“The summer of love” by Toni Orensanz

No, it’s not a novel about Woodstock but about Pablo Picasso’s stay at Horta de Sant Joan (Terra Alta, Catalonia) during the summer of 1909, written by the freelance journalist, drama author, and now novelista Toni Orensanz (Falset, 1970). The description of L’estiu de l’amor [The summer of love] reads like this:

During the summer of 1909, a voluptous earthquake shook the pillars of Horta de Sant Joan. An emotional fever provoked by the intoxicating curves of a young Parisian model, Fernande Olivier, muse and companion of a Picasso looking for inspiration in a village. A physician and a pharmacists converted into alchemists of eros; civil servants, farmers and priests who lose common sense; jealous women, fugitive anarchists, doses of bromide, and real pitched battles are the protagonists of a summer full of love, humor and passion, coinciding with the Setmana Tràgica (more info at the Wikipedia). The correspondence between Fernande Olivier and Getrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas of that time that is kept at Yale University’s Beinecke Library, plus the anecdotes that are still told in today’s Horta have been the sole starting points of this novel, that is a totally free reconstruction of the facts, in which the true protagonist is the model from Paris that is driving crazy the village’s men, women and children, while Picasso paints frantically in an attic.

Centre Picasso, Horta de Sant Joan

Orensanz is a contributor to numerous media. Among his books are L’òmnibus de la mort [The omnibus of death, 2008], a historical study on a group of assassinating thugs during the early months of the Spanish Civil War, and El falsari [The forger, 2010] a collection of popular stories in which truth and legend mix up. In 2012 he published, together with the photographer Rafael López-Monné, the walking guide A peu pels camins del vi i l’oli del Priorat [By foot on the Priorat’s wine and olive paths]. As to theater, his work Bildelberg, club cabaret [Bildelberg Cabaret Club], written together with Oriol Grau and produced by Sala Trono, was staged at Sala Muntaner in Barcelona during the spring of 2013. He is also the author of the monologue Nicomedes, el verdugo diligente [Nicomedes, the diligent executioner] that has been performed on different occasions, the most memorable so far that of the Monologue Festival of Castelldefels in 2008.

Sources: Blog L’estiu de l’amor, Blog of the Falset public library

A cork-maker’s history

Under the title “The kings of cork drink champagne” Josep Massot last week presented the latest book written by Rafel Nadal (Girona, 1954), called Quan en dèiem xampany [When we called it champagne]. To most local TV watchers Nadal is better known as a talk-show participating political journalist rather than a novel writer. Last year though he published a book inspired by childhood memories called Quan érem feliços [When we were happy] that made the Catalan bestseller lists and won two literary prizes. There is a personal link here again, as “the king of cork”, Francisco Oller, was his great-grandfather who as a young man, in the late 19th century when the phylloxera hit the Catalan vineyards, emigrated to France. There he learned the trade of cork making and soon started his own business, first in France and later also in Cassà de la Selva, from where he originated. In a very short time he became the supplier of cork for the likes of Roederer, Taittinger, Bollinger, Deutz or Veuve Clicquot. According to Massot, the novel is a story of setbacks and turnarounds with the history of 20th century Europe in the background; e.g. the first setback was the burning down of the factory in Reims during World War I. The patriach considered business more important than anything else, but already the following generation saw the first rebels, his daughters. The book presentation promises histories of betrayal, war, power battles, clandestine love, oblivion, and rancor. And praise of the lasting, such as the corks that preserve the champagne and still come with the initials “FO”.

Planeta Prize 2013 to Clara Sánchez

October 15 saw the prize gala of the 2013 Premio Planeta, the 2nd highest paid literary prize after the Nobel. This year there entered 478 manuscripts from all over the world.

Clara Sánchez (Guadalajara, 1955) won the prize’s 62nd edition with the novel El cielo ha vuelto [Heaven has returned]. According to the critic Carles Geli (original article in El País), as in her other works, Sánchez’ personalities are psychologically complex creatures. The protagonist here is a top model who during a flight learns from a seer that somebody wants to kill her. Knowing this makes her take a new view on her life, question certain aspects, and grow. It’s the story of a young women “who has it all but in whom doubt and distrust settle in.” A distrust that according to Sánchez “has become general in the whole of society; therefore she wanted to explore if it led us to cruelty or lucidity.”

As has been the case with a lot of other winners of the Planeta, Sánchez is an established writer with a literary career of nearly 25 years. Her most successful works have been Últimas noticias del paraíso (“Latest news from paradise”, 2000) for which she received the Alfaguara novel prize, and Lo que esconde tu nombre (“What your name hides”, 2010) for which she received the Nadal prize (awarded by the same publishing group Planeta) and which became a bestseller (especially in Italy), with more than 500.000 copies sold.

Also selling well has been Entra en mi vida (“Enter my life”, 2012) that is based on the sad stories of robbed children from Spanish hospitals [1950s – 1980s, criminal investigations going on]. Sánchez explores the feminine psychology and uses day to day events to describe a world of its own. For this, the critic Geli compares her to writers Sánchez admires, such as Mercè Rodoreda, Natalia Ginzburg and Alice Munro.

The big surprise of this year’s Planeta came with the runner up, normally considered the higher quality novel [while the main prize goes to a big name that will sell well]. It went to the (script) writer Ángeles González-Sinde (Madrid, 1965), better known as Spanish Minister of Culture between 2009 and 2011. Her first adult novel, El buen hijo (The good son), is described as an agile modern comedy in which we are told the story of a timid 36 year old man who lives and works under his widow mother’s shadow; a suffocating atmosphere that is upset by the arrival of a Romanian maid. González-Sinde won a literary prize before in 2006, the Edebé prize for the children’s novel Rosanda y el arte de birli birloque [“Rosalind and the art of ‘birli birloque'”].


More information of the Wikipedia on the Planeta prize here, on Clara Sánchez here, on Ángeles González-Sinde here.

Clara Sánchez’ Lo que esconde tu nombre has been published in English under the name of The Scent of Lemon Leaves. The Library of Congress’ online catalog lists only this one as available in English.


Most of the information of this post comes from the above mentioned article by Carles Geli. On the same day as the Planeta prize, there was awarded The Man Booker Prize 2013 to Eleanor Catton for The Luminaries.

Arturo Pérez-Reverte and graffiti

El País announced that his new novel will be published on November 27. The information contained here is taken from this announcement.

It’s called El francotirador paciente [The patient sniper]. The novel leads an urban art scout around the cities of Madrid, Lisbon, Verona and Naples. Having received the assignment by a publisher and some important gallery owners, he follows the tracks of a legendary graffiti artist called Sniper. This painter is responsible for spectacular acts that have caused even mortal accidents. The story contains adventure and some outpour of war and crime novels.

“It’s an urban guerilla novel; the most radical graffiti world is close to the urban guerilla,” explains the author. “This more aggressive sector views its acts as a battle against society and  uses words such as bombardment, attack, mission… Moving around with these graffiti artists, I was reminded of my time as a war correspondent.”

The novel starts in 1990 with two young graffiti painters, mere infantry of their collective, that while patrolling their territory they meet one of their great idols, a solitary guy whose tag is the word “Sniper” in big letters and the dot of the letter “i” converted into the telescopic visor of a sniper.

Pérez-Reverte points out that he was attracted to the world of graffiti by their “tactic paraphernalia” and their understanding of urban space as a combat territory, “the city as a battle field”. Adding to this the “twisted epic” of this urban tribe, “with a series of moral codes that produce their own heroes and villains, very profitable personalities narratively speaking.” He reflects that to find “tired, skeptic and marginalized heroes you don’t need to go as far back as to the 17th century.”

This novel required of the author “to work during one year with graffiti artists of Spain, Portugal and Italy” and to plunge “into a very rough, radical, sometimes violent world that moves between art and vandalism”.

Pérez-Reverte clarifies that he personally did not spray, though “I was with them, the graffiti guys, I experienced in their world, their music”. He says he had always been interested to know what was behind the drawing on the wall. “One graffitero told me that he wrote to be someone; it was a marginalized guy without any culture, but with leaving his name on a wall, he came into existence.”

As one could imagine, Pérez-Reverte’s interest is focussed on the most authentic and irreducible graffiti artists. “They reject the cimarrons, the civilized, the tamed. ‘If it’s legal, it’s not graffiti’, they say. This rough individualist and radical attitude attracts me very much.”

The writer reminds us that his interest in painting, and art in general and its role in the present, has appeared in a lot of his novels, e.g. La tabla de Flandes [The Flanders Panel] or El pintor de batallas [The Painter of Battles]. And he adds that El francotirador paciente is full of symbols and the usual winks that his regular readers will recognize.

Up to here the information published by the Spanish daily. Apart from a piece of news, one could consider it a PR article, as Pérez-Reverte’s publisher Alfaguara is a label of the Santillana publishing group, that for its part belongs to the Prisa group, that is the owner of the newspaper El País

One online reader commented directly that the novel’s title is somewhat less than optimal: what else but “patience” would you expect from a sniper? We foresee the first reviews for closer to the publishing date, by the end of November.

More on Pérez-Reverte in the Wikipedia article. Amazon.com lists 13 of Pérez-Reverte’s novels as available in an English language translation.

[P.S.: A New York Times online reader had this comment on the translations of works by Pérez-Reverte (commenting an article on translation in general):

  • b. lynch black      the bronx, ny
it is not just classical translations that present a challenge. years ago, i picked up books by Arturo Perez-Reverte, The Fencing Master, The Flanders Panel, The Club Dumas, and several others, in translation, and was totally enthralled by them. the rhythym of the language, the pacing and characterizations were wonderful. a few years later, i found more of his books, particularly The Captain Alatriste books, and Queen of the South. and after reading one, i knew immediately that it must be a different translator. i tried the next one, but the pacing was ponderous, the language felt flat. i do not believe an excellent writer could have his gift fall so far in such a short time. i don’t know who the original translator was, but i came to believe that translating is as much a gift as writing is.
FYI: the translators are the following:
Margaret Jull Costa: The Flanders Panel, The King’s Gold, Pirates of the Levant, The Sun over Breda, The Man/Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet;
Margaret Sayers Peden: Captain Alatriste, The Painter of Battles, Purity of Blood;
Sonia Soto: The Club DumasThe Seville Communion;
Frank Wynne: The Siege;
Andrew Hurley: The Queen of the South;
Michael York: The Fencing Master]

Tusquets prize for Ginés Sánchez

La Vanguardia informed today that Ginés Sánchez (Murcia, 1967) has won the 2013 Tusquets Novel Prize for Los gatos pardos [The brown cats]. The work narrates the lives of three characters – the novel’s three voices – that coincide in a Saint John’s celebration [beginning of summer, night before June 24]. According to the author, “the characters that are either white or black are things of the past, today we all have greys and nuances.” Jury member Almuda Grandes commented that “the work paints a somber landscape where now and then appears a ray of light.” For his earlier novel, Lobisón, Sánchez was named Nuevo Talento FNAC [FNAC New Talent]. The Tusquets prize is endowed with 20.000 EUR; the 2012 one went to the Argentinian author Betina González for Las poseídas [The possessed] (Wikipedia article).

Tusquets, the publisher had this information on the novel (roughly translated):

The jury wants to value the narrative vigour of three convincing stories that crosslink in one summer night, explained with a growing credibility and dizziness, and that talk, in the middle of gangs, settling of scores, feasts and risky bets, about the craving of a young female adolescent to stop being one and to move away from her mother’s example.

And this piece of information on the author:

The author studied law and worked as a lawyer for ten years before, since 2003, moving to different places in Europe and South America and working in very different jobs: as a receptionist at a hotel in the Aeolian Islands, as a waiter in Dublin, as a newspaper roundsman, a door-by-door art salesman, as a tourist guide in Havanna, or as the responsable of a project to save marine turtles in Costa Rica.

According to the Wikipedia article, the Tusquets prize for a novel written in Spanish has been offered since 2005, though in two years since then it was not awarded, probably due to a lack of quality of the entered manuscripts. The winning work will be published simultaneously in Spain, Mexico, and Argentina.