Xosé Neira Vilas
Xosé Neira Vilas (1928-2015) had a rural upbringing. At the age of 21, he moved to Argentina, where he entered into contact with important Galician cultural figures and founded the publishing house Follas Novas. He married the writer Anisia Miranda and together they moved to Cuba, where they remained for thirty years before returning to Galicia in 1992. His book Memoirs of a Peasant Boy is one of the most successful novels in the history of Galician literature and forms part of a trio of novels (Memoirs of a Peasant Boy, Letters to Lelo, Those Years of Moncho) that reflect the rural world and emigration through the eyes of a child. The same themes are seen through the eyes of an adult in People on the Wheel, The Iron Woman and Dear Tomás. The rural world and emigration characterize his extensive works of adult and children’s fiction.
MEMOIRS OF A PEASANT BOY synopsis
Memoirs of a Peasant Boy (148 pages), first published in Buenos Aires in 1961, is one of the first best-sellers of Galician literature, having been translated into some twenty languages and sold more than half a million copies. It tells the experiences of a peasant boy, Balbino, the son of a tenant farmer growing up in the rural Galicia of the 1930s and 1940s.
MEMOIRS OF A PEASANT BOY
Balbino. A boy from the village. In short, a nobody. And poor, as well. Manolito is also from the village, but there’s no putting up with him, despite what he endured on my account.
I walk barefoot in summer. The hot dust of the roads makes me take long strides. The sand hurts, and there’s always a tack or two to get stuck in my feet. I get up in the dark, at two or three in the morning, to take the cattle out, to plough or gather sheaves. By the time the sun rises, my back and legs are already aching. But the day has begun. Thirst, sun, mosquitoes.
In winter, cold. A wish to be by the fire. Mills not working. Talk of snow and wolves. The arms are like coat racks for hanging rags. Fire stains, wounds, numb fingers.
What do town children know about all of this!
They have no idea what I’m thinking as I wash down some cornbread with a bit of broth. Or what I feel when I’m on the hillside, dripping wet, frozen, catching sight through the rain of a misty ghost on every tree.
The village is a mix of mud and smoke, where dogs howl and people die ‘in God’s own time’, as my godmother would say. We children are sad. We muck about, run after fireworks, even laugh sometimes, but we’re sad. Poverty and working the land fill our eyes.
I would like to see the world. To cross seas and lands I do not know. I was born and grew up in the village, but now it feels kind of small, a little suffocating. As if I lived in a beehive. I have thoughts I cannot share with anybody. There are some who wouldn’t understand, and others who would think I’d lost my mind. Which is why I write. And then sleep like a log. I feel somehow relieved, liberated, as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. That’s just the way I am! Smith as well, this captain who went to war and, when he came back, started writing down everything that had happened to him. It’s in this book Landeiro gave me.