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"I did a lot of bad things, but when I was before the painter I murmured to myself that I was sorry, that I wished I didn't have to, and I don't know what he thought when our eyes met, a moist blaze in the night, but I want to believe he understood, he saw that I was doing it to save him torment. Without further ado, without moving from where I was, I put the pistol to his temple and blew off his head. And then I remembered the pencil. The pencil he carried behind his ear. This pencil..." Set in the dark days of the Spanish Civil War, Qalam an-najjar charts the linked destinies of Dr Daniel Da Barca, the Republican who, like his Biblical namesake, cheats death in Franco's prisons, and Herbal, the illiterate Falangist and Da Barca's shadow and tail, and of the unnamed painter with the carpenter's pencil, the man who unites them in life and death. Marisa Mallo, loved by both Da Barca and Herbal; Pepe Sanchez, the bolero singer; "Genghis Khan", the wrestler; Dombod?n the Kid, the innocent; Mother Izarne, the nun. All are bound by the events of the Civil War-the artists and the peasants alike-and all are rendered, in Rivas's skillful hand, with the power of the carpenter's pencil, a pencil that draws both the measured line and the artist's fanciful vision.