Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Aaron Shulman's "The Age of Disenchantments"

Aaron Shulman is a journalist whose work has appeared in publications including The Believer, The American Scholar, The New Republic, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. A collaborative writer and editorial coach, he works with visionary scientists and thinkers to bring their research to a wide readership. Shulman first lived in Spain while studying abroad and moved back in 2010 after falling in love with a Spanish woman. There, he published pieces about Spanish culture, social movements, and the economic crisis. In 2012, he watched “El Desencanto,” the 1976 documentary about the Panero family, and from that night onward became hopelessly obsessed. He now lives in Santa Barbara, California.

Shulman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Age of Disenchantments: The Epic Story of Spain's Most Notorious Literary Family and the Long Shadow of the Spanish Civil War, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the start of Chapter 10, which is titled “We Won’t Be the Same: The Fall of the Republic, January 1939 to May 1939.” This is how it begins:
In early 1939, the [Spanish] Civil War began its final phase while the rest of Europe moved on from the drama in Spain, readying itself for its own cataclysm. On February 1, the Republican parliament met for the last time. Two weeks later, Franco signed the Law of Political Responsibilities, the legal framework he would use after the war to punish the people who had supported the Republic. At the end of February, Britain and France officially recognized Franco’s government. Now it was just a matter of how he would conduct the choreography of victory and defeat, and how many people would still have to die.

In early March, shots rang out near the Blanc home…
My book is the century-long story of the Panero family of Spain, but as the subtitle says, it’s also about “the Long Shadow of the Spanish Civil War.” In this sense, page 99 may not necessarily speak to the quality of my book—I’ll let the reader decide, though it’s a fairly information-driven passage, rather than an emotionally or stylistically engaging one—but it does speak directly to the national tragedy that devastated Spain, rewrote the lives of Leopoldo Panero and Felicidad Blanc (the parents), and whose legacy shaped the lives of their three sons, Juan Luis, Leopoldo MarĂ­a, and Michi. Without the Spanish Civil War, millions of lives, never mind world history, would have played out differently—and, of course, my book wouldn’t exist.

The Paneros were all writers, and in large part, what they all grappled with (and what I grappled with in telling their collective story) was how individuals can exercise agency when confronted with historical forces that seem to obliterate personal will. In the case of the obsessively literary Paneros—this is my reading of their words and actions, mind you, though they did admit their shared desire to be literature—their response was to turn their lives into a kind of poetic public narrative, acting as if they were characters in a novel and thus adding a layer of romantic mystique to their name and family history. They did this through the poetry, fiction, and non-fiction they wrote, through the two cult documentaries they made about their family, and through their often extravagant words and deeds that led other to tell stories about them. Turning plain old reality into myth was their specialty. I see the narratives that arise out of our lives as a creative, transformative force that stands in opposition to the destructive force of war, though the Paneros’ storifying of life did have its self-destructive elements as well. Even though I’m very different from the Paneros, I saw parts of myself in their choices, and I hope readers will too.
Visit Aaron Shulman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue