Xavi Ayén’s “These boom years”

In early January 2014, the culture journalist Xavi Ayén (Barcelona, 1969) was declared the winner of the Gaziel Award 2013 for Biographies and Memories for his book Aquellos años del boom: García Márquez, Vargas Llosa y el grupo de amigos que lo cambiaron todo [These boom years: GM, VL and the group of friends who changed everything]. At that time the book was announced for April -to make the  St. George’s book sales-, but it took until late May to reach the bookstores.

The publisher’s summary of this exhaustive and monumental study (880 p.) on the Latin American literature’s boom years reads like this:

“There are no commemorative plaques, but the most important movement in Spanish literature in the 20th century unfolded from Barcelona between 1967 and 1976. The Latin American boom [English in the original] is in equal measure a crossing of revolutionary solidarities and a polyphonic phenomenon that articulated itself in the Catalan city by the light of publishers, literary agents and in bars where the Franco dictatorship became increasingly fragile. There are not only interviews with the protagonists, but one can also find an abundance of documents unknown before and crossed tales of a collective memory.”

As Llàtzer Moix commented, the book relates the interaction of four Bs: [Carlos] Barral [publisher], [Carmen] Balcells [literary agent, “Mamá grand”], the Bearded guys of the Cuban revolution and Barcelona. For ten years, Ayén travelled all over the Americas and Spain to talk to the involved, visit archives, study correspondences, … to prove the conviction that “the boom, whose existence some still deny, was not a commercial label but a group of writers who, in spite of the diversity of their propositions, shared friendship, strategy, places of residence, interests, disputes, journeys around Spain, cruises and hobbies. It is not accidental that some critics would call them a mafia.” The boom lasted until the writers moved away from Barcelona to different places and definitely ended in February 1976 when Vargas Llosa’s fist hit Gárcia Márquez’ left eye after a discussion on an indiscretion of the latter.

One of the anecdotes Ayén explains of the making of of his book  is how, with the help of the agent Balcells and a heavy load of meaty Christmas presents, he even managed to interview the late García Márquez in Mexico [2005], after years of not giving any interviews and confessing to Ayén that he had given up writing.

Update: In their reviews for the La Vanguardia supplement Culturas (June 18, 2014) Robert Saladrigas stresses that there were a lot of other authors beside García Márquez and Vargas Llosa, such as José Donoso, Jorge Edwards, Sergio Pitol, Nélida Piñon, Mauricio Wacquez, Julio Cortázar; and J.A. Masoliver Ródenas names a second publisher of importance, i.e. Sudamericana, and points out that the boom was not limited to Barcelona, but that its protagonists also met in Paris, Mexico City, London, Havana, Calafell and Cadaqués – the latter two Catalan beach towns, Cadaqués a favorite of the gauche divine. Masoliver Ródenas recommends Joaquín Marco, Jordi Gracia, La llegada de los bárbaros [The barbars’ arrival, 2004] to those interested in the literary criticism of the boom works.

Sources: RBA (publisher), La Vanguardia January 11, 2014, EFE June 3, 2014


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