Cover image for The lone woman
The lone woman
Atxaga, Bernardo.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Esos cielos. English
Publication Information:
London : Harvill Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
120 pages ; 23 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Irene is thirty-seven years old and just out of prison after a four-year sentence for terrorist involvement. On her first night of freedom, she wanders from bar to bar, picks up a stranger, and spends the night with him in a hotel. He treats her badly; she attacks him and escapes. She decides to return to her native Bilbao, and while waiting at the bus stop in Barcelona, she is approached by a man she believes to be a plainclothes policeman. By attaching herself to two nuns, she manages to board the bus without him, and her journey begins.

Other passengers on the bus include another plainclothes policeman, who is joined by the first farther down the line. Conversations strike up, and there begins an intricate game of hide-and-seek between strangers as they open up a little, make advances and diversions, and sidestep nimbly. As the bus continues across Spain and the travelers come increasingly into focus, Atxaga builds up tensions that can be resolved only after their arrival in Bilbao.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

This is a short yet powerful novel that concerns an ex-terrorist, Irene. Beginning at the entrance of a train station in Barcelona and ending at the bus stop of her final destination, Irene passes from incarceration to freedom. On her first night out of prison, she picks up a man, but the encounter turns disastrous. Deciding to return home to Bilbao, she is haunted by the previous night. But she must think about her future. Should she return to her lover, a fellow terrorist? Does she try to rejoin the organization? How will she support herself? At the age of 37, without friends or close family, Irene must start a new life. To make matters worse, two policemen follow her to persuade and coerce her into becoming an informant against terrorist groups. Wanting to help and protect her, two nuns become her allies, but ultimately Irene is on her own. Struggling to think and feel like a free person, Irene fears that she will never escape her prison-self. --Michelle Kaske

Publisher's Weekly Review

Basque writer Atxaga, whose 1994 novel, The Lone Man, described a former terrorist's inability to escape his past, offers a compact, introspective tale of a political separatist who emerges from prison to embark on a new life. Irene, 37 and newly freed after four years in a Barcelona jail, has renounced her terrorist affiliations. The novel takes the form of her homecoming, with a few flashbacks and "dreams," via a bus journey home to Bilbao. Disoriented and friendless, Irene needs help shaking her prison blues. But the men in her life, with the exception of a memory (her long-dead lover, a shy, "delicate" fellow subversive) range from worthless to malevolent. The man she slept with on her first night out of prison abused her; her father seems ambivalent about her release; she writes off a selfish, lukewarm lover, a member of her former organization; even the male bus drivers are rude. Worst of all are two policemen, who are, as she feared, stalking her on the bus. One of them bullies and physically threatens her. The other, handsome and smooth talking, insidiously offers friendship, preying on her loneliness and sexual insecurity. Yet memories of prison, specifically of her cellmate, wise sexagenarian Margarita, encourage and inspire her, and cigarettes and books bolster her confidence. Several women passengers on the bus also come to her aid, among them a nun who bravely defends Irene. With its juxtaposition of threatening male and supportive female characters, the tale seems almost a feminist allegory in which the political has become intensely personal. One of the nuns assures Irene, "we're not totally responsible for many of the things that we do," thus inviting deeper questions of will and identity in this fascinating portrait of a woman asserting herself in an often oppressive and hostile world. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved