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T vivid carries the reader through a series of vignettes following Cela’s many characters through the streets and tenements and brothels and above all the cafés of the great beehive la colmena of Madrid Both a. I taught English in Madrid for three years starting in about 2004 and on probably the first or second day of my first class I asked my students to recommend me a good Spanish novel Almost unanimously they responded that La Colmena or The Hive in English was the best Spanish novel of the 20th century I couldn t wait to read it and start digging my teeth into the Spanish culture particularly the Franco Era which was something I was curious about and really eager to learn My Spanish was really minimal at the time but I was able to find an amazing copy in English It was one of the best novels I ve ever read hands down I loved and laughed at the authentic characters the heavyset waitress always smoking and cursing and banging her rear end into tables the poets bankers money lenders the out of work who borrow cigarettes or change for a caf con leche a greater panoptic vision of 1940 s Spain could hardly be imagined And Cela throws you right into the center of the action by placing this darkly comical narrative in present tense It s an amazing innovative novel that all takes place at the Caf Comercial in Madrid worth a visit if you re ever in the city And bring along a copy of La Colmena You won t regret it The Prince of Pleasure (The Wilde Brothers, years starting in about 2004 and on probably the first or second day of my first class I asked my students to recommend me a good Spanish novel Almost unanimously they responded that La Colmena or The Hive in English was the best Spanish novel of the 20th century I couldn t wait to read it and start digging my teeth into the Spanish culture particularly the Franco Era which was something I was curious about and really eager to learn My Spanish was really minimal at the time but I was able to find an amazing copy in English It was one of the best novels I ve ever read hands down I loved and laughed at the authentic characters the heavyset waitress always smoking and cursing and banging her rear end into tables the poets bankers money lenders the out of work who borrow cigarettes or change for a caf con leche a greater panoptic vision of 1940 s Spain could hardly be imagined And Cela throws Hers to Protect you right into the center of the action by placing this darkly comical narrative in present tense It s an amazing innovative novel that all takes place at the Caf Comercial in Madrid worth a visit if Her Small-Town Hero you re ever in the city And bring along a copy of La Colmena You won t regret it

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La colmena

In this extraordinary novel of life in Madrid after the Spanish Civil War Camilo Jose Cela conveys with startling immediacy not only the brutality but also the vitality of life in the city His style economical bu. I first learned about Camilo Jos Cela in my salad days in Spain He was a towering figure complex and theatrical noted one biographer whose literary production works like La familia de Pascal Duarte and La colmena represented significant milestones in post war Spanish literature His membership in the Real Academia Espa ola and his involvement with the journal Papeles de Son Armadans which often featured authors not always sympathetic to the Franco dictatorship only added to his stature among many La colmena The Hive was one of those novels that I had failed to read in its entirety during my time in Spain during the 1960s in part because sections of the novel were filled with the collouial speech of the mid XX Century a vocabulary uite difficult for a non native speaker Time passed but the novel remained for me something that I felt compelled to return to read again After Cela received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1989 I tracked down an English translation of La colmena and shelved it on my bookcase with the full intention of re reading it as well as at least some of Cela s influential worksThe novel is substantial and innovative Structurally Cela organized his work into six chapters that cover two consecutive days and an epilogue covering a third Each chapter in turn consists of a number of interlinked vignettes some 215 in total that scroll through the actions of over 300 characters With La colmena Cela initiated a novelistic style identified as objectivismo a written cinematic montage that in essence is a type of documentary realism In effect the central personage of the novel is the city of Madrid the hive whose character or personality is forged by the collectivity that is the over 300 people or bees who pass through the pages of the work Seen from that context the biographies of the individuals are fragmented We see them in the moment but in most cases know little about them either before or after the three days framed by the novelist Most are left suspended by the end of the epilogue Even Mart n Marco whom Cela considered an indispensable character of the novel is left in limboAn additional complexity to the work is the organization of the six chapters They are not seuential in regard to the documented time Chapters 1 2 and 4 cover day one seuentially chapters 3 5 and 6 cover the second day But the latter three are themselves not normally seuenced in regard to time Chapter 3 covers the afternoon of the second day chapter 5 covers the evening of the second day and chapter 6 covers the morning of the second day The epilogue takes place two or three days after the end of time covered in chapter 5Apart its structural or technical innovation it is also a perceptive snapshot of Spanish society during three December days in Madrid in or around the year 1943 after the end of the Spanish Civil War That society is in clear crisis economically strained desolate malnourished and morally conflictedThe Spanish Civil War tore at the very roots of civil society from Galicia in the northwest of the peninsula through Castilla in the center Catalu a in the northeast and into Andaluc a in the south There was not a part of the Spains that remained at the margins And the Nationalists in victory did retaliate Particularly in its early years the Franco dictatorship was vindictive and harsh The society that Cela creates in La colmena lives in the wake of that war and its aftermath submerged in political suppression But if the hive is in crisis it is not immobile it is not stagnant it is not without productive optionsIt is important to point out that Cela fought for the Nationalists and that he long remained supportive of the Franco regime In the post Franco years Cela did not enjoy unconditional support from all segments of the social or intellectual spectrum An attempt to understand La colmena as an indictment of the Franco regime is off course That the novel was banned in Spain until its fifth edition in 1963 was arguably for what the conservative Roman Catholic Church saw as its sexual depravities and not primarily related to any implicit political commentary Prostitution pre marital sex and marital infidelity engaged the bees in the hive and those activities were what most disturbed the deeply conservative Catholic censorsCela etched a society in crisis But many of the bees in the hive were if anything industrious In a war torn world the society that passes before the reader over three days in December 1943 was populated with people of flesh and blood who had the capacity to survive and in that survival could begin to lay the foundations for the Spain of the late XX and the early XXI CenturiesCela s La colmena is a snapshot of Madrid in a specific time and in a specific space It is a snapshot of the people who inhabited that time and that space who sowed the seeds of the hive s regeneration and redemption How else to understand the final paragraph of chapter 6 The morning unfolds slowly it creeps like a caterpillar over the hearts of the men and women in the city it beats almost caressingly agents the newly wakened eyes eyes which never once discover new horizons new landscapes new settings And yet this morning this eternally repeated morning has its little game changing the face of the city of that tomb that greased pole that hive May God have mercy on us allOne final thought Cela ends the novel with any number of unsolved histories Who murdered Do a Margot What will become of the Gonzalez family Will Victoria and Paco survive But perhaps the greater mystery seems to center on Mart n Marco We never do learn what his family and friends read in the newspaper about him We never do learn what seems to threaten his future Is it tied up with his lost identity card Does he have some connection to the murder of Do a Margot Is it related to his emotional instability Have his politics placed him at odds with the regime But I have come to suspect that we are focusing on the wrong issue if it is seeking an answer about Mart n s situation Rather Mart n is the final confirmation of the hope that is rooted in the hive He ends his time with us energized optimistic confident And like Spanish society as a whole that energy is confirmation of his eventual salvation That is Cela s message to us from the social crisis of December 1943 A Tangled Affair (The Pearl House year 1943 after the end of the Spanish Civil War That society is in clear crisis economically strained desolate malnourished and morally conflictedThe Spanish Civil War tore at the very roots of civil society from Galicia in the northwest of the peninsula through Castilla in the center Catalu a in the northeast and into Andaluc a in the south There was not a part of the Spains that remained at the margins And the Nationalists in victory did retaliate Particularly in its early Matthews Choice years the Franco dictatorship was vindictive and harsh The society that Cela creates in La colmena lives in the wake of that war and its aftermath submerged in political suppression But if the hive is in crisis it is not immobile it is not stagnant it is not without productive optionsIt is important to point out that Cela fought for the Nationalists and that he long remained supportive of the Franco regime In the post Franco The Prince of Pleasure (The Wilde Brothers, years Cela did not enjoy unconditional support from all segments of the social or intellectual spectrum An attempt to understand La colmena as an indictment of the Franco regime is off course That the novel was banned in Spain until its fifth edition in 1963 was arguably for what the conservative Roman Catholic Church saw as its sexual depravities and not primarily related to any implicit political commentary Prostitution pre marital sex and marital infidelity engaged the bees in the hive and those activities were what most disturbed the deeply conservative Catholic censorsCela etched a society in crisis But many of the bees in the hive were if anything industrious In a war torn world the society that passes before the reader over three days in December 1943 was populated with people of flesh and blood who had the capacity to survive and in that survival could begin to lay the foundations for the Spain of the late XX and the early XXI CenturiesCela s La colmena is a snapshot of Madrid in a specific time and in a specific space It is a snapshot of the people who inhabited that time and that space who sowed the seeds of the hive s regeneration and redemption How else to understand the final paragraph of chapter 6 The morning unfolds slowly it creeps like a caterpillar over the hearts of the men and women in the city it beats almost caressingly agents the newly wakened eyes eyes which never once discover new horizons new landscapes new settings And Hers to Protect yet this morning this eternally repeated morning has its little game changing the face of the city of that tomb that greased pole that hive May God have mercy on us allOne final thought Cela ends the novel with any number of unsolved histories Who murdered Do a Margot What will become of the Gonzalez family Will Victoria and Paco survive But perhaps the greater mystery seems to center on Mart n Marco We never do learn what his family and friends read in the newspaper about him We never do learn what seems to threaten his future Is it tied up with his lost identity card Does he have some connection to the murder of Do a Margot Is it related to his emotional instability Have his politics placed him at odds with the regime But I have come to suspect that we are focusing on the wrong issue if it is seeking an answer about Mart n s situation Rather Mart n is the final confirmation of the hope that is rooted in the hive He ends his time with us energized optimistic confident And like Spanish society as a whole that energy is confirmation of his eventual salvation That is Cela s message to us from the social crisis of December 1943

Free read La colmena

Social document of its time and place and a moving tale of human suffering and human triumph under a totalitarian regime The Hive is “a brilliant and original work” Gerald Brenan The New York Times Book Revie. A triumph of form If anything La colmena is a showcase of talent by a writer set to impress and to make sense of a world in ruins It is impressive It is made to be so La colmena feels like a novel but it would be better to describe it as a living document Cela composes his document with brief vignettes of mid class life in Madrid a capital as any other in post war Europe The vignettes are deliciously organic and they connect with each other vaguely creating a web of characters and situations that feel like a crowded street Sometimes they are not connected at all as readers we are obsessed with connections and see hints where there aren t Sometimes there are hintsAnd yet I can t say I found it the masterpiece it clearly wants to be La colmena runs out of steam for long passages To put it in a way it peaks too early I find the first chapter first fifty pages or so to be some of the best literature in Spanish of last century The crowded atmosphere the effortless dialogues few seuences are as captivating as this one You feel part of this beehive After that first chapter La colmena loses somehow that sense of space It meanders I can t say I m sold into the last chapter either It works like a epilogue that brings things together perhaps too artificially like a regular novel forsaking the organic ualities of the previous episodesAt its best nonetheless La colmena emulates the urban feels of Joyce to name one Although meandering this is an evocative work worthy of a read A Tangled Affair (The Pearl House yet I can t say I found it the masterpiece it clearly wants to be La colmena runs out of steam for long passages To put it in a way it peaks too early I find the first chapter first fifty pages or so to be some of the best literature in Spanish of last century The crowded atmosphere the effortless dialogues few seuences are as captivating as this one You feel part of this beehive After that first chapter La colmena loses somehow that sense of space It meanders I can t say I m sold into the last chapter either It works like a epilogue that brings things together perhaps too artificially like a regular novel forsaking the organic ualities of the previous episodesAt its best nonetheless La colmena emulates the urban feels of Joyce to name one Although meandering this is an evocative work worthy of a read


10 thoughts on “La colmena

  1. says:

    Community of bees and city of humans can there be anything in common?The morning unfolds slowly; it creeps like a caterpillar over the hearts o

  2. says:

    I first learned about Camilo José Cela in my salad days in Spain He was a towering figure “complex and theatrical” noted one biographer whose literary production—works like La familia de Pascal Duarte and La colmena—represented significant milestones in post war Spanish literature His membership in the Real Academia Españ

  3. says:

    Camilo Jose Cela once said I'm translated what can I do about it in every language and I have never received an award Of course he was being his usual self witty and a bit arrogant because he did receive awards Virtually every single award he was entitled to The Nobel Prize Cervantes Premio de Principe Asturias and many A very controversial figure especially during his latter years Cela has never been afraid to experiment with his storie

  4. says:

    I love this book so much I've read it three times I bought it by chance as I was looking for uality Spanish prose in order to improve my knowledge of the language and it was recommended to me It was just what I was looking for lovely classic prose with a large serving of collouial speech But it's than that it takes you back into the world of post Civil War Madrid with the fascists in power and the outcome of WWII stil

  5. says:

    I taught English in Madrid for three years starting in about 2004 and on probably the first or second day of my first class I asked my students to recommend me a good Spanish novel Almost unanimously they responded that La Colmena or The Hive in English was the best Spanish novel of the 20th century I couldn't wait to read it and start diggin

  6. says:

    I loved Cela's style His sentences are full of affection for people Stories of hundreds of characters intertwine in this mosaic novel Scenes from lives in Spain are not only snapshots It is one of those books that you may find eternity in a moment

  7. says:

    A triumph of form If anything La colmena is a showcase of talent by a writer set to impress and to make sense of

  8. says:

    La Colmena The Hive in English could easily be compared to a puzzle The story told in six chapters and an epilogue is not told chrnologically one of the features that uickly endears me to a book and the cast of 160

  9. says:

    I had heard that this book was both confusing and boring but I loved it It has a lot of characters my copy says almost 300 and skips from one to the other making flipping through the book to remind yourself of who a certain character is necessary fairly often or at least it was for me I knew it was going to be this way going into it so it didn't bother me much Cela is a master of his craft though and even tho

  10. says:

    The setting in The Hive is Madrid Spain in early 40's After the Spanish civil war and during WW2 this is a fine portrait of Spanish society There is no specific plot nor a main hero The main hero I guess is Madrid itself through the everyday life of its people Decades of characters starring within the lines of this book most of t

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