Bernardo Atxaga’s Water over Stones follows a group of interconnected people in a small village in the Basque Country. It opens with the story of a young boy who has returned from his French boarding school to his uncle’s bakery, where his family hopes he will speak again. He’s been silent since an incident in which he threw a stone at a teacher for reasons unknown. With the assistance of twin brothers who take him to a river in the forest, he’ll recover his speech. As the years pass, those twins, now adults, will be part of a mining strike in the Ugarte region, and so take up the mantle of the narrative, just as others will after them.
Water over Stones is similar in nature to Atxaga’s earlier books Obabakoak and The Accordionist’s Son, as it weaves in themes of friendship, nature, and death. Yet in capturing a span of time from the early 1970s, when the shadow of the Franco dictatorship still loomed, to 2017, when these boys must learn to leave their old beliefs behind and move on, Atxaga finds new richness and depth in familiar subjects. As threads of water run over stones in the river, so these lives run together and, over time, technology and industry bring new changes as the wheel of life turns.