Nevada Days is a fictionalised account of Atxaga's nine months' stay as writer-in-residence at the Centre for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada. He is accompanied by his wife, Ángela, who is also doing research there, and by their two daughters. During their first few weeks, the family encounter a strange mapache (racoon), which is always staring at them from the garden, a flight of helicopters immediately overhead, a black widow spider, a warning about bears, a party of prisoners in the desert, a lake that is somehow far too calm and too blue, and, not long into their stay, the kidnap and murder of a young girl living in the house right next door.
Atxaga tells us about all these strange encounters, and about his colleagues at the university, about the trips the family make to California and across the Sierra Nevada and to Lake Tahoe, but this narrative is also interspersed with accounts of his dreams, with stories from his past.
Nevada Days seductively weaves together past and present, and shows us how deeply marked we are by experience and history and relationships, however fleeting or enduring, and reminds us what a very strange thing life is.
Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa
Vladimir Nabokov may have dismissed Reno as a "dreary town," but Basque novelist Atxaga (Seven Houses in France) profits from his nine-month stay there to produce this uncanny if occasionally desultory fictionalized travelogue. A visiting writer at the University of Nevada's Center for Basque Studies in 2007, Atxaga explores the sublime deserts and campy tourist attractions in a "state that flourished thanks to... divorce, gambling, prostitution and mining for gold and silver." Upon arriving, he catalogs his new environment's dangers, the rattlers and black widows, instilling a sense of menace that intensifies when a string of unsolved sexual assaults occurs. These crimes hover in the background as the writer takes various excursions, interspersing his impressions with youthful memories and letters home to an ailing friend. He drives into the vast desert in which the adventurer Steven Fossett disappeared and recounts more prosaic outings that don't always reward the side trip: visiting San Francisco with his wife and two daughters and attending Barack Obama's and Hilary Clinton's campaign rallies. Atxaga turns his attention not only to American customs but also to the region's Basque history, from the shepherds who emigrated there to the fascinating tale of Paulino Uzcudun, a champion boxer who trained in Steamboat Springs. Ultimately, this discursive narrative full of fear, wonder, and detours rewards the patient traveler.