding a perspective of the land and the sea in their hearts which I am sure is different from any other in the world.
The culture in the Canary Islands has been defined in many different ways, which explains just how many things they bring together and evoke as a result of being the natural and historical bridge between Europe, Africa and South America. And this is perfectly conveyed in the novel we are reviewing in today’s post: Mararía, by Rafael Arozarena.
Rafael Arozarena was born in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1923. He wrote six novels and had a prolific work of poetry, but his most internationally acclaimed work ever is the novel Mararía.
This is good example of literature from the Canary Islands which has indeed achieved a wider audience both in Spain and other countries. As we have already commented in a previous post, the book has been translated into German by the translator Gerta Neuroth, and published by Konkursbuch Verlag Claudia Gehrke. In Spain, it is currently published by Ediciones Ideas.
Cover from Konkursbuch’s Mararía
The novel tells the story of Mararía, an old bewitched woman in a small, isolated coastal village in Lanzarote called Femés. Seen from the eyes of a stranger, we get to know more and more about her as the neighbours from the village narrate their own particular part of her story. Many years before the narrative moment of the novel, Mararía was a beauty and many men from the village would fall in love with her, which provoked jealousy among them and finally tragedy, as no one would give her what she really needed: an escape from a natural jail bordered by sea everywhere. The problems that would arise around her, together with the loss of loved ones, would finally carve her into who she is in the actual time of the novel- someone who wishes not to be seen, who wishes not to be a prisoner of that limited and abrupt land, a land which means only grief and pain to her memory. And that is what the strangers can see in her now – someone that spends her days and nights only wandering around, looking for everything that has been taken from her in her youth, and carrying out magic rituals to bring those things back, still knowing that they will never really happen.
Mararía became really popular in Spain after the release of the movie in 1998, directed by the Canarian, Antonio Betancor. Starring the Spanish actor Carmelo Gómez, the Canarian actress Goya Toledo, the Englishman Iain Glen and the Cuban Mirtha Ibarra, the cast clearly reflects the ethnic mix of the Islands. Despite having completely adapted the story to the big screen, whereby many parts of the plot were changed into quite a different tale, the movie was still able to recreate that mystic atmosphere of the book. Actors and landscapes melt to express the sadness, the solitude and the passion of Mararía and a land which, even if sometimes might be paradisiacal, can at other times be extremely hard on us.
The soundtrack was composed by the acclaimed musician and singer from Tenerife, Pedro Guerra. The main song of the soundtrack also helps to recreate that atmosphere of deserted landscapes, solitude, and the natural sea-boundary that limits ourselves so much on the islands.
This is, above all, a story of a great literary work reaching the general public and gaining the place in history that it rightly deserves. For those who have not read the book or watched the film yet, I completely recommend them. The book is a must-read that will transport you to different place where you will be able to feel the passion of our forgotten land in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.