Madrid Will be Their Tomb takes place in two occupied buildings in Madrid: one the former headquarters of the NO-DO (a news organisation that produced propaganda during the Franco era), conquered by a small fascist group, and the other the ruins of an abandoned film studio, converted into the barracks of a Marxist-Leninist cell. The main premise of the novel is a love story between militants from each side, Santiago and Ramiro, but Duval does much more than this. We read of attacks on mosques, demonstrations and the use of internet forums as weapons of mass destruction. The future of the city, where naivety has been eradicated and love has become a privilege, is linked to the fate of these fringe political groups. At once discursive and devastating, Duval’s debut is imbued with the same traits as the era she portrays: it is sad, passionate and comes loaded with dire images.
Something grows in Madrid like a parasite, swelling its arteries with cement and burning in the air; beneath the plastic metro tunnels, the metro of colours, a poison meets another poison. They call the building that contains a world on the brink of explosion the Castillo. In the entrance there’s a food bank and a cloakroom; on the spacious second floor, a multitude of bedrooms and rooms; the third is divided into the meeting room, the library, the living room and the kitchen; on the fourth are more bedrooms and a mezzanine from which the whole territory can be gazed upon with a belligerent spirit. From the rooftop, the map stops and starts. Madrid is a filthy city bent on self-destruction: it contemplates itself in the mirrors of Sol’s metro station entrance – whale-like and almost cubist – and cracks its knuckles. The distribution of roofs is chaotic, the joints are dirty, and in each tiny fragment one can make out as many copper tones as the elements have been able to establish as they scorch existence, now burnt to a crisp. In its centre everything is compressed and squeezed between small houses – it’s a Manchego pueblo suffering from acromegaly – while in the north, where the four towers are, everything becomes something else. The rich districts of the city are those into which parallel worlds do not venture and, although the border between them is delicate, these flows between districts are but an illusion. All public spaces are under threat of invasion, and none can escape its clutches. It is not as magnified as in Las Lomas, nor does it languish like on the great Parisian boulevards, but misery and opulence sometimes come to share a corner, with each being fully aware of the other’s will to put an end to them. Every good Madrileño always thinks of the extermination of the social class to which they do not belong, with this thought being precisely that which distinguishes them. There are large, bona fide wastelands: territories that belong to some – for use – to later be bought by others – for money – but on which nothing has yet been built. They are ideal spaces for conspiracy. The Mercado de la Cebada has not yet been refurbished, nor has it been invaded by the kitsch and colourful winds declared by the movement of the clouds, lanterns and garlands. The people drink their cans of Mahou beer and drink, wait, live on, and then drink until they die. Crossing two streets and heading down the hill some metres, you reach Glorieta de Embajadores. Scattered in a spiral, here the abandoned wait for a car that will drag them away and deposit them; they wait for an act of kindness or a miracle. This neighbourhood still believes that the world is on the verge of change, but its hopes grow smaller day by day. There are those that have never even thought about it: those that enter and leave the Casa de Baños public baths with sores in their mouths and blood on their hands. They don’t have time to think, so they don’t; they don’t have enough money to live on, so they don’t. They hold up, as best as they can, and resist; they don’t dream. If they so wish, they enter the Casa de Baños and their whims are limited to the choice between hot or cold water, better facilities, or a little warmth. They didn’t vote in the last elections, and they face the next ones with indifference. They get involved in politics in the only way possible: by shutting up. Politics, like everything, consists of managing spaces in specific ways: an administration of the world and of the people. National governments can distance themselves from the specific and proceed thanks to abstraction while local management cannot afford such disconnections. Politics is the management of human loneliness and there are individuals who cling to political groups in order to find a cure for this loneliness, like an addict or waster who needs another fix. The greater the feeling of doing something good for the surrounding community, the more importance the addict is filled with, and the more consistency and commitment they require. In Madrid, while the city turns on itself, some cultivate conspiracies of new, distinct worlds in their hearts: it is like this in the north of the city that plunders and is the same in the south that doubles over and grinds, even more so where both trenches meet. At half past four in the morning the doorways of Calle del Oso fill up with aluminium and heroin while the starry-eyed yearn. There are streets in Madrid that are full of shame, but none stoop lower than Gran Vía; death is ready to be received between the cars, and the boina of smog swells and gains strength. There are bridges and streets that no one should have to travel at night; Madrid is a city of more than a million corpses slowly rotting as no one questions it, because whoever brings up the question sacrifices their own conscience. But Madrid’s memory is more vibrant than arid and devastating: its malice is forgotten with the night, as crimes that no one wants to remember are forgotten. In Madrid, the century educates its youth in the greatest generational shame, instilling even its victories with nihilistic spirits; things are not, nor will be, nor could be otherwise, and when the sun sets on their anger, everything will continue to be in the hands of the same men, consumed by the same teeth.
By Elizabeth Duval
Translated by Alice Banks
From MADRID WILL BE THEIR TOMB
by Elizabeth Duval
Translated by Alice Banks
Published by Fum d’Estampa Press (2023)
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Elizabeth Duval debuted with her memoir, Reina, followed by the long poem Exception and the essay Después de lo trans. Her first fictional work, Madrid será la tumba, has been praised by critics and readers alike.
Alice Banks is a literary translator from Spanish and French based in Madrid. Alice’s most recent translation is Deranged As I Am, by Ali Zamir. She has also translated Elizabeth Duval’s novel Madrid será la tumba.