LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks. Asturian Lit: Extract from THE FORCE OR THE FOUR EPIPHANIES OF MARTÍN FEITO by Xaime Martínez, translated from the Asturian by Robin Munby

This month in La Española we are travelling deep into Asturias with an extract from Xaime Martínez’s debut novel, La fuercia, translated into English by Robin Munby.

The Force follows Martín Feito, a writer who has been sent to a fictionalised Asturian village, Chaneces, to finish his book. However, as he struggles to work on his novel, he becomes increasingly caught up in the village’s surreal, absurd happenings, and the prospect of a book ever being written fades further and further into the distance.

Set in a valley dominated by a sinister thermal power station, whose huge chimney and low hum of engines loom over its surroundings, this strange village quickly swallows Martín Feito up, as he becomes embroiled in a web of eccentric characters and their no-less-eccentric schemes. Doing anything he can to avoid writing, he hangs out at the pub; smuggles books for Manulón de Porgüechu, the enigmatic leader of a guerrilla resistance group, based on the Asturian vaqueiros;conducts an ill-advised affair with the girlfriend of a local police officer; and makes an even-more ill-advised attempt to blow up the power station using bottles of contraband perfume, all the while noting down ideas on his mobile for the putative novel. 

The Force’s broader setting, at the heart of an empire known only as the Imperiu, part of a faintly dystopian alternate universe, makes for an eerie, unsettling read, but a funny one too, never taking itself too seriously. 

Thanks to Robin Munby’s brilliant translation, we are able to read the opening pages of this novel, which has very fittingly been coined a ‘cacopho western’, and follow Martín Feito as he first enters the village …

By Alice Banks (aka ‘La Española’)

The Force

or the Four Epiphanies of Martín Feito

A Vaqueiro Novel

Part I: Walls

They’d sent him to the village because he was having trouble writing. Hunched over the steering wheel of the Fiat Umbra, or maybe it would be better to say slouched over the steering wheel of the Fiat Umbra, since it was hard to make out precisely how tense his muscles were through the car’s filthy windows, Martín Feito tried to remember who it was that had told him about the village, which employee of the small but profitable independent publisher had family there, which of them had cheerily recommended the sleepy village nestled in the mountains like an enchanted temple or a menacing cemetery. Now please just get on with writing the book.

Lifting his eyes from the car’s steering wheel, Martín Feito saw a cloud of ash making its way across the Imperial Highway in front of him. At first he took it as a portent. But no, he soon realised it was just a flock of sheep returning from their pasture to the hamlet he’d passed a moment earlier, and this pleased him. Their rhythm, he thought, was in tune with his own, though he also thought the opposite, and without taking his eyes off the sheep, he leant back in the driving seat, grabbed the can of tonic water he’d left in the cool box a few hours ago, and took a sip. The tonic was tepid, but Martín Feito was full of hope.

He steered the Fiat Umbra down the narrow highway, snaking through pit villages like tiny, neurotic oases amid a desert of psychosis and boredom, villages with streets that had letters to differentiate them where they should have had names; he passed reservoirs with belltowers emerging from their waters, and climbed past bars where locals with paunches in short-sleeved shirts watched him from under the awnings, as slag heaps rose up here and there before receding again into the dark and briar. 

As Martín Feito made his way across that corner of the Imperiu, twilight hung in the balance above him, a balance that made it impossible to tell whether night was about to fall or another fourteen hours of daylight were on the way. For a while he was trailing a white van that kept beeping its horn as it passed each village, though it never stopped to sell anything, which gave Martín Feito something akin to the creeps, and finally darkness did fall over the forest and industrial infrastructure dotted sporadically across the landscape, gone redundantly to rust thanks to the apathy of men like him, or maybe because of something else.

Martín Feito knew he was nearing the village when the Fiat Umbra’s headlights landed on the pillar of white smoke coming from the Power Station, which, according to Google Maps, was only one kilometre from his destination. Someone had told him that the constant hum of the Power Station’s turbines would help him write, saying the white noise, which permeated the entire valley, was very like silence, only less pretentious. Martín Feito had laughed when he heard this, telling his unremembered interlocutor that the jolly column of benign, white smoke, which ascended to the heavens as if from a gentle blaze, was more akin to the art of writing poetry. The two of them had burst out laughing. Neither of them, it has to be said, felt like mentioning the fine column of black smoke that rose from a more distant chimney, though they both had it in mind as they stared at one another across the corridor of the prestigious publisher, before each returning to their work.

In any case, that column was hidden from view as Martín Feito drove past the Chaneces Power Station.

Martín Feito reached the village just gone eleven at night, one day in early summer. He tried to drive as discreetly as he could past the first house he came to, but in the yard out front were a black dog and a group of women, sat down or leaning on canes, who squinted at him through the darkness, trying to make out who he was. When one of them got up to greet him, Martín Feito pressed the accelerator, but a sudden wave of embarrassment made him change his mind and hit the brakes. He came to a stop and walked over to where they were gathered. 

The woman who had got up to say hello was about to sit back down on one of the benches in the yard, but she stopped when she saw Martín Feito emerge from the shadows. 

Good evening.

God-ye good even, said the woman.

I was looking for Casa Benxamín.

Ah, you’re the writer, are you not? Take a right over there, then just after that you turn up the hill towards the church.

Thank you, said Martín Feito.

Drop by here whenever you want, we’ve got plenty of jokes and tales to tell, said an ancient, shabby-looking man with curly, conspiratorial hair and a conspiratorial voice, thought Martín Feito; the man was stood in the corner of the yard so he hadn’t seen him as he came over. We’re knitting, you see, this is a knitting circle, a group of likeminded young things who get together to spin the yarn and chew the fat after dark, only our yarn is of the metaphorical persuasion, or nostalgic, or godawful, or I don’t know.

Martín Feito nodded and gave a shrug, at once baffled and intrigued by the old man’s proposition, and then went back to his car, which he’d left right in the middle of the main street. He followed the woman’s directions, doing his best to judge the distance between the dark buildings and the car and to avoid the bits of slate that had fallen from the roofs above, making his way up the steep streets and scratching the Fiat Umbra’s flank as he did so, before arriving at what were to be his lodgings for the coming weeks. 

Casa Benxamín was one of the village’s innumerable grey-stone houses. Martín Feito pulled up outside and climbed the couple of steps up to the tiled porch. As he approached the front door, a bright-white light suddenly shone down on him.

They’re watching me, thought Martín Feito, someone’s monitoring me to make sure I write, then he vomited both internally and externally, well maybe that’s over-egging it, but he did feel a throbbing in his armpit and a burning in his throat, so he tried to calm himself down by saying: hello? but nobody answered, and then Martín Feito noticed that the light, which was above the front door, had a motion sensor.

Stuck to the door with sticky tape were the keys and a note that said: “your room is the second on the right. i’m out. i’ll see you in the morning” followed by an indecipherable signature. Martín Feito looked around, carefully pulled the keys and the note from the door, and then went inside Casa Benxamín, pushing the door open with his left shoulder and stepping inside with his right leg, his right hand pulling a suitcase containing warm clothes, a very old laptop and a ton of books. Martín Feito was in the habit of carting books with him all over the place, as if he didn’t have any real sense of his own reading capacity or literary tastes, and lived in constant fear of ending up with nothing to read.

Martín Feito was also carrying a small guitar case under his left arm, which he used to prop the door open as he dragged (so to speak) or slithered or infiltrated (that seems more accurate somehow) his way into the house.

Martín Feito groaned, slammed the door shut with his heel and put the suitcase down on the floor, a mosaic of Catalan-style cement tiles, delicate and disturbing in equal measure. He imagined the house by day, dimly lit, and himself, alone, within, writing at full pelt, hypnotised by the humming turbines of the Power Station. He liked the idea: he was on board with it (the desire to be hypnotised). And yet he couldn’t shake the feeling that eyes, perhaps the eyes of danger, or perhaps the eyes of duty or refulgent mediocrity, were watching him from the dark of the village.

By Xaime Martínez

Translated by Robin Munby

This translation is seeking a publisher. Contact: for more details.

Xaime Martínez is a writer, philologist, and musician. He has written collections of poems both in Spanish: Fuego cruzado (Hiperión, 2014, Premio Antonio Carvajal) and Cuerpos perdidos en las morgues (Ultramarinos, 2018) which won the 2019 Miguel Hernández National Youth Poetry Prize; and in Asturian: Hibernia (Saltadera, 2017, Premiu de la Crítica d’Asturies). As a translator, he has translated La torre, by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats into Asturian (Impronta, 2018). His first novel, La fuercia o les cuatro epifaníes de Martín Feito was published by Hoja de Lata in 2021, and its Spanish translation, La fuerza o las cuatro epifanias de Martin Feito (translated by Xaime) was published this year in 2023 with Malas Tierras.

Robin Munby is a literary translator from Liverpool, based in Madrid. His translations from Spanish, Russian and Asturian have appeared in publications including The Glasgow Review of Books, Wasafiri, Subtropics, Asymptote and Poetry Ireland Review. In December 2023, he was the inaugural resident at the Residencia Lliteraria Xixón in Asturias.

Robin Munby also coordinated the Asturian section in The Spanish Riveter. You can find his article on translating Asturian here, and his translation of Claudia Elena Menéndez Fernández’s poem, FÁLALA here.

Alice Banks is a creative and literary translator from French and Spanish based in Madrid. After studying the MA in Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia, Alice began working with the European Literature Network as an Editorial Assistant. She also volunteers as a copy editor for Asymptote Journal and is a publishing assistant at Fum d’Estampa Press.

Read previous posts in La Española series:

LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks. III Festival of Queer Spanish Literature in London

LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks & The Spanish Riveter. Latin American Focus

LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks & The Spanish Riveter. From THE DEAR ONES by Berta Dávila, translated by Jacob Rogers

LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks. November – Katixa Agirre’s DE NUEVO CENTAURO

LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks. October – Katie Whittemore’s Translator Triptych

LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks. June – Feria del libro, Madrid

LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks. May – Non-fiction

LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks. April: Catalan Spotlight at the London Book Fair

LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks. March: From Ukraine to Spain

LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks. February: Spain, a nation of booklovers

LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks. December: Galician Focus

LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks. November Author focus: Elizabeth Duval

LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks. October: Basque Focus

LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks. September: Children’s Literature. By our guest columnist Claire Storey, introduced by La Española editor Alice Banks

LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks. Las Sinsombrero

LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks. July: Crime and Thriller Writing

LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks. June: The Short Story

LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks. May: Contemporary Fiction

LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks. April: Catalan Focus

LA ESPAÑOLA: Riveting Writing from Spain with Alice Banks

Category: TranslationsLa Española: Riveting Writing from SpainBlogs


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