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Nada by Carmen Laforet
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Nov 16, 2010

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Read in July, 2010

Small town girl Andrea comes to live with her relatives in 1940s Barcelona in order to study at the university. During the year that follows, the allure of life in the exciting city quickly degenerates as Andrea's demanding and volatile family suffocates her spirit.

Andrea's relatives are the probably one of the most dysfunctional I've ever come across in literature . Laforet runs away with the stereotype of explosive Spanish temperament with enraged uncles trying to kill each other or beating their wives. It seems as if every other chapter has a murderous fight, whether verbal or physical. If they're not fighting, then they're trying to stifle Andrea.

The beginning seems to promise adventure as Andrea arrives in the Barcelona train station in the dead of night. Instead, however, it goes jaggedly downhill from there. Her aunt is obsessed with making sure Andrea remains chaste and pure from the influence of the city, its inhabitants, and rebellious ideas. Her Uncles Roman and Juan hate each other and everybody else. Juan beats his wife, Gloria, regularly. The maid is surly. Her grandmother suffers the violence between her sons and their neglect of her.

Andrea's home life goes from bad to worse, then even worse until she befriends the rich and beautiful Ena at the university. Their friendship introduces her to a more civilized and pampered existence and Ena becomes her refuge from the horrible fights at home. That is, until their friendship and her unstable family unexpectedly collide.

As the innocent lamb who comes into the den of lions, I kept expecting Andrea either be swallowed whole by her crazy family or turn crazy herself. Neither happened. Everyone around her explodes in fury and behaves outrageously, yet Andrea, other than indulging in a little rebellion, somehow hangs onto her sanity.

"One twilight near the Cathedral I heard the slow tolling of a bell that made the city older. I looked up at the sky, turning a softer, bluer color with the first stars, and I had an impression of almost mystical beauty. A desire to die there, off to the side, looking up, under the great sweetness of the night that was beginning to fall. And my chest ached with hunger and unconfessable desires when I breathed. It was as if I were smelling the scent of death and finding it good for the first time after it had caused terror in me."

Very little is revealed about Andrea's life before coming to live in Barcelona, as if, like the title, she was nothing, a clean slate upon which her family's rages and unreasonable demands become written. Will she become as they are or will she escape their tortured legacy?

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