There is not a traditional plot; rather, the book takes a diary form, and thoughts, observations, and memories bump into each other like buoys on the sea. 'I felt confused. Thoughts and memories kept getting mixed up in my head,' he says. Similar to the desolate Nevada landscape, often whatever Atxaga is trying to convey that is not in the present (his memories of his Basque childhood and fleeting thoughts) feels somewhat incomplete and removed, just out of the reader’s reach ... The most compelling element is the narrator’s relationship with Nevada. He says, 'Night was falling. In the sky, it was hard to tell blue from black.' The book’s structure is a series of vignettes or distilled moments explored rather than a continuous story. He says, 'The fluorescent light in the kitchen transformed the ingredients of the gin and tonic as he took them from the fridge: the little bottles of Schweppes sparkled; the ice cubes glittered like glass; the green of the gin bottle took on an emerald tone; the yellow of the lemons gleamed like wax.' ... Atxaga’s writing, 'the voices in [his] memory-stuffed head,' follows its own rhythms as it inhabits these various places in time. He is an outsider, on the perimeter, even in his memories. Readers will smell the pervasive sagebrush and feel the lurking danger of the Wild West, a place where footsteps quickly disappear in the dry air and always shifting sand.
Basque writer Bernardo Atxaga turns his attention toward the American West in Nevada Days, ... While Nevada is famous for its Basque immigrant community--and many U.S.-born writers who make pilgrimages to the European homeland--Nevada Days makes its mark by reversing this order. Atxaga is like a modern-day Tocqueville seeing the deserts of America, both physical and spiritual, with fresh insight ... The book walks a pleasant, meandering line between fiction and nonfiction. Most of it reads like a travel memoir, structured in short chronological entries, but the pages wander, loaded with tangential stories, intermittent dreams and stubborn memories.
Over 139 short sections, Nevada Days spans journal entries, news items, family memories and yarns imported from the Basque homeland. Without any surplus exoticism, Mr Atxaga records the strangeness, physical and social, of his desert berth: this primeval landscape where bare trapezoid mountains have 'nothing to do with us'. Pitiless nature feels 'remote and alien'. Poisonous spiders and rattlesnakes abound. On campus suspense builds as a spate of sexual assaults nearby ends with the abduction and murder of a student (a real case). Near and far, the prickle of threat and dread sharpens. Barack Obama, during his first candidacy, comes to town to denounce the war in Iraq.