Ghosts of Spring, by Luis Carrasco, tells the story of a few months in the life of an unnamed young woman who is living on the streets of a city during a bitterly cold winter. It provides a searing indictment of how blind the more privileged make themselves to the unwashed vagrants whose existence is too often regarded as an irritation. Even those who hand out alms rarely connect with the humanity of those they deign to help in order to salve their conscience.
There are moments of light when sincere small kindnesses are offered. There are also many examples of the gross behaviour some men will indulge in because their victims have no recourse to lawful protection or effective punishment.
Opening in the weeks leading up to Christmas, days and nights are described in vivid detail. There is cold and hunger but also the mind numbing repetition and security measures required for basic survival as a beggar. Shelters for the homeless are shown to be more dangerous than dark alleyways. The other option available – prostitution – may be potentially more lucrative but carries its own issues, as is laid bare.
“you’d never get a human being to do what they want us to do for anything less”
It is deeply depressing to consider the ways in which some men behave: the fellow vagrants who will ejaculate on a sleeping girls face, the pimps who provide transport and accommodation in exchange for control over all their charges’ activities, the supposedly respectable citizens who pay for attractive bodies they may abuse at will.
There are also better men who offer to share: food, a drink, some friendly company. When the young woman determines to change her life trajectory it is a kind elderly gentleman who sets her on a path she may not have found herself.
Alongside the main plot are underlying nuggets to consider. The young woman remembers when she had a bed and clean clothes – there are many reasons why the homeless end up on the streets. When she catches a bus to access its warmth, the driver thoughtlessly suggests she pay by card, a system still inaccessible to many. The young woman is judged for her smell and ragged appearance – hard to avoid given the day to day life she leads. She cannot afford period products yet still menstruates.
The latter part of the book threatened briefly to descend into saccharine bucolic until the denouement applied an emotional gut punch, raising the bar of the entire tale.
I knew from the author’s previous novel, El Hacho, that he was capable of weaving a powerful and affecting story in skilfully wrought prose that is succinct yet builds impressive depth. As in that work, Ghosts of Spring offers a strong sense of place amidst its sensuous evocation of the challenges the protagonist faces. Most of all it provides a lens through which to view those so many in society prefer not to consider meaningfully. A poignant, thought-provoking and recommended read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, époque press.