Aboard the spacecraft Vostok 1, the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to fly in outer space on 12th April 1961. It was the beginning of the space age, which would culminate on 20th July 1969 with Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the surface of the moon. It was also the beginning of a decade which would bring great social and political changes.
Fifty years later Miguel Mendiguren, a man approaching the age of 60, recalls the Russian cosmonaut’s feat as he holds vigil over his dying mother in her hospital room. He was only ten years old at the time and he had won an essay-writing competition at school for a piece about Gagarin’s first journey into space. From then on, the other children called him Gagarin, a nickname which accompanied him through the rest of his childhood and into adolescence.
As his mother’s life ebbs away, Miguel remembers his younger years in La Coruña in the 1960s. His parents ran a local printing press and bookshop, to all appearances like any other family. But they hide dangerous secrets that Miguel discovers as he grows up, opening his eyes to the complexity of life. A life in the Spain of that period, with Franco’s dictatorship, the repression of the most basic liberties and the permanent threat of the Social Political Brigade, the regime’s secret police. Then there is the presence of the clandestine opposition, an essential barrier against the barbarity.
In those youthful years Miguel also experiences the interior revolution brought by falling in love. With Francesca, a recent arrival in the city, he feels the rapture of passion and the pain of absence in an emotive love story marked by deep class divisions.
This book has its own blog, which includes a large part of the documentation used to write it: O BLOG DE GAGARIN