This past weekend saw the award of Spain’s most prestigious prize for fiction, the Premio Planeta. This year’s winner – the Spanish novelist Javier Moro, for El imperio eres tu (The Empire is You), about the first Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro I (1798-1834). This, the 60th Planeta Prize, received nearly 500 entries, which is hardly surprising, given that it comes with prize money of 600,000 euros. Authors generally compete under a pseudonym (so avoiding the intense scrutiny that comes with the British Booker Prize, also to be awarded this week), and a shortlist of ten is drawn up before the event, from which the finalist is announced at a flashy gala in Barcelona, where Planeta are based. There’s also a runner-up, who this year is Inma Chacon, twin sister of the lamented Dulce Chacon, with Tiempo de arena (Time of Sand), about three sisters in turn-of-the-20th-century Spain.
Now, I have to be honest. I’ve never heard of Javier Moro, but since he is often described as a ‘superventas’ (bestseller), the fault is probably mine. He has a snazzy multilingual website in Spanish, English, and Italian where you can read all about his published works and see some press coverage of the uproar his most recent book, El sari rojo (The Red Sari) – about Sonia Gandhi – caused in India. In all the excitement about the Planeta, it looks as if he hasn’t had time to update it with the news of his win (but then, at time of writing, neither have Planeta…). El imperio… is Moro’s seventh book - his first, Senderos de libertad (Pathways of Freedom) was about Brazil, but the rest, which alternate between reportage and fiction, have all been about the Indian subcontinent. I’m particularly intrigued by Pasión India (2007), about a turn-of-the-20th-century Spanish flamenco dancer who married the Maharajah of Kapurthala. El imperio… is a detailed, closely-researched fictionalization of the life of Dom Pedro (above, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons), who was a figurehead of Brazilian independence from Portugal and died of tuberculosis at the age of 35.
So, will I read El imperio…? Probably. Eventually. I’m certainly going to read Chacon’s novel, since it’s about my favourite historical period, the turn of the 20th century, which has been horribly neglected by Spanish historical novelists since pretty much forever. I’ll certainly be intrigued to see if Moro’s novel makes as much of a splash in my site stats as last year’s winner, Eduardo Mendoza’s Rina de gatos, which has been the single most searched-for topic on this blog since the prize was announced in October 2010.
Read more: The Private Library on the Planeta’s low profile in the US; the Latin American Herald Tribune on Moro’s win; the Literary Saloon at the Complete Review, on the contrast between the Planeta and the Booker; Bibliotecas Redondela on the prize (in Galician); Spanish newspaper ABC on the award and the pseudonym question …