The Low Voices by Manuel Rivas

Review published on November 19, 2017.

This volume, translated from Galician, apparently started life as a series of articles by writer and poet Rivas and then evolved into something variously described as a memoir or a novel. Do not expect a linear tale. Either way it is wonderful, a luminescent account of lives lived. This makes it hard to review to deadlines as the temptation is to meander over the detailed descriptions and sensations of people and place – with the need to go back and re-read sentence after sentence to find the true depth of meaning.

Rivas was born in 1957 to a working family. Placed by time in a Galicia facing another twenty years of the Spanish totalitarian regime of Franco, a subtle underlying theme of all the tales. We are told that his mother was a verbivore – in a community where many were still virtually illiterate and money was exceedingly hard come by – she ate words. Some of the family were readers, but all were bedded within the Galician culture of storytelling. Rivas makes it clear that he is only one of an extraordinary family.

What draws me to this compelling book is the almost seamless melding of the tales of a family across the generations, a family deeply bedded into their community. This community, at a moment of great and escalating changes, still carried vestiges of a rural life lived for thousands of years. Those lives substantially agricultural in character are bedded deep in the landscape of which we are given close descriptions, although that too is changing to reflect a more international aspect – tourism, urbanisation, technology etc.

Curiosity/awareness for Rivas and family is not a problem, it is a given. Poverty is no excuse not to live life to the full and to have ambitions to see and live more. So although this could be regarded as a eulogy for a departing way of life, it is still immensely positive and issues challenges to the reader.

This book will appeal to most book groups. For those of a more political bent – and setting aside that the book has been funded by the EU taxpayers! – reading it now is an interesting backdrop to the Catalonian bid for independence, with its pride in community diversity and awareness that bad things in the Spanish past linger long in family memories. But for others, just read it, enjoy the pictures created and admire the outstanding writing.

Hilary White 5/5

The Low Voices by Manuel Rivas
Vintage 9780099597438 pbk Jul 2017



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