‘The day of the Watusi’: the novel by Francisco Casavella that does not stop growing

Reality is uninhabitable sometimes. Hence literature, happy artifact of challenge and rewriting. “The magic of the novel is to create life. Introduce yourself into a universe that, even if you care what will become of it, above all makes you wish it would never end”, wrote the novelist Francisco Casavella (Barcelona, ​​1963-2008) on Mary Tribune’s Big Momentthe book of Juan Garcia Hortelano. With the Madrid writer he shared appreciation for the figure of the rogue, the one whose misadventures support a critique of the dominant historical narrative. He also shared both surnames —in the DNI, the person from Barcelona was Francisco García Hortelano—, so he decided to use his grandfather’s surname Casavella so as not to confuse readers (another option was to use his grandmother’s surname Franco, but he had already also another Francisco Franco).

With nearly a thousand pages, the universe of The day of the Watusi He was born with an imperishable vocation. And it seems to be. As of today, the book is out of print and its fifth edition is already underway, which will hit bookstores in the coming weeks. “We put out a new edition every year. It is a novel that is very much alive, that does not stop growing”, he explains. Silvia Sesé, head of Anagrama and architect of its recovery in 2016. It was first published in Mondadori in three volumes —the fierce games, wind and jewels Y the impossible language— between 2002 and 2003, 20 years ago now, and its editor, Claudio López Lamadrid, classified the work as “monumental” in substance and in form.

Readers and fans of the book agree with him. The Day of the Watusi “enthuses his peers, probably due to the lack of habit of seeing themselves reflected in nowhere”, warned Josele Santiago, from Los Enemigos, a few years ago in this newspaper. Writers like Kiko Amat, Laura Fernández, Sergio del Molino, Carlos Zanón or Miqui Otero also declare themselves admirers of Casavella. And every August 15 —the day the protagonist Fernando Atienza and his squire Pepito el Yeyé believe they see the body of the Watusi floating in the waters of the port of Barcelona— in places like the Calders bookstore in Barcelona or the Belmondo bar, in León, parties are given to celebrate the existence of the book, “that bloomsday del Watusi”, in the words of the writer Juan Tallón.

“Our King and blah, blah, blah”

The novel is the chronicle of “a very clumsy social climber”, whose story allows the author to contribute his point of view “on that Transition exemplary that we Spaniards live under the watchful eye of our King and blah, blah, blah”, Casavella detailed in an interview in January 2000. The climber is Atienza, a careerist without conviction who, in a story that goes from 1971 to the Barcelona Olympic Gamesobserve the troubles of those who want to perpetuate themselves in power and those who only pursue the “fertile side of desire of desire” and burn between lavish and street fires.

Poster designed by Luz de la Mora for the initial promotional campaign of ‘El día de Watusi’.Anagram

For Sesé, The day of the Watusi is a visionary novel that was ahead of its time by analyzing with critical eyes the transition, a book that knew how to capture “the political debts and the unhealed wounds of the dictatorship, corruption and the culture of the ball.” A fictional path riddled with real episodes such as the legalization of political parties, the Atocha massacre or the assault on the Central Bank of Barcelona in 1981.

But it is that and more, emphasizes Sesé. It is also a novel of learning, a journey that goes from the wonder of childhood to discovering “how worn words, gestures, sunrises, tricks are” in mature age, Casavella wrote. And it is a chronicle of how myths are built, those mysterious fictions that feed daily life.

money to write

But how do you put together a literary project like this? The first clues were given by the author himself: “Before getting down to it, I spent two years trying to earn money to grant myself a scholarship, buying time. You can almost write another novel about the goings-on that I had to go through to be able to dedicate myself exclusively to writing, ”he confessed on TV3. He also revealed what Watusi was inspired by: “In a character that everyone in my neighborhood had seen 20,000 times and I had never seen, called El Botas, and in another one called Pepe el Francés.”

His first impulse was to portray the Barcelona of the late sixties and early seventies“the port of the city almost like that of a banana republic, with the American sixth fleet, the bars with names like Panama’s, Kentucky, American cigarettes”, but finally he opted to work on “a story of considerable length that tried to build , in the way that only the novelistic genre can do, the howthe because Sthe to whats and the so what of a certain situation: the Spanish Transition”. The idea was to portray the trinity that money, technique and bureaucracy make up, their path to nihilism and, in front of it, the “endless search for arguments to continue loving life”, he explained.

The forging of the Watusi myth was written in his parents’ apartment in Roda de Barà, on the Tarragona coast, withdrawn from everyone, feeling “like those characters in Stephen King’s novels” in search of his immortal work but who they end up “becoming tarumbas”he explained. Because writing, she said, was a wonderful job but it paid a toll: “I’m afraid that’s all life consists of: choosing your favorite way to go crazy,” she said. in an interview with EL PAÍS in 2000.

One of the multiple readings of Watusi is, in its first part, an initiation story: in its second, a caricature of a certain wealthy class created by Francoism and its attempts at reconversion seen through the wide-open eyes of a hallucinated adolescent, and a story of modern music and drug addicts in the third and last, detailed its author.

The driving force of the book was “anger, with the way in which everything is trivialized,” Casavella acknowledged in his last interview, in the magazine Chimerapublished posthumously, where he charged against the times he was living in, “dominated by botch work, no longer material, but spiritual, and by absolute conformism”, according to the author of what i know about vampiresnovel with which won the Nadal award in 200811 months before passing away.

Saul Bellow and the Ramones

Joan Riambau, Casavella’s friend and his first editor —published The triumph in Versal, in 1990—, certifies that The day of the Watusi it is “the construction of a very ambitious universe”, which was possible thanks to his reading, his capacity for observation and fabulation, and the seriousness with which he took writing. That is why he hates the trivialization of the figure of Casavella, the one who insists on emphasizing that he was a guy who closed all the bars. “He made personal sacrifices for dedication to literature, a dedication that cost him his life,” he says.

He was a very demanding author, “capable of throwing a hundred pages of writing in the trash if he did not achieve the tone or rhythm he had in his head”, Riambau emphasizes about his friend, a very free person who wrote from all sides, including institutional ones. “He did not belong to any type of literary chapel, he never asked permission to do anything, neither homage nor favors. He was self-sufficient,” says Riambau, an editor at Penguin Random House today.

Casavella read everything: conspiracy novels, Saul Bellow, Mortadelo and Filemonself-help manuals, Philip Roth, Juan Marsé, ufology books or Marcel Proust, who was influenced by the idea that sometimes what you invent is more real than reality itself.

Another of his propulsion engines was music or, more precisely, songs: from the “Ramones, from the rumbero Bambino, from Gil Scott-Heron, from The Fleshtones, from The New York Dolls or from Black Uhuru. His musical memory helped him to identify moments, something that is reflected in the book, like that paragraph that lists the different versions of the Watusi, the dance made into a song by Ray Barretto.

an exhausting effort

“When we were preparing the book, Casavella had the Watusi song on his answering machine,” recalls Luz de la Mora, designer of the covers of the three books for Mondadori. De la Mora recalls the sensation of having “a super-powerful novel” in hand and the commission from López Lamadrid to create a series of promotional pieces for its launch: advertisements for magazines and newspapers, posters and displays for bookstores and even a video book trailer, something very innovative in the early 2000s.

Casavella also had faith in The day of the Watusi. “I was aware that I was doing a great work. He had an enthusiasm that I did not see in other books”, explains Pilar Romera, writer and friend of the novelist. She remembers that she sent him scraps of chapters and told him about his doubts, that perhaps it was too long for him. “I think the effort exhausted him, he was exhausted. And I suspect that he expected a greater impact than he had at the time, ”she says.

According to the author of the impostorsIn Casavella there was something of the anti-hero Atienza: “The desire to prosper, to enjoy life, to wear good clothes.” But little more. His friend was above all “very, very generous, a tremendous culé, excessive in any of his facets, brilliant, who was interested in everything. Although what really mattered to him was literature and that the people he loved loved him. And he is already ”.

Many still miss him. As described by the novelist Miqui Otero —author of simon and family member of Casavella—, when he died, people of all walks of life and backgrounds went to say goodbye to him. “His funeral of him looked like the canteen of Star Wars“, said. People such as the Minister of Culture of the Generalitat on duty or waitresses from his favorite bars in the Raval neighborhood coincided there.

He was that category of writer who, when reading it, gives an immense desire to live, he once stressed the novelist Carlos Zanon. A person obsessed with the calendar of days, like everyone else: “Lately I have been reflecting on that character we end up becoming and on the tremendous or relative dissatisfaction that we assume over time,” Casavella said shortly after publishing The day of the Watusi. He died at the age of 45 of a heart attack. “Life is a month, a year at the most,” the mysterious Guillermo Ballesta warns the young Fernando Atienza. So take advantage of this 2023.

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‘The day of the Watusi’: the novel by Francisco Casavella that does not stop growing