Ildefonso Falcones and Flamenco

Ildefonso Falcones (Barcelona, 1958; Spanish Wikipedia article), a lawyer and best-selling author of historical fiction (Cathedral by the Sea, The Hand of Fatima) recently published his third novel, entitled La reina descalza [The barefooted queen]. According to a recent review by Javier Gutiérrez Carretero in La Vanguardia‘s culture supplement “Cultura/s” (March 27, pp. 12-13), it treats the changes in gypsy culture in 18th century Spain after King Fernando VI dictated their social confinement. The story, structured in six chapters, centers on the beginnings of the art of Flamenco by following two protagonists: Caridad, a black woman who gained freedom from slavery at Cuba, and Milagros, a gypsy woman of the Carmona clan, a rebellious and loving youngster. These two different characters go together on a  journey of initiation that starts and ends at San Miguel street in the Triana neighborhood of Sevilla. The plot dives deep into the traditions and manners of a culture based on honor and pride, and it presents the society of an epoch with few heroes and many thugs; two agitated lives condemned to otherness and suffering due to royal mandate and social prejudice.

Gutiérrez names four reasons for Falcones’ continuing success – La reina descalza starts with an initial edition of 500.000 copies: 1. An attractive subject that “traps” the reader and centers on another dark moment of Spanish history. 2. A serious documentary effort that enables the reader to contextualize this unknown moment in a precise epoch and space and to identify with the touching destiny of its protagonists. 3. A clear and simple language without stylistic “fuss” that allows for quick reading. 4. A very potent marketing effort by the publisher.

The reviewer sums up: “… a type of historical novel specialized in a quickly consumable entertainment for a broad public, in which the historical anecdote gains absolute protagonism at the expense of whatever literary ambition of an aesthetic type.”

Paris Book Fair: Barcelona as guest of honor

This year’s Salon du Livre Paris (official website), held March 22-25, has two guests of honor: Romania and the city of Barcelona. The institute for Catalan language and culture Ramon Llull has this piece of news (so far in Catalan only). The following Spanish- and Catalan-writing authors were announced to be present in Paris: Sebastià Alzamora, Arnal Ballester, Jordi Bernet, Jaume Cabré, Javier Calvo, Maite Carranza, Javier Cercas, Miguel Gallardo, Alicia Giménez Bartlett, Juan Goytisolo, Mercè Ibarz, Salvador Macip, Gabriel Janer Manila, Berta Marsé, Eduardo Mendoza, Imma Monsó, Miquel de Palol, Sergi Pàmies, Marc Pastor, Rubén Pellejero, Jordi Puntí, Carme Riera, Albert Sánchez Piñol i Francesc Serés. Authors of Catalan classics to be debated in roundtable discussions, etc. will be Josep Pla, Joanot Martorell, Maria-Mercè Marçal, Mercè Rodoreda i Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. The French dailies this blogger consulted are offering no (Le Figaro) or only limited free access to their webcontent (Le Monde here).

We will present some of the mentioned authors in future posts.

González Ledesma, another author awaiting translation into English

He has been translated into French, Italian and German, but this blogger found no English books or references. This short biography comes from his official webpage (only in Spanish):

Francisco González Ledesma (Barcelona, 1927) is a lawyer, journalist and writer.  His work was first recognized in 1948 when he won the International Novel Prize José Janes, the jury included Somerset Maugham and Walter Starkie, for Sombras viejas [Old Shadows]. But the winning novel was censored by the Franco regime and the author’s promising future experienced a setback.

Due to the dictatorship’s restrictions, González Ledesma started writing popular [“Wild West”] novels under the pseudonym of Silver Kane for the publishing house Bruguera. Fed up with his work as a lawyer, he studied journalism and began a new career at the dailies El Correo Catalán [The Catalan Post] and later on La Vanguardia [The Vanguard], reaching the position of editor in chief in both newspapers.

In 1966 he was one of the twelve founders of the Grupo Democrático de Periodistas [Democratic Journalists’ Group], a clandestine association in defense of press freedom during the dictatorship.

With democracy firmly established, in 1977 he published Los Napoleones [The Napoleons] and in 1983 El expediente de Barcelona [The Barcelona File]. With the latter novel he made it into the shortlist for the Premio Blasco Ibáñez, and it is here that his emblematic character, the inspector Méndez, appeared for the first time. In 1984 he won the Planeta Book Prize with Crónica sentimental en rojo [Sentimental chronicle in red], the definite recognition as a writer.

As a lawyer González Ledesma received the Roda Ventura prize, and as a journalist the El Ciervo prize. In 2010 he was awarded the Creu de Sant Jordi [St. George’s Cross; Catalonia’s highest civil order] for his journalistic career and for his work’s quality, known beyond Spain’s borders.

The Spanish Wikipedia’s article on the writer says the following on his crime fiction:

“His novel’s protagonist, inspector Ricardo Méndez, a mixture of scepticism and point of honor, follows the canon of crime fiction. Méndez appears for the first time in Expediente Barcelona and inaugurates a novel series that, together with the city of Barcelona, constitutes the central nexus of [González Ledesma’s] novels.”

In early 2011, González Ledesma suffered a stroke, and after four month in hospital, in January 2013 he was still in rehabilitation treatment when Rosa Mora wrote in El País about his latest novel Peores maneras de morir [Worse manners of dying]:

“… is the most sentimental of his 10 crime novels, with an aged Méndez who is still kicking the streets of a Barcelona that he doesn’t recognize any longer. It is pure Ledesma, of high intensity, with different histories and characters that  crosslink until they form part of the same plot. The topic, taken up on other occasions before, is prostitution; but not the one of small locales, well-known by the inspector, but an international women trafficking organization with its epicenter in Barcelona – something so enormous it nearly overwhelms Méndez. The good thing is that the victims become executioners. … There is a lot of violence in this novel, more than 10 deaths, a lot of action, distressing persecutions and a beautiful love story. … Mendéz is more melancholic than ever, desperately nostalgic for the Barcelona he knew. In the novel he tells his story. When he was a Franco-regime policeman who persecuted “Reds”, whom he then used as prison contacts. He will never get a promotion. He is compassive with the weak and unrelenting with the really bad.”

This blogger read the preceding novel, No hay que morir dos veces [One doesn’t have to die two times], and doesn’t have it clear what to make of this author: the inspector’s humanity and the descriptions of the sordid areas of a Barcelona inhabited largely by poor immigrants, unknown to the tourist, and seemingly forgotten by the city administration, are fascinating. On the other hand, the explicit descriptions of violence and death are repulsive.

“Castilla Drive”: best crime novel at Angouleme

(c) La Cúpula

The international comic festival at Angouleme took place  a few weeks ago (official website), and it awarded its prize for best crime graphic novel to a work entitled Castilla Drive, written and illustrated by Anthony Pastor, a French author of Spanish origins. It is Pastor’s  first title that has been translated into Spanish [pictures of the inside], and thus it made the news on Spanish state television and radio website rtve.es.

Castilla Drive is a crime novel that does not stress the question of who committed the crime, but that focuses on the relations between its main characters and on the description of the scenario, a frontier village between Mexico and the United States, though we do not know on which side. The story centers on Sally Salinger, a detective’s wife and mother of two, who finds herself forced to take up the business of investigating after her husband leaves her. She survives on adultery and insurance fraud cases up to the moment when she takes up the curious case of  Osvaldo Brown, a solitary man called “the survivor” because he has survived a strange attempt at his life (somebody shot at one of his ears, and he fears they will come back to finish the job).

RTVE cites Pastor: “[The novel is called Castilla Drive] to mix Spanish and English. We are in the Southern US or Northern Mexico, but we don’t know on which side of the frontier. Always when it seems that I am in the US, I add a hispanic detail, and vice versa. And Castilla is to stress that the comic is very European. All the images are very American, but I really don’t want to talk about what is happening there, at the frontier, as I don’t live there. It’s American decor, but the stories are universal, European even. My aim was to relate the story to El Quijote and its unforgettable beginning: In a place of La Mancha… more than anything else.”

Pastor gives protagonism to female characters to counteract the graphic novels’ tendency of male superheroes. The action takes place in an undetermined moment: “We are in the 70s or 80s, because these are the decorations and objects I like to draw. It’s a question of aesthetics; comparable to Almodóvar movies that are current but once the characters enter an apartment, they look as if set in the 70s or 80s. Really for the pleasure of drawing this. I don’t like to draw modern things. In today’s crime series, with the cell phones, at lot of the suspense has been lost, and I would like to rescue yesterday’s adventures.”