I have just seen the very sad news that the ground-breaking writer and publisher Esther Tusquets has died in Barcelona at the age of 75.
Tusquets was born a month after the start of the Spanish Civil War, and her earliest memories, as recounted in her first volume of autobiography Habíamos ganado la guerra (We had won the war, 2007), were of a comfortable childhood within the cloistered Franco-supporting Catalan bourgeoisie. Leaving the Francoist expectations of women and their role behind, she would become a huge figure in modern Spanish literature, both as director for some forty years of the publishing house Lumen, and as a novelist and memoirist in her own right – although she did not make her debut as a writer until she was in her forties. She became a darling of Anglo-American feminist Hispanism in the 1980s, largely thanks to the lyrical, experimental and hugely challenging trilogy of novels known as La trilogía del mar (The Sea Trilogy, 1978-1980): El mismo mar de todos los veranos (The Same Sea as Every Summer, 1978), El amor es un juego solitario (Love is a Solitary Game, 1979), and Varada tras el último naufragio (Shipwrecked After the Final Storm, 1980).
Every student of contemporary Spanish literature will have their own memories of encountering these wonderful, difficult, frustrating novels, in which – in a dramatic inversion of everything then current in Spanish writing – women’s language, women’s desire, women’s bodies, women’s love for other women – are placed at the centre of the literary universe. In my own case, picking up my dog-eared copy of El mismo mar de todos los veranos, I can see from the frustrated pencil slashes and dots how much I was challenged by Tusquets’s characteristic, flowing language and sentence structure – pages, pages, pages without a full stop or a paragraph break – and how much I struggled to make sense of it on that first reading. But – BUT – when the penny dropped, and I let myself be carried along in the flow, it was a transcendental moment, and I never looked back.
If you haven’t (yet) read Tusquets, do. Seriously, it’s summer, the air is warm, the nights are long, it’s the perfect time. And if you don’t read Spanish, here’s the link to the U Nebraska Press page for Margaret EW Jones’s 1990 translation of El mismo mar… to start you off.
More: El País Cultura; La Vanguardia; ABC; El Mundo. And here’s Tusquets herself, interviewed on Canal Sur about her 2009 book, Confesiones de una vieja dama indignada (Confessions of an indignant old lady):