Snippet: “Tell a Story” – a project to promote literature among tourists

This blogger loves the picture of a bookvan (mobile bookstore) in Lisbon (Belém?). It made the news in the summer of 2013, as it visited different sights to promote Portuguese authors among foreign tourists:

“In Cais do Sodré the tourists can meet O Memorial do Convento [Baltasar and Blimunda] by José Saramago. In Príncipe Real it is time for Eça de Queirós (1845-1900, Wikipedia) and his classic Os Maias [The Maias]. In Belém, to come across Fernando Pessoa and his Desassossego [The Book of Disquiet]. Translated into English, French, Spanish and German, the books by José Cardoso Pires (1925-1998, Wikipedia), Jacinto Lucas Pires (Porto, 1974, +info), Gonçalo M. Tavares and Miguel Torga (1907-1995, Wikipedia) are also some of those available in this van.” (Marta Spínola Aguiar)

You can read more about the project on its website.

SOURCES: Espalha factos, Aug. 1, 2013; Tell a Story (website)


Snippet: Around the world in 80 cemeteries

Fernando Gómez Hernández, La vuelta al mundo en 80 cementerios [Around the world in 80 cemeteries], 2018, 480 p.

Publisher’s summary:

Let yourself be surprised by the most important cemeteries in the world, discovering the most curious anecdotes and stories that happened there.

La vuelta al mundo en 80 cementerios is a walk around the most important cemeteries in the world. [… (repetitive)…] Written in an enjoyable, simple and agile manner, in this book you will explore, among others, the La Madeleine cemetery in France, the Hólavallagarður in Reykjavik, the Jewish Cemetery in Prague, or the Vatican grottos.

This blogger mentions it because it appeared in Llucia Ramis’ weekly article on Feb. 17, 2018. Putting its name into google, there appeared a lot of blogs that talk about it. Hopefully it is not written as repetitively as the publisher’s summary…


SOURCE: Ed. Luciérnaga (Planeta, publisher)

Snippet: 1st Edhasa prize for historical narrative

The publisher Edhasa has created the Premio Edhasa Narrativas Históricas [Edhasa Historical Narrative Prize], endowed with 10,000 EUR, for which it received 415 entries, and the winner of the first edition is Francisco Narla (Lugo, Galicia, 1978) for Laín. El bastardo [Laín, the bastard].

Núria Escur on the contents:

It’s the story of Rodrigo Sejías’ son, who dreams that his father, the lord of San Paio, feels proud of him. But Rodrigo doesn’t return from the crusades. “I was interested in talking about this epoch and the Spanish presence in the crusades, a fact that is little known,” says the author, who had as an initial aim the weaving of a double plot: “On the one hand the relationship between an illegitimate son and his father; and on the other hand that of a daughter and a father. …” The protagonist alternates experiences and landscapes: taken in by Guy de Tarba, he goes on adventures. From Galicia to the Pyrenees, Venice, Palestine, the Mongolian empire, the Silk Route… He is persecuted by Templars (“it is hardly known that they accumulated so much money with the illegal trade in relics”), betrayed, fooled, tortured, but finally a hero. Revenge nourishes him. Falconry plays a central role. […]

This blogger doesn’t like the cover’s aesthetics and is not a big fan of the genre in general, though he has come across quite impressive works such as Robert Harris’ Pompeii and Miguel Delibes’ The heretic

SOURCE: Edhasa (publisher); Núria Escur in La Vanguardia, Feb. 17, 2018, p. 35 [printed edition; accessible through a link on the Edhasa page]

Snippet: Biblioteca Breve prize to A. Fernández Mallo – and Luis Goytisolo republished

Agustín Fernández Mallo, Trilogía de la guerra [War trilogy], 2018, 496 p.

winner of the Biblioteca Breve prize 2018

publisher’s summary:

In these three scenarios there were fought battles: the Galician island of San Simón housed a concentration camp during the Spanish Civil War; Vietnam was the big wound of the 1960s United States; the coast of Normandy witnessed the end of the Second World War. Like the stars, that shine for us though they have expired, the dead soldiers of these battles are united to the protagonists of this story that, from the same places but today, interweave their destinies through surprising connections.

With a creative intensity that gives no respite to the readers, Trilogía de la guerra unfolds a kaleidoscope of narrations that crystalize in an unusual but certain portrait of the 20th and the baffling 21st century. As if W.G. Sebald and David Lynch had become allies to reveal the B side of our reality to us.

Agustín Fernández Mallo, one of the great renovators of our letters, gets here to unexplored heights and writes his most ambitious project, with his style that integrates disciplines such as science, pop culture and anthropology, in a novel that contains poetics of an enormous magnetism that achieves to draw a concrete and transcendental map of contemporaneity.

There is a 2017 post with more information on the author.

The winner of the first Biblioteca Breve prize, awarded in 1958, was Luis Goytisolo. He is still alive as he was only 23 at that time. His winning novel Las afueras [The outskirts] has been republished on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the prize.

publisher’s summary:

Las afueras is a daring and radical proposal that, among other things, poses the limits of what we can consider a novel. It’s made up of seven stories, seven episodes protagonized by different characters and apparently unconnected, but united by space and time: a city that with all probability is Barcelona and its surroundings, in an epoch that corresponds to the postwar period in which the book was written.

Through these stories there meet the working class and the comfortable bourgeoisie: a rich young man who participated in the war and passes his leisurely days on an estate; a retarded and sad child cared for by his grandparents; a well-off man who goes out partying with a friend and meets the one who was his assistant during the war; an old couple that lives on hardly any means in a small flat; a laborer and his wife from the South, and a young university student with the future before him… Through these characters and these stories, Goytisolo constructed a potent and innovative novelistic artifact that talks about the periphery, margination, solitude and social injustices, with which he started a literary career marked by the constant endeavour to expand the novelistic forms and to experiment with them.

Read today, Las afueras maintains all of the force that the critics of the time detected, who celebrated his ambition and his achievements.

The publisher gives this short piece of author information.

SOURCE: Seix Barral (Planeta, publisher); Anagrama (publisher Goytisolo)

Today: Frederick Douglass 200th birthday + #FreeDeniz (not Iberian)

Frederick Douglass portrait.jpg

SOURCE: Wikipedia

As he didn’t know the exact day, Frederick Douglass gave Saint Valentine’s day 1818 as his birthday; 200 years ago today.

The Wikipedia has got this article on Douglass, which is available in many other languages, too.

The New York Times‘ coverage can be found here.

The Washington Post has got a number of articles, e.g. an op-ed one on “a champion of American individualism” and another one on “Five myths about F.D.”.

The Guardian considers Frederick Douglass’ book on his own slavery as one of the 100 most important nonfiction books ever.


ALSO TODAY: the Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel has been imprisoned in pretrial detention for exactly one year on espionage charges in a Turkish jail. Cf. the Wikipedia article, and Deutsche Welle‘s articles in English: “one year in prison”, timeline, “the effect on German-Turkish relations”.

UPDATE (Feb. 16, 2018): Deniz Yücel is about to be released from jail, cf. DW’s piece

Snippet: Alfaguara prize to Jorge Volpi

Una novela criminal (Premio Alfaguara de novela 2018) (Spanish Edition) by [Volpi, Jorge]

The 2018 Alfaguara novel prize (Wikipedia) went to the Mexican writer Jorge Volpi (Mexico City, 1968) for the work Una novela criminal [A crime novel].

Excerpts from the article by Ferran Bono et al. in El País:

It treats a real case “plagued by shadows:” the one that affected in 2005 the then couple Israel Vallarte and Florence Cassez, accused of a kidnapping in Mexico.

Volpi tries to bring order into the facts that led to a diplomatic incident between the governments of Calderón and Sarkozy with a “novel without fiction.” Volpi explained to El País that the pressure of the French government led to the liberation of Florence Cassez after eight years in prision, but that did not prevent Israel Vallarta from being imprisoned for eleven years without a first instance court sentence.

The Mexican writer sees himself in the tradition of Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and others. “They use the resources and the narrative means of the traditional novel to tell true facts, and the margin of the imagination consists sometimes in filling the interstices that haven’t been clear,” he signalled. But in contrast to Capote or Mailer who “trusted in their judicial systems,” the Mexican has affirmed that his “great challenge” has been that he couldn’t believe any of his.

“In this, not totally resolved case, the function of the institutions was to give an appearance that they were resolving the facts, but with lies. The authority tried to hide that which should have been clarified. On this case there was revealed that the police had organized a TV montage to capture them.”

Infobox El País: a televised detention

Israel Vallarta and Florence Cassez were detained on a ranch on the outskirts of Mexico City. The police operation was broadcast live by Televisa and TV Azteca, Mexico’s most important TV stations, including the rescue of three kidnapped persons. Days later it was demonstrated that this was a montage planned by the police and reporters of the TV stations. In reality, the couple was detained a day earlier. The media-police farce did not prevent them from being accused and condemned. Additionally the investigation was plagued with irregularities: witnesses who had never been there; false witness obtained through threats and torture; victims without proof of having been kidnapped; and a police chief, Genaro García Luna, who would become the powerful Secretary of Public Security.

It took the writer three years to get through the documents, reading the 10,000 pages of the file to prepare his novel, whose narration starts in 2005. Since then, “Mexico, regrettably, has changed a lot. In those moments, the biggest security concern were the kidnappings, but one year later Calderón started his war on drugs. This has brought about during these 12 years a situation in which we have hundreds of thousands of dead, of disappeared; these are numbers of a civil war. It has been a terrible change.”

Fernando Savater, president of the prize jury, read the verdict: “Breaking with all conventions of the genre, the author puts the reader and reality head to head, without intermediaries. In this story, the narrator is only the eye that passes over the facts and puts them into order. His view is the question; there are no answers here, only the perplexity of the real.”

Other members of the jury were the writers Mathias Enard and Sergio del Molino, the Peruvian filmmaker Claudia Llosa, the Mexican editor Emilio Achar and the label’s editor, Pilar Reyes.

In this edition, a total of 580 manuscripts were sent in, of which 261 were from Spain, 88 from Argentina, 62 from Mexico, 69 from Colombia, 45 from the US, 21 from Chile, 22 from Peru, and 12 from Uruguay.

A diplomat, writer, mythomaniac, culture manager, Jorge Volpi is one of the most important exponents of the renovation of the Mexican literary scene of the last two decades. Together with Ignacio Padilla, Pedro Ángel Palou or Eloy Urroz, he forms part of the so-called “generación del Crack” [Crack generation]. Born between 1961 and 1968, the years of the great literary onomatopoeia, the Boom, his work has enriched the Latin-American tradition with more cosmopolitan and contemporary vectors.

The dialogue in his plots with other disciplines such as history, economics, psychology, or the introduction of historical characters into his novels –as he did in El fin de la locura [The end of madness] (2003) or in the celebrated En busca de Klingsor [In Search of Klingsor] (1999)– are some of the constants of the Mexican writer’s universe, author of more than 20 books: novels, short stories, and essays.
A law graduate and PhD in Spanish Philology, Volpi has combined his literary work with a civil service career. While a culture attaché in Paris, he was for four years the director of the Festival Internacional Cervantino [Cervantes international festival; Wikipedia]. Since last year he is the head of cultural diffusion at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Latin America’s biggest university.


A more thorough overview over Volpi’s life and work can be found at the Wikipedia. lists a few of Volpi’s novels as available in English.

SOURCE: El País, Jan. 31, 2018; Alfaguara (publisher)

Snippet: Neus Martín Royo, painter

(c) Neus Martín Royo

The realist painter Neus Martín Royo (Barcelona, 1968) has been compared to Edward Hopper; some of her Irish or Menorcan lighthouses look very similar to Hopper’s from New England…

(c) Neus Martín Royo

A biographical sketch [from “Blueframe Gallery“]:

Neus Martín Royo is a graduate in Fine Arts (main subject: painting) of the Universitat de Barcelona.

She studied engraving at the Escuela de Artes y Oficios [Arts & Crafts School] of the governing body of Barcelona province, and she gained painting scholarships from Güell foundation in Barcelona, the Palacio del Quintanar del Paular in Segovia (Castilla y León), and of the city hall of O Barco de Vaeldeorras (Orense, Galicia).

In 1988 she began her career as a painter. Since then she has followed a very coherent line that affirms her personality. Her style responds to a realist and impressionist volition that she materializes with a first charcoal drawing and an arbitrary color treatment.

There are to be found numerous examples of her work on her own personal website (with links to Instagram, …), and on gallery websites: Blueframe, Sala Parés (Barcelona) I + II.

This blogger saw an announcement for one of the latest exhibitons and was really stunned…


Snippet: Roser Amills’ “Asja”


Roser Amills, Asja. Amor de dirección única [Asja: one-directional love], 2017, 304 p.

publisher’s summary:

A novel that recovers the lost history of Asja Lacis: an extraordinary woman Walter Benjamin fell in love with.

Asja Lacis was a lot more than the philosopher Walter Benjamin’s lover: she was a high-level thinker, director of a clandestine theater, a convinced Bolshevik, and a survivor of the Russian gulags. Now Roser Amills recovers the lost history of this extraordinary woman, and she brings it close to us in the form of a novel.

Berlín, 1955. The Latvian theater director Asja Lacis, who spent ten years in a work camp in Kazakhstan and returns with a broken soul, visits her old friend Bertold Brecht. After a short conversation in which both try to hide their miseries, Bertold tells Asja that the love of her life is dead: Walter Benjamin. A whirlwind of emotions pushes Asja towards her bittersweet memories of her relationship with one of the most influential European philosophers of the 20th century.

This novel recovers the figure of Asja Lacis, an unknown woman for most of the public, whose potential some wanted to deny and whose talent some tried to reduce to merely anecdotal, an epigraph in the life of a wise man. Asja talks to us about the contradictions of free love in an epoch of diminished liberties, and how a character can resist major atrocities and succumb in front of an emotional dead end.

from Marta Hormaechea’s review:

Situated first in the happy 1920s and then in the more distressing 1930s, with Moscow, Paris, Berlin, Riga and a somewhat idealized Italy in the background, these memories review her tumultuous and profound relationship with Walter. […] Asja looks back and laments her stubbornness. Her revolution failed, as did her free love, “another way of demonstrating human fragility.” And it’s this fragility, these novelized emotions, without a doubt by Amills, but inseparable from the historic facts, that give value to this novel. Very well documented but far from being an essay, Asja, in addition to recovering a woman worthy to be remembered, tells the story of Europe from the confused hearts of those who protagonized the intellectual sphere of the interwar period.

There is a short Wikipedia article in English on Asja Lacis, with a reference to a NYRB article on Walter Benjamin’s correspondence.

Roser Amills (Majorca, 1974) is a journalist and writer; there is a Wikipedia article (in Catalan) that lists her other books, e.g. Las 1.001 fantasías más eróticas y salvajes de la historia [The 1,001 most erotic and savage fantasies in history] (2012)…

SOURCE: Comanegra (publisher); review in “Cultura/s,” La Vanguardia, Jan. 20, 2018, p. 10 [printed edition]