Memories of a Country Boy

Memoirs of a Peasant Boy (Galician: Memorias dun neno labrego) is a social and historical novel by Galician writer Xosé Neira Vilas, published in Argentina on January 5, 1961. It is a book about Galician rural life seen through the eyes of a child, and it is the most read work of Galician literature, with more than 600,000 copies sold by 2015. It is dedicated to “all boys and all girls who speak Galician.” (Source: Wikipedia)

by Xosé Neira Vilas
an excerpt from Memories of a Country Boy (1961)
Translated by Anne McCarthy and Juan Casas

I am…

Balbino. A village boy. As one might say, a nobody. And, moreover, poor. Even though Manolito is from the country as well, but nobody would lay a finger on him, in spite of what happened to him because of me.

In the summer I go around barefoot. The hot dust on the roads makes me take big strides. The sand hurts me and there’s never a nail but it will pierce my feet. I get up when it’s dark, at two or three in the morning, to go with the cattle, to plough or to gather dry grass. When dawn comes my bank and my legs are already aching. But the day begins. Thirst, sun, mosquitos.

In the winter, cold. Wanting to be by the fire all day. Mills stopped. Stories about snow and wolves. One’s arms like raks used to hang rags off. Red from the fire, hurting, numb fingers.

What do town children know about this!

They know nothing about what I think while I put some broth with corn bread inside me. Or what I feel when I’m out on the hills drenched, frozen, seeing the trees through the rain as if they were cloudy ghosts.

The village is a mixture of mud and smoke, where the dogs howl and the people die “when God wants”, as my godmother says. For boys, we’re sad. We play tricks, we run after rockets and we even laugh, but we’re sad. We play tricks, we run after rockets and we even laugh, but we’re sad. We have poverty and hard labour nesting in our eyes.

I’d like to get around. To go to seas and lands that I don’t know. I was born and bred in the country but now I find it small, narrow. As if I were living in a beehive. I have thoughts which I can’t tell anyone about. Some wouldn’t understand me and others would call me mad. So that’s why I write. And after I sleep like a log. I feel relieved, free, as if a barrel were taken off me. I’m like that! And also Smith, the captain who fought in a war and, when he came home, started to write down all that had happened to him. That’s what’s in a book that old Landeiro brought me.

If I could write a book! Not a chance. I hope nobody finds my copy book. It would embarrass me. And I’m not exaggerating. Because I write down there all that I feel. Not many people do it. Everyone opens their mouths for two things; to tell the truth or to put a distance between them and it.

They didn’t understand me at home. And the same is true in Landeiro’s. That’s the worst that can happen to somebody, but it doesn’t matter to a lot of people.

I don’t know if I’m talking nonsense. I look at the world around me and I try to understand it. I see light and shadow, clouds that travel, fire, trees. What is all this? Nobody tells me, for example, what the stars are for or where birds die. I know for sure that a long time before I was born the sun and rocks existed and the water ran in the rivers. And I’m convinced that it will go on in the same fashion after I die. More people will come, and more, stepping on each other, forgetting, on purpose, those who died, as if they had never existed. To write in a copy book–who’d think it?–is like emptying one’s heart. It’s like a miracle, because in the end it’s nothing more than a conversation with myself. But for me everything”s a miracle. From the drops of rain to the cricket’s song.

Although if I were to write a book, like Smith did, what I’d tell wouldn’t be of any importance. Smith fought in a war, and I’m just “the kid”, as they call me at home. I’m Balbino. A village boy. A nobody.

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