The writer, journalist and political essayist Julia Navarro. Via Página 2.
The writer, journalist and political essayist Julia Navarro. Via Página 2.

Julia Navarro: “Spain has a debt of gratitude to most Latin American countries"

The latest hit by writer Julia Navarro, "You Shall Not Kill" (Plaza & Janés, 2019), is a story about the post-war period and exile that brings together…


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The Spanish writer Julia Navarro says that human history cannot be understood without migration; that we fled as we did from hunger and war, and that there are no "walls" that can prevent this. 

As the United States is a country of migrants in the midst of a migration crisis, there is no doubt that Latino readers will feel the suffering that emanates from her latest novel "You Shall Not Kill" (Plaza&Janés, 2019), which tells the story of three teenagers who escape the violent post-war period in 1939 Spain and travel through Europe in search of peace and freedom. 

This is the drama that their own grandparents lived through, Navarro says, after a war in which only the civilian population was defeated. That is why it took her so long to finish writing this story, which in its more than 1,000 pages deals with a conflict whose wounds some politicians use to continue dividing families.

The author of the hit "The Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud" explores guilt and the puzzle of human emotions again in "You Shall Not Kill," which has hit American bookstores at a time when it is convenient to think about the future with an eye on history. 

We talk with her about the rise of populism, the political situation in Spain and Europe and feminism as the essence of democracy.

Publicado por Plaza&Janés, 2019.

Do you have the impression that the ghost that is the Spanish Civil War is still more alive today than ever in Spain? I ask because of the rise of groups like Vox and other circumstances such as the fracture between Spain and Catalonia, the exhumation of Franco’s remains ... But above all because of people’s spirits in general.

I think we all have the obligation and the right to get to know our History. With regards to the Civil War which took place eighty years ago, I would say that its ghost is not among us, I believe it’s more of an interest of knowing what happened at that time. Fortunately, there are a good number of historians, both Spanish, and foreigners, who have tackled that period with great accuracy.

As for the existence of VOX (Spanish ultra-right-wing party), it, unfortunately, is not an exclusively Spanish phenomenon. The emergence of these types of extremist populist parties, whether from the extreme right or extreme left, is due to the great crisis being faced in most countries where these types of groups are getting parliamentary representation. There is also a surge of leaders and parties that are similar to VOX in other parts of Europe and also in the Americas.

"The model of society as we have known it is in crisis, and nobody seems to be thinking about giving answers".

In regards to the problem in Catalonia, it should be made very clear that in Catalonia a group of independentist politicians has tried to bring forth a “coup” against the constitutional order, they have surpassed all the laws, they have called an illegal referendum, they have declared a Republic for a few minutes, and the worst part is that they have divided Catalan society. Imagine for a minute that tomorrow a group of politicians from any of the states that make up the United States of America, decided that they would no longer respect the rule of law and that they would declare that state’s independence forcibly. What would you do?

In a democratic state, you have to respect the laws and defend your ideas while following the laws not bypassing them. What some Catalan independentist politicians have done is to break the law; they have acted in an anti-democratic manner and with a troubling xenophobic bias. I suggest that you read some of the statements made by these independence leaders in which they proclaim the superiority of Catalans and consider that the rest of Spaniards are worth next to nothing.

How long does it take to exorcise a ghost from the collective memory of a country? Can literature be a good way to do that?

In my opinion, the Spanish society of the 21st century has a 21st-century type of problems. Of course, there are some political groups that have intended to and continue to, make their politics based on that past. But I repeat, in my opinion, Spanish citizens don’t necessarily face the "ghosts" of the past but rather the problems of the present, which could be quite a bit.

The writing process of "You Shall Not Kill" was so hard for you that you had to let the novel sit and rest for a while. Could you tell me about the story of your grandparents, about your memories, and that family pain with which you had to connect in order to write this novel?

No... it was not easy to write "You Shall not Kill" for me it was a journey to a world in black and white, to a past that I did not live, but one that was my grandparents’ Spain.

As I was writing, I could not stop thinking about how much they had to suffer... My novel takes place just as the Spanish Civil War was ending, and describing what everyday life was like at that time caused me great distress. Misery and anguish, hunger, and revenge was taken by the winning side, the Francoists. The truth is that those who lived that time in Spain suffered greatly, especially because Franco winning the war meant that Spain lost its future.

"I hate generalizations and labels, and that's why I think it's stupid to say that this or that writer writes bestsellers".

It is also important to remember that the Spanish Democrats expected that once World War II ended, the superpowers would help us get rid of Franco but they did not do so. At that point each country was defending its own interests; the Soviet Union went from being an ally to become an enemy and therefore those powers preferred to keep Franco as the ruler in Spain.

Yes, it was very hard for me to write "You Shall not Kill", at one point I was inclined to not finish it.

In an interview, you said that no one chooses the period in which we are meant to live, but as someone who travels through time in your novels, if you could do so, in which times and where would you live?

If I could get into a time machine, I would travel to the future. The past is what it is, and we have no power to change it, but the future is yet to be lived. Above all, I feel a huge curiosity about what the future will be like ... I would love to "travel" to the 23rd century or the 30th or beyond.

The protagonists in your novel are young people fleeing war and post-war to avoid killing others and being killed themselves, and being this a newspaper for Latinos in the United States, it refers me to the thousands of deportees and asylum seekers fleeing violence in Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. What do you think would have happened to your characters or to any expatriate had there been walls in Europe?

Yes, the protagonists in my novel are three young people fleeing from post-war Spain, from a Spain that had been left without a future, from a Spain dominated by a totalitarian regime with a dictator in power, a terrible Spain. But not all Spaniards who went into exile had it easy, some ended up in concentration camps in southern France, others were returned to Spain. Of course, Spain has a debt of gratitude to most Latin American countries like Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, and many others, for having generously welcomed many Spaniards. 

It gives me great pleasure to meet descendants of those Spaniards during my trips to Latin America. Many come to tell me that they are grandchildren or children of those who lost the Civil War and were forced to leave; they often mention that they are already Mexicans, Argentines or Chileans but that they are very much aware of what happened in that Spain from which their parents fled.

To what extent can any migrant or son of a migrant identify with the protagonists of the novel?

The History of Humanity must be explained through migrations ... hunger and war have provoked, and continue to cause large groups of people to move to a new place in search of a better life, and there are no "walls" that can stop it. My complete solidarity is with all those fleeing war, despair, violence, those who seek a better life for their children. It is shameful how migrants are treated. I think that anyone who has had to leave their country will understand and identify with the characters in "You Shall not Kill".

One of the characters in this novel is a single mother at a time when being a single-parent family was not well looked upon. Is it possible to not be a feminist in the 21st century? What does it mean to you to be a feminist?

If one is a democrat, one is a feminist. You cannot be a democrat if you are not a feminist because the essence of feminism is that there should be equality, that a man should have no advantages just for being a man.

I am a feminist and I will be a feminist as long as there is still one woman in the world who does not live on a level of equality with men, as long as there are girls who cannot study simply because they are girls, as long as there are girls to whose genitals are mutilated, while there are women who are convinced that their dignity depends on the amount of fabric with which they wrap their bodies, as long as there are men who see themselves as owners of women and dare to raise their hands against them.

I think that men who mistreat women have a problem with their masculinity. They are wild and raging beings, they are self-conscious, unable to have a relationship of equality, and they feel stronger if they subdue a woman. Men who beat women are men who have masculinity problems. Maybe they are not as male as they would like to be.... and by mistreating women they give free rein to their impotence.

And yes, I will be a feminist as long as women earn less salary for doing the same job as a man, etc., etc., etc. There are many battles still to be fought and won.

I know you hate the concept of bestsellers, “it doesn’t exist”, you have previously stated. What does the success of your work depend on, and to what extent does luck play a part in it?

There is no magic formula for a book to sell. It is a mystery why there are books that sell by the thousands and others don’t. That's why I reject the concept of bestsellers. When you write a book, no one can guarantee what will happen with it, the readers are the ones who have the final word. There are books with great literary quality that become great sellers, for example, "The Name of the Rose" by Umberto Eco ... or "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by García Márquez, and there are books without any literary quality that are also great sellers. On the other hand, there are also extraordinary books that do not interest readers at all, and books that are worthless and don’t interest readers either.

I hate generalizations and labels, and that's why I think it's stupid to say that this or that writer writes "bestsellers", as if there was a magic formula for writing books that are guaranteed to sell well. What nonsense! Publishers would love that to be true.

Seeing what is happening in countries like Chile, Colombia, or Brazil, one could say that the Spaniards, who always complain, are not doing so badly. As a journalist and political essayist, what do you think of the political situation in our country?

What is happening in Spain is no different from what happens in other countries of Europe or the rest of the world, although each one has its own specific characteristics.  The 2008 crisis caused the collapse of the middle class which had continuously been the support of the welfare society. Suddenly people realized that they could not continue paying their mortgage, that they had lost their jobs, that their children’s future was being taken away because of the lack of work, that the Welfare State was shrinking ... And the problem is that traditional parties, social democratic and liberal demo-Christian parties that made a welfare Europe possible, suddenly had no answers to the new problems. Hence the rise of all these populist parties which promise that everything will be as it was before. Desperate people believe them. Naturally, there is no comfort in thinking that what happens in Spain is the same as what is happening in Germany, Italy, France, etc. The most worrying thing is that these populist parties are creating a xenophobic speech against immigrants.

In these parties, there is a leader who dismisses the rules of democracy, who says he or she does not need institutions, one who prefers to deal directly with the people ... And all that is very worrying. The model of society as we have known it is in crisis, and nobody seems to be thinking about giving answers to new situations like globalization or new technologies. I fear that in these times politicians are more aware of what is happening today than what will happen in the future, and therefore their policies are short-term.

I think that politicians, like the rest of society, are perplexed, they don't know how to deal with new problems. I would sum it up with a phrase from Gramsci: "New things are in constant growth, while the old continue to die."


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