Lost Luggage by Jordi Puntí
Short Books, paperback,
368 pages, 12.99,
I have always been intrigued at hearing my first name in its variations: either Albert (Catalan – t barely pronounced) or Alberto (Castilian – ending with a serious o) both calling for a part of my childhood to step forward. And even now when I am called by my name in transit, I still do not know who is to respond. Along the years this feeling has grown, moving on to other ‘Alberts’: Albert in its British and American sounds; the French Albert with its stressed rolled ending sound, the Italian Alberto with its long middle force or even the short forms Al, Albie and Bert; all departures from the same person but of quite different backgrounds and mind sets. So it comes as no surprise, then, that I have read Jordi Puntí’s first novel Lost Luggage with a personal sonic interest. Familiar sounds and noise stemming from the Barcelona of the early 70s reveal a nomadic search for a place to settle both in language and geography. In that sense Jordi Puntí shows a talent for recreating time and space; for goodbyes as opening lines that unexpectedly welcome the reader into the everyday unknown.
Lost Luggage is Puntí’s first novel translated into English. The book, whose original title in Catalan is Maletes Perdudes, moved onto the Castilian readership as Maletas Perdidas and has now reached the Anglophone world. It would be wrong to merely consider this as one more step towards publishing success. Rather, the book’s translation history follows a transition that it itself portrays. Within such a frame, we, the readers, share the same search for a lost identity or, rather, a lost piece of baggage. But unlike treasured memories of the past, Puntí opens the pieces of lost baggage without nostalgia.
The novel is set in post-civil war Spain. Franco had seen generations pass under his dictatorial domain, but he was unable to control his worst enemy – ‘chance’. Leaving nothing to chance was Franco’s last stand. He was defeated badly. Hidden cards were brought into play and these became a tool in people’s quest for identity and happiness. Opportunities happening outside the system meant, at that time, ways of surviving by ‘cheating’, breaking the rules of the imposed game. And it is precisely the way words move through borders apparently objectively that allows accident to unfold the plot of Lost Luggage. Accidental events produce incredible discoveries in ‘a new world’, in contrast with the emptiness felt at home in Franco’s Barcelona. The force of the story is in the tension of its vectors, where lines meet up in the distant horizon. This is a technique used to constantly confront the questions that keep us searching for lost answers; to find out what really happened until each thread is woven together, uncovering the text’s truth.
The first ‘discovery’ is that Cristòfol (Catalan for Cristobal- in Spanish) has three brothers: Christof, Christophe and Christopher. They are sons of the same father but different mothers, and live in Frankfurt, Paris, London and Barcelona. Their father, Gabriel Delacruz – a truck driver who worked for a Spanish international removals company– disappeared from their lives when they were little. Two decades later, Cristòfol is contacted by the police to be informed that his father is officially a missing person. It is then that he discovers that he has three half-brothers. The four ‘Christophers’ come together for the first time. Although they have only vague memories of what their father looked like, they decide to find him and solve the puzzle. Why did he abandon them? Why do all four have the same name? Is he still alive and does he want them to meet up? Do they have other relatives beyond their respective mothers: Sigrun, Mireille, Sarah and Rita?
A quest back into history, then forwards into geography, becomes a search for a living memory and eventually produces the first thread: Gabriel had himself also been abandoned. His public life began in a market place as a newborn baby and was given the name Delacruz (‘Of The Cross’, or it could have been Delacroix, o Delacreu, names that were often given to children in orphanages). La Casa De La Caritat, a place where the children of the Franco repressed were taken, had been his childhood home. Gabriel was found at ‘Mercat del Born’, and again this is an interesting assimilation. ‘Born’ coincides with birth but the name born is an old Catalan word for the site where medieval jousting took place, and it is from here that our mysterious character becomes real by means of place, language and history. Puntí cleverly makes use of a local landmark which was inspired by London’s Covent Garden, and which was Barcelona’s principal wholesale market until the mid-1970s. Recent excavation work inside the building has revealed a grid of streets with homes dating back to the 18th century. Now the discovery of these ruins has turned the edifice into a new museum and interpretative centre, in the same way that the ‘Mercat del Born’ allows the story to fill in the absence of Gabriel’s ancestors.
The cardinal points represented by the four ‘Christophers’ operate as a compass, directing us through a maze of adventures that Gabriel shares with his travel mates Petroli and Bundó. Gabriel is the central character of a story narrated by the ‘Christophers’ at the different stages of their encounters, organised to investigate their father’s life. Gabriel possesses the gift of chance, but we soon discover how the constraints of his upbringing weigh him down and, when his nomadic life no longer makes sense to him, he plays with the idea of suicide, plans to jump off the statue of another Christopher – Christopher Columbus – to put an end to it all. But once again he is saved by the persistence of chance. Gabriel (like the author) is a keen card player; eventually the full house of Lost Luggage’s design is revealed, but not without risks and tricks.