A flock of starlings swirls over the cornfields, a dark patch against the sky, constantly changing shape, growing larger, then shrinking. The occasional starling splits off from the group. Danny tries to follow the bird with his eyes, even after the group swallows it up and it disappears, just like the stray thoughts that break away and whirl through the air before merging again with the darkness in his mind. – from Tomorrow Pamplona, page 76 –
Danny is a boxer living in The Netherlands. He is good at what he does. So good, in fact, that he is noticed by a promoter and offered a contract for a dozen high profile fights. Associated with the promoter is a woman named Ragna whose beauty catches Danny’s eye.
Robert is married with two children. Although his life seems idyllic, he seems to have a roving eye and a propensity to seek excitement far from his family.
On a rainy afternoon, Robert offers Danny a ride. The two have never met, but it is clear they have forged a connection of sorts. What begins as simply two strangers in a car, evolves into a days long trip to Pamplona to run with the bulls – an event that means something very different to each man. It is clear from the beginning that Danny is hiding something, while Robert is somewhat of an open book. But they are both running from things in their life…and they will both, eventually, need to go back.
Tomorrow Pamplona is a powerful book about internal demons, dissatisfaction, anger, remorse, and obsession. Written in spare language and finishing just short of 200 pages, this slim novel’s narrative is driven by the two main characters. Robert is looking for something, Danny is fleeing from something – and both men think what they need will be found on the cobbled streets of Pamplona with the scent of bulls in the air.
This book is a relatively quick read and surprisingly compelling given that much of the story occurs inside a closed vehicle as it winds its way south from The Netherlands into Spain. It is Danny’s story that kept me turning the pages. Told in flashbacks, Danny’s secret is revealed slowly over the course of the book. Jan Van Mersbergen captures the internal conflict of Danny easily, uncovering a man whose life is not as simple as it first appears. Danny’s struggle to deal with a life-changing event is primarily internal, but this perspective is highly effective at providing the reader with a connection to the character that strengthens as the book unfolds.
I have come to expect literary excellence from Peirene Press, and I was not disappointed with Tomorrow Pamplona. Highly recommended for those who love literary fiction and translated works.
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FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.