In Spanish last and latest are the same word, último; so, I know that my new book is the latest I wrote, but I don’t know if it’ll be the last I’ll ever write, an epilogue in itself. Never mind, let’s not get lost in semantics.
By the time of the Symposium in 2014 I had read all the letters twice and I was thoroughly overwhelmed. Nevertheless, I managed to write a short article, “The Don Juan Redemption,” about my father as a Don Juan figure, since the letters were all about the passionate love between my parents while he was away at war and my mother was waiting his return in Valencia to get married, or so I thought. I completely disregarded my father’s illustrious career as a literary critic and historian, the rest of the symposium participants dealt with that.
The Civil War letters ended up in the back of a closet of my study in Philadelphia. I tried to forget about them and write about something else, Divorce After Death, 2014, the memoir about my late husband’s death and another discovery of letters. How could I be so lucky as to keep discovering family secrets? But my parents’ letters were never far from my thoughts and even my dreams.
I reached somewhat of an impasse when I decided to write about my mother first, because in the letters she appeared to be a young woman committed to the revolutionary cause, fighting against Franco. For example, she donated blood to the wounded soldiers in Valencia after air raids by the German airplanes and she even moved to Barcelona with a government job in the Propaganda Ministry. While I knew my mother as a traditional woman, completely overshadowed by her eminent husband, although sotto voce she usually got her way. This research became My Mother, That Stranger published in 2019. I still had to deal with my father’s four hundred letters when Covid appeared to my rescue.
House-bound, feeling guilty as hell, I kept reading the endless correspondence from my dad. He wrote everyday and often his letters reached ten pages and more written on both sides with his devilish handwriting. Then I realized that I was reading an epistolary novel. In addition to his passion, there is humor, suspense, descriptions, dialog, character development all in a poetic, mature style, despite the fact that he was only twenty-six-years-old. He repeated to my mother how he would become a writer and who the protagonists of his novels would be. There was the real discovery! These letters constitute the narrative work that my father never got to publish, too busy with his monumental work as scholar and a literary critic. Thus, the title of my latest book, Portrait of the Young Writer Juan Luis Alborg in His Letters During the Spanish Civil War (Retrato del joven escritor Juan Luis Alborg. Correspondencia durante la Guerra Civil).
Another aspect of my father’s letters are the lists of books he wanted my mother to purchase for him—fodder for future scholars—and the recommendations for her readings—musings for the feminist daughter. Surprisingly, my father’s favorite book was Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis (go figure!). He identified with mercurial Martin and wanted my mother to be more like Leora and elope as soon as the war ended. My mother almost broke up with him over this issue. She wanted a more traditional wedding, no matter how modest in decimated Valencia. The cover of this last book (or is the latest?) is of my parents’ wedding day on December 26, 1942. No wonder she looks radiant in her white coat and he looks resigned to be her husband.