These novels from two Spanish writers born in the 1970s are so similar that it is a surprise to see they are published quite independently of each other. Both books focus on children fighting for their lives in hostile environments. Both open with these boys crouching terrified in holes in the ground. The two authors have created archetypal characters in mythical landscapes (in neither book does anyone have a name). Realist in their details, the novels deal with children forced to mature by extreme situations. They are books of initiation from cruel childhood into the adult world. Yet the two books (both are carefully and competently translated) have different impacts. Iván Repila’s very short novel is a fairy story, more symbolic than real, while Jesús Carrasco’s fuller book is an epic story of escape and revenge, closer to a Western than any other genre.
The two boys in Repila’s book are brothers, dubbed Big and Small. They are trapped in a hole with walls sloping inward so they cannot climb out. Repila writes very physically: worms, roots and grubs that the boys scratch from the soil are their diet; slathering wolves peer into their hole; time is marked by the scorching sun passing overhead. At first the boys shout for help, then