“The night hides things, son,” the mother says to the little one. He hugs her, inhales her scent of talcum powder and perspiration. He clenches his mouth and eyes because he does not want to cry and obeys what his mother tells him. He walks away from the house with his younger sister in his arms. The howling of dogs and night birds mingle with the noise of an engine. The vehicle is parked at the door of his house and some men get out armed. They break down the door. Meanwhile, the child remembers the tender words of his mother: “I’ll see you tomorrow.” The boy walks away, clenching his jaws full of pain and helplessness.
What happens when silence and mystery about the past and war define our present? How to heal those deep wounds? How do we build ourselves from our searches and decisions? “I needed to focus on the wound, on what we have to do – even if we don’t like it – to heal,” he says. Gabriela Exilart in dialogue with Clarion via Zoom. Thus was born Secrets at dawn, his new book.
With three editions since the launch in May and located within the thirty best-selling books in the ranking In general, the Mar del Plata writer returns to the In the sand of Gijón to tell the story of three families traversed by the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, in which “nobody wants to relive so much pain.”
Amid dreamed landscapes, the echoes of the wounded, the smoke from the explosions, the devastation and the boys looking for their mothers come to life.
The novel has as protagonist María de la Paz Noriega, a young woman different from those of her generation. A jovial and curious girl, who does not think about getting married or starting a family in the middle of the 20th century in a Spain crossed by a complex scenario.
Nor is she very convinced to follow family mandates, although the guilt is present. That is why he travels to Burgos to search for the secret past of his father: Bruno Noriega.
There she meets Antón, a journalist haunted by his own past who decides to help her. But the desire is stronger. The blush stains her face, she likes it, but she doesn’t want to play with fire. Or if. Together, they dive into memories full of battles, concentration camps and losses, with one goal: to search for their true identity. And on the way, they discover themselves.
“Neither the pleasant nor the horrifying must be explicitly narrated,” he says. exilart about the sex scenes; and tell that his readers call him fiery in passion scenes. The audacious Mar del Plata woman answers: “Imagine! Not all the details are necessary ”.
The same premise holds when describing the scenes of abuse and rape in his new novel. Why include them? Because, the author explains, “these situations occur in the family, in the most intimate bonds and there is always someone who does not see or looks to the side. And it is important to look there ”.
The writer Gabriela Exilart. Photo Alejandra López / Courtesy PRH
exilart build Secrets at dawn like someone putting together a puzzle. In the more than 400 pages, the characters, the settings and the historical framework fit in as the reading progresses.
Thus, each chapter functions as a piece in the story that, with intimate details, drama and romance, maintains the intrigue until the end. Pain, memory replacement and unanswered questions – until the need to know the truth is pressing – are the engines of history.
But the author of Storms of the past, Jet brushstrokes and Caught in the wind does something else with his new novel: fuels the boom in romantic-historical literature. That phenomenon that connects readers with the desire to love and remember to heal.
Signing books. Gabriela Exilart’s Instagram
–Secrets at dawn it is a need and reconstruction of a memory, what role do secrets and silence play?
–There are two families that hide things, from María de la Paz’s parents to Antón’s grandmother. Antón’s grandmother is a very important character, who is silent and hides to protect her grandson. The discoveries of great silences and lies generate great pain and are like personal earthquakes. The two characters have to resist and new family ties appear and they have to assume that their families are different and whatever position they take, they will cause pain.
– And the mandates?
–For example, I wrote a dialogue between the protagonist and her mother in which she forces her to go to mass because they have to see them. You had to go to church and you couldn’t spread the rumor that a family didn’t go. Mandates, like censorship, float in the air and show the fear of the society of the time. It was a very old-fashioned Spain closed to the world, which was slowly opening up. María de la Paz is more “avant-garde”, with another head. It is different because of family history.
– Do you think the scene changed today?
– Perhaps in my generation it is more difficult. I write a lot about it but I feel conditioned or tied down. I notice it with my children when I make a comment and they challenge me. My generation is tied to many prejudices and mandates that the boys of this generation do not. The head they have is very different, much healthier not having to always be behind what is pre-established.
–The notion of identity flies over the book, was it one of the topics you wanted to deal with?
–It is important to know who one is and who the others are. It is essential, thinking about our own history as a country, that they continue to look for their parents or grandparents, who they are. In Spain there are many mass graves, people who did not appear, stolen children and even today it is not definitively resolved.
His romantic novels. nstagram by Gabriela Exilart
– What is the legacy of the survivors of the war?
-The search of the truth. On Secrets at dawn, María de la Paz, the protagonist, is the one who has lived through the war from a very young age. It is necessary to go to the past, to retrace to know what others do not want to tell. Nobody wants to talk about the war, what caused so much pain and loss. Antón, one of the main characters, was ten years old when the war broke out, he saw many things, he witnessed the disappearance of his father, when they dragged his mother out of the house. That generates resentment, resentment and not being able to resolve or heal the situation. He had more need to resolve images of that time and the protagonist is the trigger that drags the other.
-María de la Paz, the main character, when she meets Antón, is contained, holding back her feelings and thinking that “falling under his clutches would be looking like a fool”. Is there a place for morality in love?
– If there were a moral for love, there would not be so many couples. Love is, as Cortázar said, like a thunderbolt that breaks you and leaves you stuck on the ground. As much as one wants to stop or disguise it, it is. Passion cannot be stopped either and morals are left aside.
–The love stories in this book try in one way or another to desire the partner of others. How do you see this today?
– I am from another era and today everything is lighter and there is not so much commitment in the beginning of something … later it is seen. Values were lost a bit. Neither extreme is good, neither total censorship nor debauchery. Today things are not lived with so much guilt, secrecy or mystery. There is no ingrained prejudice that if a woman dates many men she is “light.” I am more old-fashioned.
–In your books you build women who have to put aside the pain and continue despite everything. Was it your goal in this novel?
–It came up and I always fall for it. On The sand of GijónMy base was brothers and ties, and I ended up talking about women on the battlefront. The same thing happened here. There are so many examples of women who have to continue, even in the worst pain. It is almost inevitable. Antón’s story has to do with the greatest renunciation of a mother: leaving her children to save them. It couldn’t be the father. And it had to be the grandmother who sheltered them and the safety of the home and the hug.
The memorial of the fallen republicans in the Spanish Civil War, in Oviedo. Reuters photo
- He was born in Mar del Plata. She is a lawyer, university professor and coordinator of writing workshops in the Elderly Program of the Faculty of Health Sciences of the UNMDP.
- She is the author of Storms of the past, Jet brushstrokes, Reborn from the rubble, By the spilled blood, With the heart to the south, Napalpí. Caught in the wind and In the sand of Gijón.
- Participated in anthologies Oh Love and Oh, passion, which made thousands of readers fall in love.
- Public We were family, a digital short story on the Leamos platform.
- He obtained the Alfonsina awards (2018), Universum Donna second edition (2019, awarded by the Embassy of Universum Academia Suiza) and Lobo de Mar al Deporte y la Cultura (2019), among others.