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  • Collaboration and Testimony in HermanitoThe Year in Spain
  • Ana Belén Martínez García (bio)

Among testimonies that call for justice and redress on behalf of a community of suffering individuals, Ibrahima Balde and Amets Arzallus Antia's Hermanito stands out. This polyphonic text builds on the tradition of the collective "I." Although it was first published in Basque, Hermanito only began to have a major impact on the Spanish cultural scene once it was translated into Castilian Spanish in October 2021. Collaborative life writing shapes the narrative and its distinctive style, increasing its potential to reach the reading public. An assemblage of memories, experiences, and voices, the reconstructed "I" in Hermanito narrates from the standpoint of an adult reminiscing on his past, his family life, and the choices that led him to the here and now. This "identity assemblage," as Sidonie Smith calls it, is fascinating for me as a scholar of life writing and activism. In Hermanito, the narrating "I"s are multiple and complex, just as the narrated "I"s compete and clash throughout. The voices that emerge from this are emotional and lyrical, and link the past, present, and future, and the family, friends, self, and other, reassembling memories to disassemble them again, in a poetic recreation of what was, is, and will be. The coauthor is acknowledged at the start but soon disappears to simply facilitate cues for the story of Ibrahima Balde to unfold.

From the paratext, readers may gather some important information about this book—for example, that it is not a canonical autobiographical text. The front matter reveals the collaborative authorship of the text: with words by Ibrahima Balde, who dedicates the book to his "miñán" ("little brother" in Pular, Balde's native language), as told to Amets Arzallus Antia (vii). To that, one might add the inconspicuous presence of the translator, named on the previous pages (v–vi). The story that ensues is built on a series of conversations in French as a lingua franca. Although the coauthors acknowledge this in interviews, it is not clear in the memoir itself, because it focuses on the personal journey of migrants, without specifying [End Page 85] when each language is used or what each translation implies. Indeed, the style follows oral traditions, quickly discarding linear order to favor thematic lines and emotions. To understand migration not as an abstract social concept but as an individual's forced movement, one should attend to the particularities of each person's journey: the conditions leading them to leave their home behind, as well as their struggles and the interruptions to their journeys and/or narratives. This explains the importance of adopting an intimate lifewriting mode, as well as leaving the narrative purposefully fragmented, to account for the disrupted nature of both orality—the way the story was first told—and border crossing.

Amets Arzallus Antia is an improvisational poet and has won bertso competitions,1 which may be why he was awed to meet Balde, who spoke as if in riddles—half prose, half verse, poetically conveying a harrowing story of suffering and shattered dreams. Orality, for Balde, who comes from an impoverished background in Conakry, Guinea, is central to the way he thinks, remembers, and tries to make sense of his past, present, and future. Traumatic memories may, moreover, further distort chronological accounts, and have been reported as obstacles in asylum seekers' interviews upon arrival in their host countries (Bohmer and Shuman; Lawrance and Ruffer). Having worked for a grassroots organization helping refugees in the Basque-speaking area of northern Spain and southwestern France, Arzallus first initiated a dialogue to help provide coherence to Balde's narrative, which is essential for an asylum claim, as well as to boost his self-confidence to avoid emotional breakdown before the authorities. However, as readers of this book soon realize, Balde's asylum claims have so far been fruitless. Reconstructing migration from the point of view of the person on the move is, as is evident in this personal testimony, patchy at best, with information arranged in apparent chaos, vital events blatantly absent, and motives for decisions obscure or obscured. After all, as Leigh Gilmore...

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