A journalist narrates the history of Spain's most controversial literary family—the Paneros—which rose to prominence under Francisco Franco and drew the ire of poets such as Pablo Neruda for cooperating with the fascist regime.
Shulman is able to bring to life the Panero family’s heartache and the Spanish Civil War’s devastation as only a trained journalist can: by mixing history, interviews, and well-honed research to complete a full picture for the reader. The resulting work avoids a dry historical retelling of the War, instead, weaving a narrative story that piques even non-historians’ interest.
What kind of poetry can you write if everything about you is a lie? That’s the question at the heart of The Age of Disenchantments, Aaron Shulman’s intriguing narrative of literary ambition and family dysfunction ... Shulman, who appears to have read everything ever written by or about [the Paneros] ... Shulman sometimes seems uncertain what lesson to draw from his subjects’ baroque carryings-on, asserting that 'they mean whatever we want them to mean.'
It is hard to find joy anywhere in The Age of Disenchantments, though Mr. Shulman’s occasional novelistic speculations lift its sense of desolation. Mr. Shulman’s decision to pursue his narrative on two levels—one as the portrait of a dysfunctional, quarrelsome family of misfits; the other as the history of modern Spain—doesn’t always work. Panero’s death, halfway through the narrative, robs the story of its central focus, all the more so since Panero is certainly the family’s most interesting and enigmatic character: a Franco supporter who published the dictator’s loudest critic, Pablo Neruda, and, while in London after the war, a friend to anti-Franco exiles. It is as a portrait of an earlier Spain, before Franco crushed its people, that the book works best: when poets were widely loved and celebrated and, as a young visitor to the Paneros’ house put it, 'all the young people were drunk with hope and poetry.'