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3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
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on 27 September 2015
As I had read Cercas' earlier books I was keen to read this one and I was not disappointed.
The book takes place from the end of the Franco era in the mid-1970s to the present. It describes how Canas, a studious teenager from a conventional home joins a gang of "quinquis" (the English equivalent might be gypsy/travellers) from the other side of the river and spends his summer on a spree of crime and mayhem. The gang is led by Zarco who is described as charismatic, manipulative and unscrupulous. Without giving the plot away, the events of that summer and his relationship with Zarco profoundly influence the rest of Canas' life.
Cercas cleverly allows us to see the plot from several points of view, not only of Canas, but also of a police inspector and a prison superintendent. Whilst the plot is based around crime and delinquency, Cercas' skills give depth to the story so it becomes a meditation on growing up; the meaning of personal responsibility; how we perceive right and wrong and more.
Readers who persist with this deeply Spanish book will, I think, be very satisfied when they reach its conclusion.
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on 7 July 2015
Very readably translated by Anne McLean, Javier Cercas’s account of juvenile delinquency, and its consequences in later life, is compelling storytelling. Cercas paints engaging characters and scenarios. He knows how to create and maintain suspense by repeatedly promising imminent revelations, a device he slightly overuses. Presenting alternate chapters as interviews with different interlocutors refreshes the dialogue. The ultimate explanation for everything is withheld even at the end.

What, if anything, is Cercas’s message, or ethical claim? He suggests that life and action are determined by context, whose power is greater than behavioural intentionality, or institutional reform. We are irreversibly formed, we don’t choose. But he presents justice as inescapable. Efforts to redeem one delinquent, or a decision to let another off, (similar to an event in Cercas’s ‘Soldiers of Salamis’), or to ignore the question of who the informer is, or to forgive and forget the school bully, are doomed. The birds come home to roost. The combination of these two claims makes justice harsh. For Cercas, mercy and compassion are ineffective. We have to hope otherwise.
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on 3 July 2015
Well written, kept my interest, intriguing characters. Liked that there were still unsolved questions at the end. Was thought-provoking & deeper in some places if you wanted it to be.

On the negative side (& really it wasn't that much of an issue), I felt that the interviews with each person were told in the same tone & style which I wouldn't have thought is particularly realistic. It could also be said to drag a little bit but overall I'd still rate it highly.
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on 2 December 2014
Cercas has gone down the tube.
Three excellent books of fiction, followed by a laboured non-fiction book followed by this tedious effort.
Found the style jarring and never have I been less interested in the central characters.
Used to be a writer I looked out for, now is one to avoid
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on 25 September 2014
Don't on any account spend money on this book. I read this in Spanish when it came out and it's painfully drab. In fact it's like listening to an extended crime-caper daydream by an unimaginative eight-year-old. God knows how I got to the end - sheer bloodymindedness probably.
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on 27 September 2015
Love Ceras always waiting for his next novel. Very good but not one of his best
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It is the 1970s – Franco has recently died, and everything in Spain is changing. Gerona is not an especially attractive place. Yes, there are leafy suburbs – but there are also run down areas and a sleazy red light district. A lot of juvenile crime… Ignacio Cañas (Gafitas to his few friends), a middle class kid, is bullied at school and does not get on well with his parents. He is inveigled into joining a gang run by super cool Zarco, largely through his infatuation with Tere – who may, or may not, be Zarco’s girl. They need him to be a respectable look out and distraction for the gang. They steal cars and rob banks. In their final robbery, Zarco is wounded, and Gafitas escapes. He is tracked down and spared by a young policeman called Cuenca – who possibly feels that imprisoning him would make him into the hardened criminal that he is not.

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Fast forward 30 years… Cañas is a successful criminal lawyer and has moved back to a gentrified Gerona, his summer of protest long since behind him. He is passing friendly with Cuenca (though neither acknowledges the past that brought them together). Zarco has acquired cult status – in and out of most prisons in Spain with books and films portraying his life. Tere re-enters Cañas’ life – visiting his office and asking him to take on Zarco as a client, with a view to commuting his various sentences to run concurrently and then getting him released on license. He accepts, and starts the process by organising Zarco’s move back to a Gerona prison to serve his time in his home city. Cañas picks up where he left off with Tere – passionately, but secretively. The relationship between Cañas and Zarco is a complex one – with Zarco pulling most of the strings and Cañas worried that Zarco thinks he was the one who tipped off the police to their final bank raid 30 years before. They also have Tere in common.

Zarco, although in prison, alternates between taking heroin and methadone – his mood much better when on the latter. Cañas though comes to the conclusion that, after 30 years, Zarco is heavily institutionalised and, while he professes he wants his freedom, he is in fact very scared of the outside world – a view supported by the prison Governor. Eventually Zarco falls ill – and hopes of any possible release fade as he fades.

The story is told through interviews with Cañas, Cuenca, and the prison Governor – as recorded by a mysterious author writing the history of Zarco’s life. At first I though the device might be an irritant, but it works well, and adds a sort of rawness and perspective to events.

In TripFiction terms, the book is set entirely in Gerona – but in two quite different eras, 30 years apart. The Gerona of the 1970s is a somewhat seedy place – but that of the 2000s is quite different. Perhaps best typified by the fact that Cañas’ 2000s flat is situated in the now gentrified red light district just a few yards from the Le Font bar where the gang used to meet in the 70s.

Outlaws is a good and serious work exploring post Franco and modern Spain. It is very well written and very well translated by Anne McLean. A worthy successor to Cercas’ other books on modern Spanish history.
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on 4 July 2014
Exactly as described and good value
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