Manel Fontdevila – “Occupy” Artist (?)

Author: Manel Fontdevila (Manresa, 1965; illustrator)

Title: No os indignéis tanto [“Maybe no Time for Outrage (Stéphane Hessel)”]

Message, if blogger got it correctly: Work that aims to let the reader see that social unrest is healthy. Inspired by Stéphane Hassel’s work Time for outrage, not so much by its message but by its small format and price. Personal experiences, notes taken, inspired by the 15 M-movement (15 May 2011, Madrid, similar to Occupy Wall Street). Covers the transition to democracy time to today’s Spain. A comic that treats the actual crisis, wants to give answers, to show a transition culture, doesn’t want to stop with being incensed…

Sources: La Vanguardia, Astiberri


Carlemany prize for spy novel

Antoni López Massó, a pensioner from Terrassa (n. Barcelona), won this year’s Carlemany “prize for the fostering of reading” for his novel L’home dels ulls grisos [The grey eyed man]. Awarded by the Government of Andorra, the Enciclopèdia Catalana Foundation and the publishing houses Proa and Columna, and endowed with 10,000 EUR, this literary prize has the particularity that its jury is formed of Andorran students aged 14 to 16 who were given the (preselected) three finalists’ works to read under the supervision of their literature teachers.

The article by EFE news agency reads like this (excerpts):

The author explained in a press conference that this story emerged through his work as a voluntary with Oncolliga, an organization that accompanies terminally ill cancer patients, and the contact he had to a man who lived under Soviet totalitarianism, during World War II and in the Cold War. This peculiar patient told him that he was not the person his ID said he was. And before he died, he talked for hours to López Massó and explained to him that he had been a child that was deported to Russia during the Spanish Civil War, and that as a young man he had been part of the Russian intelligence service. Well prepared and trained he went to the United States to obtain reports on the Atomic bomb, changing his name several times. He also worked in East Berlin and England until he finally became a CIA agent. After leaving the agency, he retired to the Santanyí region of Mallorca where he tried to get back the identity he lost during childhood. He ended up completely alone in a hospital in Terrassa.

Antoni López Massó with this material created a novel that begins with a funeral: “brutal, because there was only a coffin, a priest and a follower.” He then threads together the different passages of the life of the man who told him that he had been a spy. Though he studied the different historical events of the 20th century, Lopéz Massó admits that he did not want to investigate the true identity of the cancer patient, though he discovered that he had a daughter and a son and that he worked for the U.S. Airforce but not as a soldier. “His story was improbable, but I also thought it was hardly possible that he invented all of what he told me,” explained the author.

L’home dels ulls grisos will be published in Catalan by Proa in March 2014.

Source: La Vanguardia


A prize-winning crisis thriller

This blogger does not remember why he earmarked Fernando Cámara’s Con todo el odio de nuestro corazón [With all our heart’s hatred], winner of the XVI. F. García Pavón Novel prize (a somewhat obscure prize named after a crime fiction author); probably there showed up a positive review somewhere.

The publisher’s description reads like this:

In a future that could well be tomorrow, political and economic corruption has destroyed civil society and condemned the middle class to live in suburban slums. In this desolate and cruel atmosphere, a professor who has been ruined by the crisis, an unbalanced youth, and the director of a bank’s branch office obliged to sell false investment funds to her customers, band together to take justice into their own hands. They decide to assassinate a well-known politician who also presided over one of the public banks most deeply involved in the economic crisis [readers outside of Spain, google for “Rodrigo Rato” if you are unfamiliar with the name; blogger’s note]. The writer and film director Fernando Cámara (Madrid, 1969) won unanimously the García Pavon Prize for Crime Fiction with this dystopia on a near future. A story on the deepest hatred that one can come to feel, on some persons that have nothing left to lose and choose crime to justify an empty existence bereft of any hope in the future.

All this on 256 pages, a short novel.

Sources: Rey Lear Editores, Wikipedia (Spanish)

Ben Lerner’s “Leaving the Atocha Station”

Does this novel really belong here? Maybe it does. Leaving the Atocha Station was written by Ben Lerner (Topeka, KS, 1979) in English, but it is set in Madrid, Spain, around the time of the terrorist attacks of March 2004 near Atocha station. The Wikipedia has an article on the author as well as on the book. The Observer (here) and The Believer (author interview here) are among the media that had enthusiastic reviews. The novel’s translations into Spanish and German have been received with similar enthusiasm.

New novel by Elena Moya

La Vanguardia‘s literary supplement had a very positive review of Elena Moya’s (Tarragona, 1970) latest novel, La maestra republicana [The Republican schoolteacher].

The publisher’s description reads like this:

The encouraging fight of an infatigable woman to change the course of a truncated society. She will not allow that they bargain with her past.

For Valli Querol, the daughter of humble tenants from Morella, the Spanish Civil War did not end in 1939 but continued in a clandestine battle and a long exile. During these years of fighting with inconceivable secrets and sacrifices Valli never lost the hope of recovering that egalitarian society of which she dreamed when she was on a fellowship at the Residencia de Señoritas [Young Ladies’s Residence; women’s college during the 2nd Spanish Republic before the Civil War] in Madrid. With democracy reinstalled in Spain, after Franco’s death, Valli came back to Morella and took up her work as a teacher, but the society she found there was very different from the Republican spirit for which she had fought so hard, and the old feuds between families had not been forgotten. Decades later, when the housing bubble is at its highest, the new mayor of Morella plans to sell the old school at an astronomic price, for which he studies various offers that would turn the school into a casino, condos, or into a satellite center of elitist Eton College due to the personal interest for Morella of one of its professors. But the mayor has not taken into account the opposition and tenacity of the octogenarian Republican schoolteacher who does everything possible to avoid the turning of her school into a bargaining chip for corrupt politicians.

La maestra republicana is the vibrant story of a woman who fights to preserve the dignity of her own past, and it lets us enter the impenetrable world of Eton College and the virtually unknown Residencia de Señoritas, the feminine version of the Residencia de Estudiantes [Wikipedia]. Her story and that of the people with whom she interacts is also a metaphor of our times, of political corruption and the social despair in which we live, and of how a fighting spirit can put them in check  at the same time as it recovers the values of honesty and justice that nearly had been forgotten.

Positive reviews cited by the publisher:

Once more Elena Moya offers us a rich novel that covers different epochs and cultures and that reads in one sitting. Through Valli’s story… Moya illustrates the passage of Spain from the progressive hopes of the second republic to modern day corruption. Valli is a woman who got to know, among others, Lorca, Dalí, María de Maeztu, Victoria Kent or Margarita Nelken, she never gives up and fights in the antifranquist guerrilla of the  Maestrazgo in the 1940s, and 60 years later against corruption.    Paul Preston

Elena Moya evokes with an agile and captivating prose very different environments: the second republic’s social life, contemporary Spain’s municipal corruption, and even the exclusive world of the Eton boarding school. A thrilling  novel that catches the readers from the first page and at the same time lets them reflect on Spain’s hazardous political life of the last decades. Through its main character, … , it shows the strength of ethical principles opposite to economic interests, and it claims great ideals. It contributes nostalgia for an idyllic past, outrage about the present and lets one dream of a better world.    Julio Crespo Maclennan, director of the Cervantes Institute London

Morella becomes a brillant metaphor of our reality (…) Moya very skillfully plays with the dreams and ideals of some apparently antagonistic characters (…) Nevertheless, as always occurs in good books, there is another story behind the story itself.    Laura Ferrero, La Vanguardia


Elena Moya became known a few years ago through her first novel The Olive Groves of Belchite, originally published in English. There are some reviews here, on Moya’s webpage, and on the blog “Books on Spain”.

Cervantes prize 2013 to Elena Poniatowska

The 2013 edition of the most prestigious prize in Spanish letters goes to the Mexican writer and journalist Elena Poniatowska (Paris, 1932), only the fourth female laureate in 37 years of the prize’s history.

Verónica Calderón presented her in El País like this (excerpts):

Her most celebrated work, La noche de Tlatelolco [The Tlatelolco night; Massacre in Mexico], is a crude testimony of the repression against students on October 2, 1968, a date etched in blood in Mexico’s history.

The student protests had lasted for weeks and the tension had grown. The army had stormed the centuries old wooden door of the San Ildefonso College by force of a bazooka. The president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI, that ruled Mexico with absolute power during much of the 20th century) declared: “We have been tolerant to levels of criticized excess.” Ten days before the 1968 Olympics, on Oct. 2, in the afternoon, a flare showed up on the sky during a student meeting in the Tres Culturas de Tlatelolco square. That was the sign for the so-called Olympian Battalion, a paramilitary group, that mingled among the young people and started the repression. Snipers that had been placed on the roofs of the neighboring buildings opened fire. There were dozens, hundreds of deaths. Nobody knows exactly.

Poniatowska remembers that, when she heard of the repression, she decided to go out on the street. She had given birth only a few weeks earlier. “I had to see it with my eyes.” She found a desolate scene. “Dry blood, soldiers in the street, scattered shoes all over the place. This was the origin of La noche de Tlatelolco. The memory still moves her. [Years later she had to change some paragraphs as a former student leader whom she had interviewed for the book, went to court over distortions of his words.]

What touched her most as a direct testimony of Mexico’s recent history was the civic movement after the 1985 earthquake, “one of the few moments when Mexico could look at itself and, what is more, overcome the tragedy.” From the rubble rose an unprecedented civic sentiment, solidary and that brought the nation’s capital back to its feet after the quake that caused thousands of deaths. Out of this experience, Poniatowska wrote Nada, nadie: las voces del temblor [Nothing, Nobody: the Voices of the Mexico City Earthquake], though she prefers that of a friend of hers, Carlos Monsiváis, No sin nosotros [Not without us], whom she misses a lot (Monsiváis died in 2010).

She is a woman committed to what she believes in. She becomes outraged. For a country in which half of the population lives in poverty. Where injustices towards women are an everyday fact. Where neoliberalism has devoured small towns and the countryside. “In Mexico we no longer take the time to live, to converse.” And she guards a desire. ” I would like to see a leftist Mexican president.”

She has also been a political activist, first in 1988 with Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, and more recently with Andrés Manuel López Obrador, former mayor of Mexico City and two times presidential candidate.

She does not like it that they call her “Elenita”. She thinks it “infantilizes”. Is this machista? “Maybe a little bit.” She narrates that Frida Kahlo, the mythical Mexican painter, was called “the lame one”: “Today everybody is enthusiastic about her, but then they referred to her like this. Male chauvinism [machismo] is very cruel.” One of Diego Rivera’s women is the protagonist of one of her books, a small but endearing work: Querido Diego, te abraza Quiela [Dear Diego (, hugs from Quiela)]. Written by way of letters,  it tells the wretched love story of the painter Angelina Beloff and the Mexican muralist, who were  a couple when he lived in Paris. When Beloff travels to Mexico to meet her loved one, she finds out that he has got a new woman: Lupe Marín, who would be the mother of his two youngest daughters.

Women – creative ones, courageous ones, those who go against the tide – are a constant in Poniatowska’s work. She is a meticulous portraitist of feminine feminism. Of delicate appearance but with a military firmness. Like that of the painter Leonora Carrington (Leonora), or that of the fotographer Tina Modotti (Tinísima). Or that of a woman who so accomplished ends up explaining to the judge why she has got five husbands (De noche vienes, Esmeralda [You come at night, E.]), or that of a brave female soldier – the women that went to the front during the Mexican Revolution – who ends up working as a washerwoman in Mexico City (Hasta no verte, Jesús mío [Here’s to You, Jesusa]). (And also the non-fictional Las Soldaderas: Women of the Mexican Revolution)

The frequent talking rounds (bees (?))  are also attended by a black dog and two cats who do not hesitate to sit on the visitor’s lap: Monsi and Váis, in honor of her passed away friend.  She spends whole afternoons chatting and drinking tea, surrounded by books. It is difficult to tame her curiosity. A small inattention and the interviewer becomes the interviewed. Does she know that she has been an inspiration for a generation of female Mexican journalists? “No, imagine. How nice. There should be more women willing to tell things. There is still a lot to be told.”

El País has had more articles on Poniatowska… The Wikipedia article is quite exhaustive and shows an impressive bibliography, of which some works have been translated into English.

New comic by Alfonso Zapico, “The other ocean”

El País recently informed on a new comic by Alfonso Zapico (Blimea, Asturias, 1981), author of the acclaimed Dubliners, a graphic novel based on Joyce.

His new work, El otro mar [The other ocean], is a historical novel that recreates Vasco Nuñez de Balboa’s expedition from the Atlantic to the Pacific – the idea came from an initiative by the Mare Australe Foundation [Panama, Spanish only] that invited artists from Spain and Panama to emulate this event of 500 years ago. “Very interesting but it was a disaster. We got away from the rain but suffered everything else: a horrible heat, river walks, nights in hammocks in the open. I didn’t enjoy it at all and would have gone back if I could have, but later back home I began to see it differently and to think that it had been a singular experience”, he narrates on the 12 days it took him to make the 110 km that separate the Atlantic and the Pacific. Zapico’s Núñez de Balboa is at intervals bloodthirsty and at intervals heroic. “The personality is very contradictory, and I didn’t want to create an idealized history. I have drawn an epic history, but I also speak about the devastation of a country and of peoples that disappeared a few years after Balboa’s arrival.”

Sources:  Tereixa Constenla, El País; Astiberri (Spanish publisher)