This minipost is by way of an excuse, a tip, and a promise. First the excuse. Our new semester started this week, albeit with the old one still hanging around like a gentle whiff, in the shape of marking, moderation and mitigating circumstances. Last semester finished with a major exam on Friday afternoon, and the new one began with a bang on Monday morning as 80+ exam scripts were distributed for marking. On the plus side (and this is the tip!), it’s always enjoyable to read student commentaries on Gustavo Pérez-Firmat‘s Bilingual Blues, which I recommend to everybody with even a smattering of Spanish, whether you usually read poetry or not. Now for the promise - I have reviews pending on Giles Tremlett’s Katherine of Aragon, my new Hispanic Liverpool discovery Arthur Behrend’s The House of the Spaniard, Elena Moya Pereira’s The Olive Groves of Belchite, and Robert Pagani’s The Princess, the King, and the Anarchist (in Helen Marx’s translation), which I discovered through a stinker of a review over at Three Per Cent (which, incidentally, gives away pretty much the whole plot), and about which I have plenty to say, not all of it terrible. Plus the books I mentioned in my previous ‘OMG it’s so unfair I actually have to do work’ post. So there it is – an excuse, a tip, and a promise. Watch this space for the reviews. Just as soon as the marking is done …
Today, for your delectation and delight, we have a guest blog from Mr Books-on-Spain, who normally writes over at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel. I haven’t read this one yet myself, but when I do, I’ll post an update from my decidedly non-mystery-fan perspective. Over to you, Mr Books-on-Spain:
I promised myself when I started writing my blog to always start with the positive things about a book. Well, Water-blue Eyes is short. Um… can’t think of much else at the moment.
This book is from 2006 originally having won the Brigada 21 Prize for best first crime novel. Due to being unfortunately monolingual, I read the English translation. I generally shy away from translated works, as most of them in the genre tend to be bleak Scandinavian thrillers that have never really clicked with me (well, the first chapters didn’t anyway), but as, thanks to my good lady wife, I’ve spent some amazing times in Galicia, I felt that I couldn’t pass up a book set in Vigo.
The plot concerns Inspector Leo Caldas and his investigation into the murder of a saxophonist, found tied to a bed with (brace yourself) his genitals burned and shrivelled by the injection of concentrated formaldehyde. Caldas investigates and I wish I could summon up the enthusiasm to recount the plot basics in any more detail.
So what’s the problem here? It’s hard to say, given it could be the source material or the translation of it, but I didn’t find the book engaging. It took me four days to read 160 pages. That’s very slow for me. On the translation side of things, there are parts that annoy me, in particular the complete lack of any Spanish phrases in the dialogue. I understand this choice, but the use of particularly English words like “boss” and certain naughty words seemed jarring to me. There seemed to me to be a lack of atmosphere – Galicia is a beautiful part of the country, but I found the descriptions quite cold. Apart from the descriptions of the goose barnacles though – that just made me hungry.
I can’t blame the translator for the plot and characters though. Caldas’ sergeant, Estévez, is as repellent a good guy as you’ll ever meet and gets absolutely no come-uppance for his violent and homophobic actions, let alone kicking a cute dog at one point. His presence had me reading faster just to find a section of the book that he wasn’t in. And, of course, for me it all comes down to the plot.
The cover blurb carries a (translated) statement from El País, which rather strangely focuses on, of all things, the novel’s brevity: “Villar’s prose is brilliantly concise”. This is a problem when what could have been an intelligent plot to frame someone for the murder is raced through, both in execution and explanation. A particular cheat is used when Caldas mentions that he missed something when examining the scene of the crime – mystery speak for the reader has missed something – but going back to it, the detail in question isn’t there, and you won’t spot what passes for a clue unless you’re an expert in German philosophy.
I usually like to summarise the good points and not dwell on the bad, so I would recommend anyone who still wants to read this to learn Spanish and read the original – that would cut out some of the problems. But if the reader out there is looking for a great crime novel, browse through the rest of my blog. There are much better things out there.
The folks over at Three Percent, the fabulous resource for international literature based at the University of Rochester in the US, have just released the longlist for the 2011 Best Translated Book Awards. There are 25 books, from 19 countries, written in 12 languages, and I’me excited to see several Spanish-language authors included (translator name in brackets): César Aira’s The Literary Conference (Katherine Silver), Mario Benedetti’s The Rest is Jungle and Other Stories (Harry Morales), Javier Marías’s Bad Nature, or, with Elvis in Mexico (Esther Allen), Martín Solares’s The Black Minutes (Aura Estrada / John Pluecker), and Emilio Lascano Tegui’s On Elegance While Sleeping (Idra Novey). You can find links to all of the books in the original announcement at Three Percent.
It’s an interesting longlist, with lots of novels and novelists I don’t know at all, and I’m looking forward to seeing which ones make the shortlist of ten, which is due to be announced on March 24th. BUT (there is always a but, isn’t there? I will hide it beneath the lines for those of you whose parades could do without the rain today…)
The events and intrigues of the months leading up to Spain’s devastating Civil War of 1936-1939 have been chewed over, thoroughly digested and well … you know the rest … by historians of all hues during the last three quarters of a century. Nonetheless, Eduardo Mendoza (official webpage), one of Spain’s most established novelists, has managed in his new, prizewinning novel Riña de gatos. Madrid 1936 (Catfight. Madrid 1936) to cast the familiar narrative in an entirely new light. The title of Mendoza’s novel may or may not have been inspired by Goya’s painting of the same name, but since this is a literary blog and I’ve thus far resisted all catblogging urges, it’s a great excuse to reproduce an image of the painting which, let’s just say, isn’t entirely unfamiliar to those living in close proximity to chez Books on Spain …
Riña de gatos was awarded Spain’s prestigious Premio Planeta in October, a decision that El País considered consonant with the prize’s balancing act in recent years between the political and commercial dimensions of contemporary Spanish narrative. The Premio Planeta, founded in 1952, is Spain’s most financially distinguished literary prize, with a total value of over 600,000 euros, and previous winners have included this year’s Premio Cervantes Ana Maria Matute (1954), Jorge Semprún (1977), Juan Marsé (1978), Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1979), the two Nobel Laureates Torrente Ballester (1988) and Vargas Llosa (1993), and more recently, Lucía Etxevarria (2004), Alvaro Pombo (2006) and Fernando Savater (2008). Reading around the newspaper reports and bloggers, the response to Mendoza’s win seems to run the spectrum from ‘about time too, he’s one of the best’ to ‘typical Planeta, it’s just populist drivel dressed up with politics.’
Feliz aninovo, Feliz año nuevo, Bon any nou, Urte berri on, Feliz añu nuevu and Happy New Year to all of you!
This blog has been going now for five whole months and has been more fun to research and write, and reached more readers, than I could ever have imagined when I started it back in July. Thank you to everybody who’s stopped by either to read or comment, and here’s to a lively and literary 2011!
Inspired by Paul over at By the Firelight, I’ve been reflecting on my literary resolutions for 2011. I wasn’t here in 2010, but if I’d had a resolution for the last year, it would have been to branch out a bit in terms of the authors I read, to include writers ‘que no sean mujeres y que no sean gallegos’ (who are neither women or Galician) as a dear Spanish friend suggested – and I think I’ve done quite well with the non-female, non-Galician side of things, viz my valiant return to the world of Vargas Llosa earlier this month. For 2011, then, I resolve:
1. To read whenever and wherever I can
2. To make sure at least one in three of my choices is outside or at least somewhere near the edge of my comfort zone (mujeres, gallegos, históricos, you know the sort of thing…)
3. To celebrate reading, especially of Spain’s wonderful, multiple literatures, with as many friends, and to as many audiences as possible
What are your literary resolutions?
It’s that time of year again – authors, critics, and (occasionally!) academics are asked to come up with their nominations for the year’s top books, according to various usually not terribly well-defined criteria. Pretty much every newspaper, magazine and cultural journal is in on the game, and Papeles Perdidos, the blog of the El Pais cultural supplement Babelia has just released the El Pais top books of 2010. What strikes me is just how little relation this list has with the bestsellers I’ve been reporting on during the last few months; we’ll find out tomorrow, when they publish the essays and analysis, how the 50+ critics and authors they consulted came to their decisions. In the meantime, here’s the top ten (actually twelve!); for the rest, follow the link at the bottom of the page:
1- Verano [Summertime]: J. M. Coetzee (Mondadori)
2- Poesía reunida [Collected Poetry]: William Butler Yeats (Pre-Textos)
3- Blanco nocturno [Night Target]: Ricardo Piglia (Anagrama)
4- El sueño del celta [The Dream of the Celt]: Mario Vargas Llosa (Alfaguara)
5- El amor verdadero [True Love]: José María Guelbenzu (Siruela)
6- Retratos y encuentros [The Gay Talese Reader: Portraits and Encounters]: Gay Talese (Alfaguara)
7- Algo va mal [Ill Fares the Land]: Tony Judt (Taurus)
8- Dublinesca [Dublinesque]: Enrique Vila-Matas (Seix Barral)
9- Tarde o temprano. Poemas 1958-2009, [Sooner or Later. Poems]: José Emilio Pacheco (Tusquets)
10- Esencia y hermosura. Antología [Essence and Beauty. Anthology]: María Zambrano (Galaxia Gutenberg/Círculo de Lectores)
10= Tiempo de vida [Time of Life]: Marcos Giralt Torrente (Anagrama)
10= Tierra desacostumbrada [Unaccustomed Earth]: Jhumpa Lahiri (Salamandra).
Some brief statisticky thoughts off the top of my head: 10 men (eight living, one died 1939, one died 2010) vs 2 women (one living, one died 1991) – it is also notable that only ONE OTHER WOMAN (last year’s Nobel Laureate Herta Müller) appears in the top 20, which makes 3 out of 29 in total, or a hit rate for the ladies of just over 10%; 7 Spanish-language, 5 translated; of the 7 Spanish-language, one is Argentinean, one Peruvian, one Mexican, and four Spanish; in terms of genre, there are 6 novels, two poetry anthologies, three non-fiction works, and a memoir. It is also worth noting (although not really surprising) that there are no books from Spain’s other languages in the list, although there are a number of Barcelona-born authors who write principally in Spanish.
This isn’t the time for detailed analysis or critique, although you can be sure that’s on its way (!), but … well … it’s worth a moment’s thought, not least because it is, I think, a reflection of the way in which old and new networks of prestige can come together to forge a sense of ‘global’ cultural value in which the same old assumptions rule, and the same old exclusions operate, albeit now with a slightly more cosmopolitan flavour. Admittedly, El Pais may not be the place to be looking for a reflection of the most groundbreaking contemporary currents, but seriously – NOT ONE book by a living Spanish woman? ONLY ONE (at no.16) by a living Spanish writer born outside Madrid or Barcelona? That, despite everything, still leaves me speechless.
See the rest of the top 20 (actually 29, because of all the tied votes) at: Verano, de Coetzee, Libro del año de Babelia >> Papeles Perdidos >> Blogs EL PAÍS.
Writing Galicia into the World: New Cartographies, New Poetics
by Kirsty Hooper | Liverpool University Press
price: £ 65.00 | ISBN 9781846316678
This book explores a part of Europe’s cultural and social landscape that has until now remained largely unmapped: the exciting body of creative work emerging since the 1970s from contact between the small Atlantic country of Galicia, in the far north-west of the Iberian peninsula, and the Anglophone world. It traces the innovative mappings of Galician cultural history found in literary works by and about Galicians in the Anglophone world, paying particular attention to the community of ‘London Galicians’ in works by artists (Isaac Diaz Pardo), novelists (Carlos Durán, Manuel Rivas, Xesús Fraga, Xelis de Toro, Almudena Solana) and poets (Ramiro Fonte, Xavier Queipo, Erin Moure).
Contemporary Hispanic and Lusophone Cultures, 5 | 256pp, 234 x 156mm, hardback | Publishing May 2011
It’s amazing what you can achieve on an 8-hour train journey – in this case, reading almost the whole of the first Mario Vargas Llosa novel I have ever read of my own free will. Oh, it’s not the first one I’ve read – that honour goes to La ciudad y los perros (English trans: The Time of the Hero), one of our first-year university set texts and clearly *so appropriate* for a bunch of innocent 18-year-olds. Didn’t understand it, loathed it, swore never to read Vargas Llosa again. But then in 2003 I had to teach La fiesta del chivo (English trans: The Feast of the Goat) and that actually wasn’t so bad; at least this time I understood it and could see what some of the fuss was about. So when Vargas Llosa got the Nobel this year, and I was in Spain when his new novel was published, I thought – what the hell?! Let’s give it a try. And you know what? Loved it. Of course, it helps that the subject of the novel is close to my own area of interest, being set in the the early 20th-century Atlantic triangle of Britain (Liverpool!), the Congo and the Amazon.
So, El sueño del celta (The Dream of the Celt) is about the Anglo-Irish diplomat, anti-slavery campaigner and Irish nationalist Roger Casement (right), whose story, moving between London, the Belgian Congo, Amazonian Peru, and Ireland, allows Vargas Llosa to explore the faultlines, currents and ‘cartographies of structures of power’ running through the Atlantic world during the early 20th century and, at the same time, to reflect on the fragility of the historical record. Casement’s is a true story, hence the absence of links in this paragraph – don’t want to spoil the narrative thread for those like me, who vaguely know about Casement, but aren’t really familiar with the details of his life and work. A central part of the novel is the question of Casement’s diaries and their authenticity, a question that remains largely unanswered today, and Vargas Llosa’s solution to it seems to me a perfect solution not only to the Casement question, but also to the question of how knowledge of this kind circulates and is recorded. I believe the English translation is underway and will be out in the next year or so, probably with Vargas Llosa’s usual British publisher, Faber & Faber.
PS:- far be it from me to correct a Nobel Laureate [ahem], but I believe the Booth Line ship on which Roger travelled to the Amazon would have been the Hildebrand rather than the Hilda [/pedantry corner].
Nineteen seventy-five marked the end of the dictatorship in Spain. The repressive regimes in South American countries would hold out until the following decade, but other cultural changes were afoot. In Europe, the tradition of exiled South American writers living and working in Paris gradually came to an end. Instead of looking north for their intellectual meridian, a young generation of émigrés began seeking publication in post-Franco Spain.
The writers in this collection were all born in or after 1975.
Read the rest of Valerie Miles’ and Aurelio Major’s introduction to the Granta Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists issue here: 1 | Foreword | Granta 113: The Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists | Magazine | Granta Magazine.
“El recuerdo que deja un libro es a veces más importante que el libro en sí”, dijo una vez Adolfo Bioy Casares. Y todos hemos tenido esa experiencia. El País Semanal Especial Navidad, del domingo pasado, publicó una serie de sugerencias de todo tipo para regalar en diciembre y ahí estaban los libros, claro. Ese regalo que una vez usado queda en la memoria, en el recuerdo, y muchas veces forma parte de nuestras vidas.
‘The memory a book leaves behind is sometimes more important than the book itself,’ Adolfo Bioy Casares once said. And we have all had that experience. Last Sunday’s El Pais Semanal Christmas Special published a list of all kinds of suggestions for December gifts and books were among them, of course. The gift which, once used, lingers in the memory, and so often comes to form a part of our lives.
Up to this point, I’m entirely with Winston Manrique Sabogal; he then goes on to give his list of 40 suggested gift books for this Christmas, of which I am proud to say that thus far, I have read one (Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn [tr. Ana Andrés Lleó, tho' I read the English version]), am currently immersed in another (Vargas Llosa’s El sueño del celta), have another in my suitcase to read during my current trip (Eduardo Mendoza’s Riña de gatos) and have concrete plans to acquire a fourth before I leave my current residence in Vigo (Manuel Rivas’s Todo é silencio).
A 10% hit rate (assuming I get through all of them as planned!) for a list like this has got to be a record for me. OTOH, I note, just in passing, that of the 40 books on the list, just 6 are by female authors, and of those, only two are by Spanish women – Almudena Grandes (her new 736-page monster Inés y la alegría) and Elvira Lindo (Lo que me queda por vivir). That’s a 15% hit rate for the ladies, and just a 5% hit rate for the Spanish ladies. And don’t even get me started on an international list without Basque or Catalan writers on it! Am very much looking forward to next week’s promised ‘Libros de 2010 / Books of 2010′, when I’m sure I will have many more gripes, moans and whinges with which to enthral you all …
ETA: just on the off chance, if anybody did want to ‘regalar’ me one of these books, it would have to be the Grandes, which I suspect will put me straight over easyJet’s 20kg baggage allowance if I give in and get it at the airport, so Must …. Resist … Bookshop …
Which creative forms best allow us to capture the complex tapestries that bind together the stories of individuals, families, locations, and their relations with the world? This is the question that drives Kirmen Uribe’s debut novel Bilbao-New York-Bilbao, which as long-time readers might remember, has been on my ‘to read’ list since before the summer. Uribe, now 40, is best known to readers of Basque writing as a poet – he won Spain’s Premio de la Critica de Poesia en Euskera in 2001 for his first published collection - but in fact, he’s hard to pin down into any one genre. He’s worked with textual, graphic, musical, dramatic, performative and visual creative forms, and excitingly for me, is also an active translator of poetry.
Bilbao-New York-Bilbao was first published in Euskera in 2008, when it won the Premio de la Critica de Narrativa en Euskera, and appeared in a Spanish translation by Ana Arregi in 2009 – although according to El Pais (in Spanish), it was a while before the Spanish translation found its editorial home with Seix Barral. Also in 2009, Edicions 62 put out Pau Joan Hernández’s Catalan version, while Edicións Xerais published the Galician version by Isaac Xubin earlier this year.
The novel interweaves various threads, but the one that holds the text together is the narrator’s journey by plane, from Bilbao to New York , which is represented both textually in the story of the flight and his conversations with his seatmate and visually, through recreations of the seatback information screens with information about the plane’s progress across a series of landmarks familiar to all of us who regularly travel that route (Chicoutimi, anyone?!). This thread functions as a way for Uribe to tear back the ’4th wall’ of fiction and show us the nuts and bolts holding together his text, as he moves easily between emails, notes, conversations and other documents; as a novel, this – well, it isn’t really a novel, more a reflection on the art of writing somewhere between life and fiction.
The mystery at the heart of the novel, or at least the question that drives ‘Kirmen’s’ quest to find out about his grandfather Liborio, is why Liborio called his fishing boat ‘dos amigos’ or ‘two friends’ – and the answer, when it comes, is the perfect key to a book I just haven’t been able to get out of my mind since I finished it. But I’m not going to tell you what it is – you’ll have to read it for yourselves! (I think the English version is in progress …) Instead, here’s a video, made by Uribe, that gives a flavour of parts of the novel:
EDITED TO ADD: I’ve just found the reference I was looking for to the English translation by Elizabeth Macklin, who has translated others of Uribe’s works, and even appears briefly in this one! Here it is with a wonderful excerpt from Chapters 5 and 6. Congratulations, Elizabeth, this is just beautiful!
It’s been a good week for Spanish women writers of a certain generation (or two)! First of all, last Sunday the novelist Soledad Puértolas was inducted into the Real Academia Española (Spanish Royal Academy), only the 5th woman member out of a current total of 46. I have to confess I haven’t read any of her novels, so I guess she’ll be making her way onto my teetering tower of books before too long … Here’s a brief roundup of reports on the event:
As if this wasn’t exciting enough, on Wednesday, the last woman to be inducted into the RAE before Puértolas (12 years ago!), Ana Maria Matute (official homepage), was awarded the Premio Cervantes, which is Spain’s literary lifetime achievement award. Matute, a Catalan-born novelist writing in Spanish, is only the third female writers to be awarded the prize since its inception in 1976, after Spain’s Maria Zambrano (1988) and Cuba’s Dulce Maria Loynaz (1992). Zambrano only survived 3 years after getting the prize and Loynaz 5 years, so here’s hoping Matute bucks that trend! And here’s a brief roundup of reports – interestingly, we in the English-speaking world seem to have been far more interested in the Cervantes Prize than the Real Academia!:
Stuart was right - Ken Follett is huge in Spain, or, more specifically, Pillars of the Earth and the long-awaited sequel World Without End are monster!!! Since it was Barcelona airport I was passing through this morning on my travels, I was intrigued to see Los pilares de la tierra and Mundo sin fin in the airport bookshop alongside Els pilars de la terra and Un món sense fi, and especially to see how the covers compared between the different language versions.*
Even more interesting, however (it was a long layover ) was how the Spanish and Catalan versions of Julia Navarro’s Dime quién soy / Digue’m qui sóc were marketed – the two editions are identical, with the same La-Sombra-del-viento-esque cover illustration, except that the Spanish one is in a red colourway and the Catalan one is blue. Fascinating! (like I said, it was a long layover … ) I think there’s a lot to be said about the differential marketing of individual bestsellers in the different languages of Spain – IIRC, it’s not often that the two editions are so carefully calibrated, though it obviously helps that both Navarro’s Spanish and Catalan versions are by the same publisher, Plaza & Janes.
I know I’ve written here before about how historical fiction, especially with a crypto-mystico-gothic or spiritual dimension, is so huge in Spain at the moment, but standing in front of the window displays in Barcelona airport bookshop really brought it home to me just how huge – there was virtually nothing else on display at all. Which is great if you’re like me and can’t get enough of this stuff, but less good, perhaps, for those with more varied tastes. Can anybody recommend any good studies (academic or journalistic) about just why this kind of historical fiction seems to have captured the zeitgeist? I have a couple of theories of my own, mostly to do with the recuperation of vanished transnational histories and geographies, but I’m anxious for more perspectives…
Am now in Galicia for a flying visit, and hoping the Vigo airport bookshop (such as it is…) will provide some additional evidence when I pass back through on Wednesday. Before then, though, I have five libros de oro (visitor books for the spa at Mondariz, where I am currently in residence) to look through, in which I am very hopeful of finding at least one signature from our old friend Rachel Challice.
* Take a look at Follett’s website to get a sense of which aesthetic elements travel across languages and which are reinvented for different versions.
When I began this blog, it was because I just couldn’t find any blogs that had just the kind of mix I wanted of info on books from and about Spain. Happily, as I’m discovering in my wanderings around the blogosphere, this doesn’t mean there aren’t some excellent blogs out there about Spanish and, more broadly, Hispanic books and culture. I like to share, so here are just a very few; some are favourites, others are recent discoveries:
- By the Firelight, which covers ’Books, writing and an occasional movie,’ mostly, but not only, related to Hispanic literature. I especially liked this recent review of El juego de los golondrinas (The Swallows’ Game), a graphic novel by the young Lebanese author Zena Abichared, which makes the excellent point that because of the relative profile of translations in the Spanish literary system, Spanish readers often have access to exciting books that remain out of reach to Anglophone readers.
- The Granta blog. Back as of this week, they say, for ‘weekly posts from inside the literary world and notes on what we’re reading.’ The first post covers some of the things we’ve been looking at here on Books on Spain over the last few weeks, including New Spanish Books, the Granta Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists, and the Harvill-Secker Young Translators’ Prize.
- SPLALit. ‘Reviews and news about spanish and portuguese writing authors, ibero-american cinema and arts.’ This is a welcome recent discovery for me; it ranges widely, although perhaps with slightly more weight on the Latin-American side of things. Has an excellent set of links in a variety of languages on Vargas Llosa’s receipt of the Nobel Prize last week.
- Brétemas [in Galician]. ‘Notas do traballo da edición’ (Notes from the publishing world). Manuel Bragado, the head of the Galician publishing house Xerais, blogs all the news from the Galician publishing world (or at least that part of it connected with Xerais…). Lots of great links and multimedia content.
- The SJBlog looks at Spanish popular culture, film and books, from a quirky academic perspective (and is Professor to the Stars to boot!!!)
Damn! I wrote this whole post and poof! it was gone … so [Round Two] … I promised a couple of months back to talk a bit more about Matilde Asensi, who has been one of Spain’s bestselling authors for around 10 years now, but who I’d never come across until I began looking at Spain’s bestseller lists for an article I was researching earlier this year.
Asensi is described on her website as ‘la autora española más leída’ (the most-read [female] Spanish author), although it’s slightly unclear whether that’s a gender-inflected claim or not. Certainly Asensi usually appears below Carlos Ruiz Zafón and Ildefonso Falcones on the annual lists of Spain’s bestselling authors, but then both Falcones and Ruiz Zafón made their names largely from a single, doorstopping novel, while Asensi has published eight novels since 1999 at a rate of more or less one a year, so maybe there’s a cumulative effect? In any case, hers is an interesting case study for considering the whole question of how a national bestselling author becomes a global bestselling author, especially given the complexities of Spain’s cultural geopolitics.
Is it the case now that an author hasn’t really made it until national success turns into global recognition? If so, I would argue that Asensi is still some way behind her two male peers, particularly with regard to their relationship with the Anglophone world. If you clicked on the Ruiz Zafón link above, you’ll have noticed that not only is it a fully English-language website, but it even has a British domain (.co.uk); similarly, while Falcones himself doesn’t seem to have an author website, the Catedral del mar website is available in English, Castilian and Catalan. Meanwhile, Asensi’s webpage is entirely in Spanish, although there is an ‘internacional’ page, where you can see a map with the countries where her books have been published. Interestingly, other than South Korea, these are primarily in Europe, although the few English-language versions have come via the US rather than Britain, and there are both Portuguese and Brazilian editions of O último Catão. One thing I noticed from the map is the absence of Catalonia, although half of Asensi’s novels are also available in Catalan versions.* Perhaps unsurprisingly, Catalonia doesn’t appear to count as ‘internacional,’ but then again, nor do the Catalan versions appear under ‘Spanish editions’ – so as far as Editorial Planeta, who sponsor the website, are concerned, it seems they are largely invisible… Continue reading
Everybody loves a winner! Javier Cercas, best known for the civil war docufiction Soldados de Salamina (Soldiers of Salamis, 2001)*, has just been announced as this year’s recipient of Spain’s prestigious national prize for fiction, the Premio Nacional de Narrativa. The book for which he won, Anatomía de un instante (Anatomy of a Moment, 2009) is another history-fiction hybrid, this time about the attempted coup on the Spanish Parliament in 1981, which is known as 23-F after the day (23rd) and month (February) when it occurred.
When the news was announced, Cercas said: “Hoy la Transición tiene una leyenda rosa y otra negra. Las dos son inciertas” “Today we have two versions of the story of the Transition [to democracy], one light and the other dark. Both are false.”
Want to find out more? Try these links: ELPAÍS.com (Spanish); La Vanguardia (Spanish); El Debat (Catalan); By the Firelight (English); The Literary Saloon (English); The Latin American Herald Tribune (English)
* The excellent English translation by Anne McLean was published as Soldiers of Salamis by Bloomsbury in 2003. Here are links to the Observer review and the Independent on Sunday review. It was filmed (in Spanish) by David Trueba in 2003.
Since I love lists, I was delighted to see this one, of the best young Spanish-language novelists, according to Granta magazine. To my shame I haven’t read any of them and in fact have only ever heard of one of them – Pola Oloixarac, who I mentioned in another list here a little while back. As a bonus, the same issue also announces the winner of the inaugural Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize, which was focused this year on a short story by the Argentinean writer Matías Néspolo. Thanks to Lyn M for drawing my attention to this – especially because, since I would just squeak into the eligible age range by 6 months, I am now feeling officially young again (!). Here’s the first few lines of the Granta story (click the link at the bottom for the full text):
Granta’s Best Young Novelists issues have been some of the magazine’s most important – ever since the first ‘Best of Young British Novelists’ in 1983, which featured stories by Salman Rushdie, A. N. Wilson, Adam Mars-Jones and Martin Amis. There have since been two more Best of Young British Novelists lists, in 1993 and 2003, and lists for American novelists in 1996 and 2007. The titles have become milestones on the literary landscape, predicting talent as much as spotting it.
Today, Granta takes a new step in this tradition: our first-ever Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists issue. It will be published first in Spanish as Los mejores narradores jovenes en español and the English edition will follow, coming out on 25 November. The twenty-two writers on the list have been chosen by a distinguished panel of six judges: Valerie Miles and Aurelio Major, editors of Granta en español; Guatemalan-American novelist Francisco Goldman; Catalan critic, editor and author Mercedes Monmany; British journalist and ex-Latin American correspondent Isabel Hilton; and Argentinian writer and film-maker Edgardo Cozarinsky. To be eligible, the writers had to be born on or after January 1, 1975.
There is a fine line between professional commitment and obsession and I think I might be about 150 pages into crossing it. As part of Project Bestseller, I’m trying to read as many of the bestselling Spanish novels of the last decade as I can. The two currently at the top of my reading list are closely related; Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth turned out surprisingly (to me, at least) to be a consistent bestseller in Spain over the last decade, while Ildefonso Falcones’s La catedral del mar (warning, link has [very nice] sound!) has been up there since it was first published in 2006.* The cover blurb on Catedral, from the literary magazine Que Leer, says that ‘Barcelona ya tiene so Los pilares de la Tierra’ (Now Barcelona has its own Pillars of the Earth) – so I decided to start with Pillars and move onto Catedral. Pillars has 1076 pages (I am on p.150). Catedral has 662. Am beginning to feel as if I will be reading about cathedrals for almost as long as it would take to build one. That said, I am loving the Follett, and wondering whether I can get through it by November, when the upcoming TV miniseries, starring Ian McShane, Donald Sutherland and Sarah Parish, among others, will be out on DVD. Hmm. Only another 950ish pages to go…
*The excellent English translation by Nick Caistor, The Cathedral of the Sea, followed fairly swiftly, in 2008.
How do publishers decide which of the hundreds of thousands of available foreign language books to translate and publish? The Spanish Publishers’ Association (FGEE) - the people who provide all the wonderful information that underpins my research on Spanish bestsellers - have a solution to help UK publishers find Spanish books to translate and publish. Twice a year, they get together with the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade and the Spanish Embassy in London, a specialist panel, and a team of expert readers, to produce a selection of New Spanish Books, to help UK publishers with just such a difficult decision. This summer, I collaborated with them for the first time as an expert reader, on the Autumn-Winter 2010 selection, which has just been released. Confession: the book I reviewed doesn’t appear in the final selection. It was a novel that had a lot going for it most of the way through, until it fell apart in the final act, which was a big disappointment. On the other hand, it’s brilliant to see a Galician book in the selection – Antón Riveiro Coello‘s As rulas de Bakunin (Bakunin’s Children), an historical novel about the Spanish civil war, which according to the website is already in its fifth Galician-language edition. Altogether, the panel selected eleven new books – check them out here. I haven’t read any of these books yet, but Kirmen Uribe’s Bilbao-New York-Bilbao has just worked its way to the top of my reading list, so look out for a review here soon!