Hay Festival Segovia, Sept. 26 – 29

Image taken from the festival website

The official website presents the program, participants, etc.

The festival went by without much (national) media attention, though there have been some remarkable exceptions: The Telegraph had this extensive introductory article, as well as additional day-by-day coverage here and here.

The Spanish daily El País summarized the festival as follows (excerpts): last night the 8th edition of the Hay Festival Segovia came to an end, after more than 70 events, with the union of music and the word, through a conversation between Antonio Muñoz Molina (writer, 2013 Prince of Asturias prize winner) and Josep Pons (music director of the Liceu opera house) centered on Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi, coinciding with the 200th anniverary of both of them. The talk was accompanied by the “Cuarteto Avanti” of the Castilla y Leon Orquestra that performed some of their most popular scores.

The festival director, Sheila Cremaschi, who calls it “a refuge for dreamers”, talks about a very positive outcome of this forum for reflection. As to the audience, a lot of the talks were booked out, more than 8,000 people visited an exhibition of Dutch floral art, and hundreds visited the gardens on the Eresma riverside, at the feet of the citadel, to see an exhibition by Agustín Ibarrola, one of the protagonist artists together with Eduardo Arroyo and the musician called Tomatito.

As to the visual arts, one of the pillars of this year’s Hay Festival centered on Chinese architecture…

Historical sites or the Juan Bravo theatre, with its statue of the poet Machado, saw appear best-selling authors of crime novels such as Val McDermid as well as the Israeli literary revelation Shani Boianjiu (Wikipedia article) as well as other popular authors (and recent laureates) such as Mario Vargas Llosa, Jorge Edwards, José Caballero Bonald and Lorenzo Silva. There took place public readings in honor of Roberto Bolaño who died ten years ago, as well as debates on Europe or on the future of journalism. Ian Gibson acted as the master of ceremony on a city tour tracing Antonio Machado (Wikipedia article). And the organizers had poems by St. John of the Cross rain down from an air balloon.





Sergi Pàmies’ latest book

Sergi Pàmies (Paris, 1960) is one of the few contemporary Catalan authors whose works are translated into other languages, though there is only one title in English, Losing face (1993).

The publisher’s description of the book reads like this:

“The 26 short stories of Cançons d’amor i de pluja [Songs of love and rain] are structured as a recital of emotions and reflections on the mature adult’s vulnerability and most absurd rituals. With a precise and very intense style, Sergi Pàmies reinterprets the clichés of the archetypal romanticism and the emotional hypochondria’s servitudes. His prose and tone, purified and contained, aim at a balance between causticity, vitality and melancholia. With these instruments Pàmies dips into the backwaters of love, the inherited memory’s dependence, the grief for those that are absent, and the joy of writing without knowing where there is the frontier between the invention and the autobiography.”

The professional critics have had this to say:

“Short stories of a brutal intensity. A book that has been thought through in all the details. Pàmies writes short books with a lot of raw material. There is not a superfluous word. The subtle and prudent moral reflection is the icing on a great story book.”  Julià Guillamon, “Culturas”, La Vanguardia

“In the same way that there are ambitious writers who only achieve presenting themselves as pretentious, there are others who, without any apparent sign of pretention, reach results of dizzying ambition.” Ponç Puigdevall, “Quadern”, El País

“A (within a pre-established order) rich, plural and diverse book. And all of this extraordinary artistic effort is garnished with an unusual mastery of the variety of tones. Pàmies has achieved to raise the bar of his literary exigency still higher. Like never before he achieved that in most of the stories all the text’s sentences have got the same decisive weight as the opening sentence, a very difficult thing to do.” Sam Abrams, El Punt Avui

“I have read some of the tales of Cançons d’amor i de pluja, by Sergi Pàmies, a filigree of style and emotions, with tears in my eyes, while with others I have laughed a lot.” Jacinto Antón, “Quadern”, El País

“Well-writen, essential tales, very trademark Pàmies.” Jordi Llavina, El Mundo Tendències

“The writing of Sergi Pàmies is striking and needs a slow and repeated reading, bit by bit. But then one returns to the daily life’s stream filled with a wild joy, freed from the burden of false idols, half-hopes and half-nostalgias that fog up the mirror.” Manel Ollé, L’Avenç


More on Sergi Pàmies’ biography and bibliography from the Catalan writers’ association and the Wikipedia.


[Most of the information reproduced here comes from the publisher’s website.]


A novel like “hallucenogenic mushrooms”

“Reading [this novel] is like eating hallucenogenic mushrooms” is the byline for Josep Lambies’ review of El desertor en el camp de batalla [The deserter in the battlefield] by Julià de Jodar, pusblished on Sept. 9, 2013, in Timeout Barcelona.

The publisher presents the book roughly like this:

“In this exuberant and humoristic novel we get to know a fat, very fat man who observes the world from a dovecote. He is often visitedy by a writer who wants to write a ‘high quality bestseller’. While one evokes the disappeared son, the other drags along a semi-transparent mystery; and they both end up appearing the other’s projection. In between as a mediator the thin man. Also the old Montoya and his granddaughter Alicia, in love with the butcher Karim. In the background the Raval neighborhood of Barcelona, lively and pulsing, populated by unfathomable personalities … Hyperrealistic and fantastic at the same time, this novel proposes to the reader playing the game of opening boxes, and taking them out, one out of the other, intrigued by the stories that ‘step on each other’s heels’ and lucidly portray our dislocated era. A visionary book by a writer in a state of grace who makes an unashamed use of all genres.”


Some of the main characters, e.g. Ximo Ximoi and Gabriel Caballero, already have appeared in other of Julià de Jodar’s novels. A central theme is the observation of the outside world; the “outside” in this case being Barcelona’s Raval neighborhood, formerly also known as barri xino [“Chinatown”], today home to a varied, mainly immigrant community, a lot of them of Pakistani origin.

“It’s a novel made of repaired rags, a sizzling mix of restless stories and anarchic voices that run like a thread into infinity.” (J. Lambies)

According to the Wikipedia article, Julià de Jodar Muñoz (Badalona, 1942) is a Catalan writer who grew up in the Gorg district of Badalona. He graduated first as a techno-chemical engineer in 1964, and then studied humanities. In 1973 he received a degree in modern and contemporary history. He also studied drama at the Escola d’Art Dramàtic [“Dramatic Arts School”] of Adrià Gual. His most important work is called L’atzar i les ombres [Chance and the shadows], a trilogy made up of the novels L’àngel de la segona mort [The angel of the second death], El trànsit de les fades [The fairies’ transit] and El metall impur [The impure metall]. In 2009 he received for his novel Pastoral catalana [Catalan pastoral], a kind of tribute to the writer Philip Roth and his novel American Pastoral, the Carlemany Prize of the government of Andorra. He writes for different regional print and online media and was a candidate to the Catalan parliament for a an “anti-establishment” movement.

Julià de Jòdar translated two novels by E.L. Doctorow into Catalan, but none of his work has been translated into English.


Martí de Riquer, Medievalist, Dies at 99

The Catalan diary El Punt Avui had this information (excerpts of this article):

“A bad day for Catalan literature. [On Sept. 17, there also died the poet and publisher Joaquim Horta.] … As other 20th century personalities, Martí de Riquer (Barcelona, 1914 – 2013) was a man marked by the turbulent events of the war and the years thereafter. And recently by his wife’s death. … He was the grandson of the modernist artist and writer Alexandre de Riquer, and a real scholar. … His studies of 14th and 15th century Catalan humanism were essential (L’humanisme català, 1934) as well as his thesis on Ausiàs March, that situated him as a first class scholar by the beginning of the 1940s. His political evolution saw him fight on the rebel (Franco) side during the Civil War; a generational trauma, also physical for him as he lost one arm and had his studies interrupted. After the war he took up his university career again. … He is often unfairly seen as close to the Franco regime, but in fact worked in favour of the university, its autonomy, and those scholars persecuted by the regime (Tierno Galván, Aranguren, García Calvo) [details unknown to this blogger].

His vast work has been a core element for the development of Catalan philology and also for Provençal, Spanish and French philology. His teaching activities went up to the 1990s, and his methodological rigor made him into a unique figure and a teacher of teachers. His studies of the troubadours, of Gilabert de Pròixita, Andreu Febrer, Bernat Metge, Jordi de Sant Jordi, Cerverí de Girona and Guillem de Berguedà are unrepeatable and a source for all scholars that appeared afterwards. At the same time, he recreated his own family’s history in another work of reference, Quinze generacions d’una família catalana [Fifteen generations of a Catalan family, 1979], republished in different ocasions since 1998. It would be unjust to leave out of a summary his studies on Chanson de RolandChrétien de Troyes, or the monumental essays and edition of Tirant lo Blanc, and other studies on Romance novels, Don Quixote, La Celestina, and Catalan heraldry. Other key works: Història de la literatura catalana [History of Catalan literature], with Joaquim Molas and Antoni Comas; Historia de la literatura universal [History of universal literature], with José María Valverde. … Martí de Riquer did not live in an ivory tower but became one of the most charismatic professors of the contemporary university… His affable character provoked empathy, and there’s a legion of those who recognize the impuls, stimulus and initiation to study they received from his classes…

He suffered adverse circumstances and does not have a totally immaculate biography but the final balance is that of a giant…; his school has been that of continued work, reflection and beauty. Philology and culture in general lose a hero as big as those of the books he studied and projected into the future. … One of his students was Manuel Vázquez Montalbán who made the professor into a character of one of his novels.

‘He made the Catalan literature known in the Hispanic sphere in a moment when it practically did not exist,’ remembers the philologist and historian of literature Albert Hauf, a student of his. ‘He belonged to the victorious side, but one has to understand the circumstances and to say that he was a catalanist, a hispanist and an occitanist, he helped students with political problems,’ Hauf adds. He remarks that at Sorbonne University in Paris they used Martí de Riquer’s textbook on French literature. … His editor Jaume Vallcorba points out that he was an exceptional writer and a tireless scholar. ‘… but above all he loved literature and words.’ ”

More biographical and bibliographical information can be found on the pages of the Wikipedia and the Catalan writers association.

Amazon.com lists some collective works that contain articles by de Riquer in English.

Alternative book fair that hardly made the news

Last weekend took place the “Lletraferits [Bibliophile] 1st independent book fair” at Llinars del Vallès near Barcelona, and it hardly made the news. There were a few announcements before the fair but except for the Catalan regional TV channel TV3 (video), there hasn’t been any echo on the fair. The 26 independent publishers named in the program are virtually unknown to the reading public, as are their authors though they might have won (small) literary prizes or work with regional and/or digital media, e.g. Jordi Bonet-Coll, Jordi Serra, Pruden Penedès, Damià del Clot, or Lluís Solà.

The piece by TV3 stressed that only modern IT makes possible the existence of these small publishers who work with very limited budgets that hardly include any marketing, and who are said to prefer small editions of quality literature to megasellers of doubtful literary merit.

This year’s edition was announced as a test case for a more ambitious one next year.

The Catalan bookmarket is dominated by Grup62 that includes the most important labels and is itself partially owned by the “behemoth” media group Planeta (Wikipedia article). Both of these publishers include Literature and megasellers in their catalogues…