Manuel Rivas was born in the Galician port of La Coruña in 1957. After completing his A-levels he went to Madrid to continue his education in information studies. He wrote literary and journalistic pieces for various newspapers from a young age, and he has kept up this double occupation of working as a writer and journalist ever since. His work record reads like a panorama of literary forms: alongside novels and stories, poems, essays, columns and a theatre script.
Manuel Rivas once revealed that he had learnt the art of story-telling in the harbour dives and that ordinary people had always fascinated him. Most of his novels are set on the edges of the European continent, beyond the big cities and their neurotic inhabitants.
Port workers and fishermen bring the scenes to life, as do farmers, pilgrims and the many emigrants, and the Galicians who have all come from this poor and dusty area. Twentieth-century Spain and its historical-mythical past closely intertwined in Riva’s novels. Captured moments of past happiness, fantastic thoughts or relicts from superstitions and everyday mythology, meet the present day world of industrial wastelands, economic necessity and modern media.
Manuel Rivas creates such a sphere of mythical simultaneity in his novel ‘En salvaxe compaña’ (1994). Scene is the Galician village of Arán in which only old church paintings and a manor house remind of the once splendid feudal period. In this place from the present, which makes the people into lethargic beings tied only to memories, lives Rosa, a housewife and mother whose existence is threatened by the monotony of cooking and feeding the children. To save herself, she has stories told to her – and slowly even the animals start telling stories, cats, mice, ravens and lizards open up a fantastic universe in which the living and the dead can speak to each other again.
That style influencing the novel of “imaginative thinking” which feeds on consciously placed breaks in style, jumps in time, symbols and a usually exact processed language, is also found in Manuel Riva’s novel ‘O lapis do carpinteiro’ (1998). This deals with the survival strategies of an intellectual in a fascist prison during the Spanish civil war. Here also, it is the refuge of fantasy, love and memory which secures the survival of the main character. His novel ‘El héroe’ (t: The hero) tells the story of protagonist Arturo Piñeiro against the backdrop of the “secret war” of Sidi Ifni, Spain’s last colonial war. Rivas’s most recent novel is a kind of dramatic cultural history. It combines the stories of books, people and language in a net of relations which covers the time from the 19th century up until the present.
It would be difficult to pinpoint the position of Manuel Riva’s writing. For this, his literature is too ambivalent, too broken, it oscillates too much between the sound of Galician poetry and the tradition of oral story telling, between the “magical realism” of Gabriel García Márquez and the narrative cutting techniques of Raymond Carver. And so he leads life and language, tradition and modern together in his texts – a multilingual archaeologist of layers of memory: “Perhaps it is exactly that which is the task of literature: to heal, with time and memory, human shadows.”
Apart from his novels and stories Rivas published three volumes of journalistic work and two collections of poems. He lives near his place of birth La Coruña.
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