Rosa returns to Tenerife, to the run-down house of the once influential Bernadotte family. Rosa is searching – for what exactly, she doesn’t know. Her grandfather Julio was a messenger in the civil war. Taken prisoner by the fascists, he fled and returned, and today he works as a gatekeeper at the nursing home, the final portal of life of the island’s old people. This is a man who only knows privilege as the purview of others. “Archipelago” moves backwards through Julio’s century, the century of the Bautes and Bernadottes, the Wieses, Moores and Gonzálezes – but also of those who are nameless.
The archipelago lies at the outermost edge of Europe; the setting is the island of Tenerife, a nucleus of colonial history and of the history of 20th-century European dictatorships. Inger-Maria Mahlke writes about the present and back to 1919 in a precise and cogent manner. The narrative centres around three families from different social classes, fractured and wounded by Spanish history. Yet it is the dazzling details above all that make this novel such an impressive affair. Through its language, it allows us to experience everyday life, a damaged landscape – and even the light – as though with our own senses. The author’s eye for the intricate bifurcations of family and social relationships is fascinating.