In the Night of Time

Written by Antonio Muñoz Molina Edith Grossman (trans.)
Review by James Hawking

We meet Ignacio Abel, a prominent Spanish architect, at Penn Station in 1936 as he flees from Madrid, where he was in danger from his allies on the left and the growing menace of Franco’s Falangists. The action moves between 1935 and 1936 as we learn the story of Abel’s affair with Judith, a young American woman 20 years his junior who fell in love with his language and his city. Their romance progresses from furtive petting in the cinema to assignations in rooms rented by the hour in “the sordid border territory where adultery and prostitution come together.” Abel conceals her love letters in a drawer, where he is sure his wife will never find them, and they eventually explode on the scene with the inevitability of Chekhov’s stage pistol.

Madrid becomes progressively more violent with the republican supporters increasingly suspicious of each other, endangering a bourgeois moderate socialist like Abel. Eventually he leaves his wife and children to be protected by her conservative Catholic family. Through the intervention of a friend of his American lover, he is offered a position designing a university library in upstate New York, but he cannot overcome his jealousy of their relationship, even though his patron is clearly homosexual. The most interesting parts of the book come from the lovers’ attempts to teach and learn each other’s languages. Abel’s most prominent characteristic may be cowardice, not so much his reasonable fear of impending violence as a reluctance to face his obligations to his wife and her family. Nonetheless, Molina provides an intriguing story of a complicated time.