“An anarchic heart” – on Pablo Martín Sánchez

The title “An anarchic heart” was used by J.A. Masoliver Ródenas for his positive review (in the book supplement “Culturals” of La Vanguardia, Jan. 23, 2013, pp. 6+7) of Pablo Martín Sánchez’ (Reus, 1977) first novel El anarquista que se llamaba como yo [“The anarchist whose name was mine”].

The editor’s description (taken from amazon.es)  reads more or less like this:  “In 1924, the anarchist Pablo Martín Sánchez, was sentenced to death by garrote, accused of attempting against Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship. His namesake, the writer P. Martín Sánchez, tries to reconstruct his story in this disturbing novel. Through the life of the protagonist and his world, we get to relive key moments of the making of the modern Europe, such as the birth of cinema, the anarchist movements of Paris and Argentina, the life of relevant intellectuals exiled to France, the Tragic Week in Barcelona, or the social conflicts of the old continent between the Wars. The stunned reader follows the protagonist’s destiny. His adventures and misfortunes will keep him or her trapped with a plot that is both, passionate and difficult to forget.”

The reviewer Masoliver Ródenas remarks the originality of an approach that, on the one hand faithfully narrates the historical facts, and that, on the other hand brings to life the characters by employing the tools of the novelist. Human conflicts, such as friendship, solidarity, treason, fear, and principally Pablo’s love for Angela, play a key role and make the novel so attractive. The protagonist is special as he is born without olfaction, cannot weep, and has got the heart on the right side. Other remarkable aspects are the personalities the protagonist meets (Blasco Ibáñez, Unamuno, Ortega y Gasset),  and the many places where the plot takes place (Béjar, Salamanca, Barcelona, Paris, Buenos Aires, Vera de Bidasoa).




From unemployed to successful author

In May 2012, Antonio Jiménez Barca wrote about him for the first time in the culture pages of El País. Now, he published a short interview with the author on the occasion of the publication of the book’s Spanish translation on January 22, 2013  (others are in preparation, too). We are talking about the Portuguese author João Ricardo Pedro and his book O teu rostro será o último [Your face will be the last one].

Portugal, a country that has been severly hit by the global financial crisis and de-facto ruled by the “troika” of European Commission, ECB, and IMF, does not make the news very often; probably because its inhabitants appear to bear the austerity measures applied by its government stoically, without much noise and violence (in contrast to the Greeks…).

João Ricardo Pedro, a telecommunications engineer, lost his job in 2008 and soon afterwards started writing. Solidly middle-class, married to an economist who has a job, and two kids, he is admittedly not the typical unemployed who faces immediate misery. But the psychologists tell us that the feeling of not being needed any more always hurts. Ricardo Pedro first wrote about his daily life as a “forced homemaker” – to get some exercise in writing; then short stories; and then a fully fledged novel that was in some parts inspired by his family’s history but that should not be read as autobiographical.

The novel is described as a very portuguese one, starting on the morning of April 25, 1974 (the day of the Carnation Revolution) in a lost village somewhere in the Portuguese countryside, and then, with forward and backward leaps in time, narrating the hardships and joys of three generations of the same family.

O teu rostro será o último has won the Leya Prize 2011, endowed with 100.000,- EUR, and it has been on the Portuguese best-seller lists for months. The author is already working on a second novel.

Authors with Hispanic roots making it in the US

A recent article by Winston Manrique Sabogal in El País newspaper commented on the growing role of authors of Hispanic origin in the literary scene of the United States. He talks about the earlier periods that made Jewish, Italian, or Black authors part of the canon, and remarks that is it now time for writers with Latin American origins. As a proof for his thesis he comments on the presence of Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco during Obama’s second inauguration, and he reports that these authors still strive to be acknowledged not for their origin but for their works, i.e. solely as writers. The United States, after Mexico, is already the second country in the world as to a Spanish speaking population.

Of the many included in the article as writers, poets, and academics, Manrique names four as accepted by both, the critics and the reading public:

Óscar Hijuelos (NY, 1951), was the first author of Hispanic origin to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1990 for The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. This author of Cuban origin puts his writings into a historical context and feels “a mission to teach Cuban history.”

Junot Díaz (Santo Domingo, 1968), of Dominican origin, won in 2008 the same Pulitzer for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  At that time Díaz was convinced that “a lot of Americans feel threatened by the advance of Spanish.”

Quiara Alegría Hudes, of Puerto Rican origin, won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Water by the Spoonful, the second part of a trilogy, recent and successfully released in  New York.

Francisco Goldman (Boston, 1954), son of a Guatemalan mother and Jewish-American father, won important prizes for the the essay The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed Bishop Gerardi?.  He assures that “the Latin must not be isolated from the rest of the literary universe, because we simply write contemporary novels based on our experiences.”


Jan. 24 – 27: Hay Festival Cartagena

These days one would like to visit a literature festival taking place at one of the nicest places on the globe: Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. There are taking part nobel laureates (Müller, Vargas Llosa), well-known writers, and newcomers. It is one of the 14 Hay Festivals taking place around the world, according to the organization’s website. The official homepage is here. A short piece of information by the Daily Telegraph here.

Javier Cercas’ “Outlaws”

Last night this blogger finished reading Javier Cercas’ Las Leyes de la Frontera in its Spanish original. An impressive and very engaging book as it explains a (mostly?) fictional story before the background of real Spanish history and settings between 1978 and today.

Javier Bilbao wrote a review in the Spanish Jot Down Cultural Magazine of which some parts are reproduced here:

“… a middle-class youth, of charnego origin [despective for children born to Spanish immigrant families in Catalonia;  blogger’s comment] but who has learned well Catalan (this is how he defines himself), with his glasses and clothes that make him appear a formal type and of a disfunctional  family such as any other, sees himself thrown into an unbridled life of delinquency, drug addiction, and “rumbas”, simply as the circumstances lead him to get into bad company. This is the story told by Javier Cercas, set in the Girona of  the late 1970s. Narrated in the form of interviews of various of the protagonists, who years later explain each their version of the facts, the author recreates this shadowy world of juvenile delinquency and drugs that got to become a real Spanish movie genre of its own [an article on this in Spanish here].

Ignacio Cañas, “Gafitas” [“the one with the glasses”], as he becomes known, is an adolescent who suffers from the bullying of those who once were his friends, which leads him to frequent new territories only to evade them, during a summer with a lot of time and very little company. This allows him to get to know El Zarco, a juvenile delinquent -clearly inspired by the real-life El Vaquilla [Spanish Wikipedia entry]- who ends up recruiting him for his gang. Even if this was the original motive for this capture, what afterwards made Gafitas stick with this gang was his love for a girl called Tere, also a member. Women leading men to perdition, as always. With this new incorporation, the gang gets to commit break-ins and hold-ups that become more audacious all the time, and their leader will become a mythical figure, thanks to the media and the movies he inspires.

As Cañas says when he remembers El Zarco, a myth is “a popular history that is partly true and partly a lie, and it tells a truth that cannot be told only with the truth”. Reality ends up becoming a myth by the narrations that so fascinate us reading, hearing, and narrating, and the myths for their part turn into  models to be followed … and therefore end up forming part of reality. This and other things make up this story, and as it is a novel [and not a movie as those mentioned above; blogger’s comment] it saves us from watching the surprisingly naff and tatty “kinky” aethetics, but it also deprives us from listening to the florid language of characters such as El Pirri [actor who starred in “kinky” movies and died at age 23 from a heroin overdose; blogger’s comment].

So what stays with us is an agile and very entertaining tale.”

More on Cercas can be found in the Wikipedia. Anne McLean translated these novels by Cercas into English: The Anatomy of a Moment, Soldiers of Salamis, The Speed of Light, and Tenant & The Motive.

Update: this article’s subject was also translated by Anne McLean and published as Outlaws by Bloomsbury Press.

The Guardian had this review.


Teresa Solana, finalist to the “Edgars”

Today the  Catalan news media commented on the fact that the crime-novel writer and translator Teresa Solana (Barcelona, 1962) had made it into the shortlist for this year’s Edgar Allen Poe prizes in the category “short story” with “Still Life No. 41”, published in Ellery Queen  Mystery Magazine. The winners will be announced in NYC on May 2.

Solana is a philosophy graduate of the Universitat de Barcelona where she also studied the Classics. Her professional life has concentrated largely on literary translation. She directed the Casa del Traductor [Translator’s House] in Tarazona and authored articles and essays on translation.

All of her crime novels (“The Borja and Eduard Barcelona Series”, started in 2006), that offer an excellent opportunity to have a look at life in today’s Barcelona, have been translated into English by Peter Bush.

“The invisible guardian” – a thriller set in Navarre

The kingdom of Navarre, an autonomous region of Spain, is an unlikely setting for a crime novel as it seems to be a very small and peaceful place. Dolores Redondo (San Sebastian, 1969) has set her first crime novel, El guardián invisible [The invisible guardian] there, in the town of Elizondo in the Baztan valley. Redondo’s inspector is an attractive woman called Amaia Salazar, married to a sculptor, belonging to a well-known family that owns a big cookie factory. She is an obsessive investigator, carries the burden of a turbulent family history, and is envied by some of her colleagues. The book has the classical elements of a serial killer and the police investigator who tries to catch him; but an additional ingredient of the plot is the role that ancestral Basque beliefs play. Salazar herself is characterized as a methodical investigator, but at the same time as a traditional Catholic familiar with the ancestral myths of her home village; “Elizondo” means “together with the church”. The story has its fair share of sick family relations that include madness, addictions, powergames, adulteries, and post-traumatic stress. Irrational elements also appear. A reviewer has compared the fictional Elizondo with its gloomy background tide to Twin Peaks. A small community in which young people clash with a wall of tradition. Another point highlighted is the description of the sometimes difficult cooperation between the different police forces involved, in this case the Ertzaintza (Basque police) and the Guardia Civil (national Spanish police).

This book is meant to be the first of a “Baztan valley” trilogy. What makes it special among the many crime novels published these days is that the translation rights had already been sold to 15 countries before the book was published on January 13 in the four official languages of Spain, and that Peter Nadermann, the movie producer who made the films after Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, has already bought the movie rights.

[This post is based on Xavi Ayén’s original article “Nace el thriller navarro”, published in La Vanguardia newspaper on January 16, 2013, pp. 28-29.]