Rivas’s story spans over a century of Spanish history, but centres on a single day in Coruña when the fascists burned a large number of books. From the cinders of that day rose the ashes of the novel; Hercules the boxer, the acerbic anarchist Polka, the asinine and dilettante censor Dez, the lives of all of these characters centre around that fateful day where the day embers of republican Spain where engulfed in the inferno of fascism. Rivas’s novel isn’t so much an grandiose exploration of the wrongs of fascism, but more its essential banality, as well as the small-minded and parochial acts of cruelty and insecurity which define it. So some soldiers decide on a whim to murder a gypsy family because they feel gypsies have gotten off lightly so far, so the soldiers gleefully confine works of genius and works of trash to the flames as they are unable to differentiate between the two outside the fact that they contravene the narrow confines of acceptable art in fascist Spain.
Rivas’s novel paradoxically acts as a whirlwind dervish tour of 20th century Spanish history where nothing of any real notes. Instead Rivas explores the gradual disintegration of a generation beneath the oppressive weight of the Spanish government; the novel frequently meanders into tangents, from the search for a apocryphal Bible to the allegorical stories of John Black Eye which confound the censor or the juvenile indiscretions of Korea on the dockside. There is something disorganisation and dizzying about Rivas’s style, as he constantly jumps between timelines, characters and narratives and at times this can be discombobulating for the reader, however there is no escaping the verve and originality of Rivas’s style.