I was intrigued when I heard of this book, being one of only a hundred (or so) books written in Basque since the invention of the printing press. Also, the descriptions I read made it seem like it surreal elements.
I enjoyed it, but not as much as I thought I would. It's a stitched-together collection of short stories, that I would have liked to have had be more cohesive. The ending, in particular, seemed contrived, and not particularly satisfying.
From Publishers Weekly: This loosely structured novel centered on a remote Basque village portrays life as a perilous journey in which chance and free will intervene in equal measures. An unobtrusively dazzling collage of seemingly unrelated stories, town gossip, diary excerpts and literary theory, all held together by Atxaga's distinctive, tenderly ironic voice, it won Spain's National Prize for Literature. The Basque novelist and poet peoples the town of Obaba and its environs with a lovelorn schoolmistress, a cultured but self-hating dwarf, a schoolboy whose mining engineer father tricks him into growing up and an environmentalist who rescues lizards after playing wicked tricks with them as a youth. Atxaga also spins tales of a German painter driven mad by guilt over his romance with an Arab woman; of an Irish woman in search of her doctor husband who is missing in the Amazon jungle; and of a rescue mission on a Swiss mountain climbing expedition in Nepal that turns to murder.
From Library Journal: In the prolog to this novel, Atxaga explains the intricacies of his native culture: "I write in a strange language. Its verbs, the structure of its relative clauses, have no sisters anywhere on Earth." Translated into English from the author's own Spanish translation of the original text written in Basque, the work has everything to do with the language of a people and culture living on the fringes of society. Like the single-laned, rutted, dirt roads that link the sparsely populated villages in the fictitious region of Obaba, Atxaga (a la Gabriel Garcia Marquez) has compiled a series of independent and interrelated stories that introduce the reader to a cross-section of Obaban society. Through the eyes of these numerous protagonists, who can vary from chapter to chapter, Atxaga reviews and foreshadows the paralyzing effect superstition and myth-making can have on the individual and society. He both respects and fears the inherent introversion of his people--so ably reflected in a language spoken by only a handful of human beings. Obabakoak , winner of Spain's National Prize for Literature, is a tribute to the Basque people's language and culture.