Belarmino and Apolonio (1921) is a study of contrasts and opposing views. Pérez de Ayala was concerned with humanity’s incapacity to grasp the whole truth about any particular situation. And to get his readers to overcome this handicap, he creates a story in which, quoting literary critic Frances Weber,:
- Two theorists argue about two opposing ways to understand human behavior
- Three narrators report the action in two separate but related plots
- Events take place over two different time periods and, are related as fact and sometimes as fiction
This is a book of plural realities. It is also an exploration of Spanish society. At its heart are two of the most interesting characters in literature: Belarmino and Apolonio. Both are shoemakers. However, their true passions lie elsewhere. Belarmino is a philosopher and has created his own language of words with opaque and unexpected meanings. Apolonio is a playwright. Obviously, they are both obsessed with words. But they also hate each, which is odd because they are more similar than not. Their children fall in love but are driven apart by their parents. They will meet again in the end. Belarmino and Apolonio is a very serious novel. But in keeping with the author’s sense of duality, it is also playful. It recalls the works of Italo Calvino so I’m not surprised that I enjoyed it. The world has forgotten Ramon Pérez de Ayala. It’s a pity because this book deserves to be read.
(This publication is part of the now defunct “Quartet Encounters”, an eclectic series of European books.)