Rosa Montero ‘The heart of the Tartar’


–Urbano layed her on the ground, ripped her clothes off, tugged off his own clothes, parted her thighs and then with his powerful hands parted her humid IMG_1251and throbbing canal as Moses parted the Red Sea. In a word it was a prodigious act.***


Rosa Montero’s 2001 novel read here for Spanish lit month 2017 tells the story of Zarza, a low profile editor and proofreader, 35 years old, she specialised in medieval history and then one day she is woken by a phone call and the words

–I’ve found you***

from this point on her life begins to disintegrate around her. The story of  Zarza’s life and how she has got to where she is is illustrated in a series of meetings and encounters through one night and told in a semi-magical way interwoven with the story of “Le Chevalier à la Rose” (Der Rosenkavelier) from Chretien de Troy which mirrors, but not  completely, her own story, betrayal, darkness, a quest and forgiveness.

Much of the her own story is told or discovered by Zarza, of her strange family and of her twin brother seen through the distant haze of their heroine addiction, The White Lady, and of their descent into madness and depravity to fuel their need as illustrated in the following quote:


–It’s really easy. We just walk into the bank at the street corner, we pull out our guns, me I’ll cover the guard, you point your gun at the cashier, grab the money and then we’re off.
—But you can’t get in with metal objects! They have double doors and detectors.
—No they don’t, they don’t expect anything in that bank, they let anybody in, even if the alarm goes off, well you know….
—But they know us!
—Exactly. All the better. That way they’ll open up for us.
It was the local bank, and it was only the havoc wrought by the White Lady that could explain their outlandish idea to attack their neighbours, their close acquaintances who sooner or later would get their hands on them, but the White Lady has this power: she wipes out her subjects ability to think.***


One night at the worst of her addiction she meets Urbano, a quiet cabinet maker who looks after her and tries to help her to quit her habit. She doesn’t make it, steels from him and leaves. What happened to her for her to exist without living? It finally takes this night for her to relive her past, to meet Urbano and to forgive herself, see the opening quote.

This is an accomplished psychological thriller by one of Spain’s best known contemporary authors, more to come from her this month!

First Published in Spanish as “El corazón del Tartáro” in 2001 by Espasa.
Translated into French by André Gabastou as “Le Territoire des Barbares” and published by Métailie in 2002
*** My translation

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