Snippet: Javier Cercas’ “King of the shadows”

megustaleer - El monarca de las sombras - Javier Cercas

Javier Cercas, El monarca de las sombras [The shadows’ monarch], 2017, 304 p.

Publisher’s summary:

More than 15 years after the publication of Soldiers of Salamis, Javier Cercas returns to the Spanish Civil War with a very intimate and personal novel that delves into his family’s most awkward past.

No family escapes its heritage. On the winners and the defeated, and the secrets we all kept quiet about.

This is the novel that Javier Cercas had been preparing to write since he wanted to become a novelist.

Or even before.

El monarca de las sombras narrates the search for the lost traces of a nearly anonymous young guy who fought for an injust cause and died on the wrong side of History. His name was Manuel Mena and in 1936, when the Civil War broke out, he joined Franco’s army; two years later he died in the Battle of the Ebro [July – November 1938], and during decades he turned into the official family hero. He was the Javier Cercas’ great uncle, and Cercas refused to research his story until he felt oblidged to do so.

The result of this inquiry is an absorbing, plethoric novel full of action, humor and emotion, that presents some of the essential topics of Cercas’ narration: the radiant, polyhedral and mysterious nature of heroism, the stubborn survival of the dead and the difficulty of accepting one’s most embarrassing past.

At the same time a local and universal exploration, personal and collective, a belligerently anti-war novel, El Monarca de las sombras gives an unexpected and dazzling turn of the screw on the question of the heritage of the Spanish Civil War that Cercas posed years ago with Soldiers of Salamis.

El País offers a short review online (in Spanish). Spanish state TV’s  literature program Página 2 [page 2] did an extensive author interview (in Spanish) to talk about this book, “probably Cercas’ most emotional so far”.

The subject matter sounds interesting, Soldiers of Salamis was outstanding, and Cercas is a writer who hasn’t disappointed this blogger so far.

SOURCE: Penguin Random House (publisher)


Snippet: Raül Garrigasait’s “Strangers”


Raül Garrigasait, Els estranys [The Strangers], 2017, 192 p.

Publisher’s summary:

In the year 1837, in the middle of the Carlist war [cf. the Wikipedia article for the background], in a moment of a violent clash between the past and the future, a young Prussian crosses the Pyrenees to fight in favour of Order, but a misunderstanding leaves him stuck in a ruinous and buffling city. With the passing days his amazement only grows, until it becomes a constant company, the only way left to him to view the world. Friendship, family, religion, politics: in the place everything flips, or transfigures, or becomes undone.

Els estranys is a novel that moves between humour and tragedy, full of music, of eccentric characters and of scenes of an extraordinary plasticity. With a style that touches all registers, changing between the present and the past, the book makes the readers travel to the center of strangeness that everyone carries inside him- or herself.

After translating Greeks and Germans for a long time, Raül Garrigasait (Solsona, 1979) surprised his readers with a sparkling essay, El gos cosmopolità i dos espècimens més [The cosmopolitan dog and two other specimens]. The pleasure of merging narration and reflection in one and the same work that already manifested itself in that book, has made him write the present novel.

All of this sounds very strange to this blogger…


SOURCE: Edicions del 1984 (publisher’s blog)

Snippet: Jenn Díaz’ “family life”

Jenn Díaz, Vida familiar [family life], 2017, 192 p.

Mercè Rodoreda prize for stories and narrations in Catalan 2016 (6,000 €)

Publisher’s summary:

Jenn Díaz’ stories break out in the closest everyday life: a girl who breaks off with her mother as she would with a lover, an adolescent who lives the first love and the first death at the same time, the lonely mother in front of the frightened child, the girl who doesn’t understand her sister who doesn’t live at home any longer, a birthday celebration, the father’s secret lover… Of these familiar characters, the writer grasps the moments in which there occurs a rupture, a wound, an illumination. With a whispering writing style, she creates a map of family relations, of the emotional heritage that jumps from one generation to the next, of the daily non-communication, and also of the insecurity in front of a life that sometimes offers too many paths.

Considering that two different institutions (Omnium Cultural and Enciclopèdia Catalana) work together on the book award, the prize money is laughable. The title is not really original, either -this blogger stumbled upon Rohinton Mistry’s Family Matters (2002) a few days ago- but the subject sounds interesting… and the book made it on last week’s list of the ten bestselling books in Catalan (“Cultura/s,” La Vanguardia, Feb. 11, 2017).

SOURCE: Proa (Grup 62, Planeta)

Snippet: Ramon Llull prize 2017 to Pilar Rahola

It’s the most important and highest endowed literary prize for a Catalan novel, and also in its 37th edition it has been awarded to a so called “mediatic” author, i.e. a writer better known for their TV appearances than for their literary merits, though this year at least there exists no doubt as to the winner’s authorship in Catalan…

The 2017 winner is Pilar Rahola (Barcelona, 1958; Wikipedia article) for her novel Rosa de Cendra [Ash Rose]. The novel will be published in Catalan, Spanish, and French.

Rough summary from the source:

It is a family’s history in a very convulsive moment in which there mix hopes and miseries. Barcelona between 1901 and 1908. The protagonist, Albert Corner, after surviving the Cuban war [1898] returns to his country, but he is no longer the same: an unscrupulous man. The survivor makes a fortune and gets connected to the upper Catalan bourgeoisie. The beginning of organized trade unionism, Lerrouxisme with its dialectic anti-Catalan load, the Anarchists’ bombs… everything finds its place in the novel. In total there are two well-defined male protagonists, and the plot is centered on the Setmana Tràgica [Tragic week] of 1909.

Other writers before Rahola have written about the events of the Setmana Tràgica, for more details cf. the Wikipedia article.

Update March 24, 2017:

A few days after the award ceremony, the El País columnist Jordi Llovet had these interesting thoughts on literary prizes in Spain in general and this year’s Ramon Llull in particular (an article by Joan de Sagarra pointed it out):

Literary prizes are normally given by the publisher, not the jury; the prizes are given to individuals who guarantee good sales not for the quality of the books presented by the writers or those previously commissioned from them, but for their notoriety as public figures, often of audiovisual media; and, at last, the less money is offered in a literary prize competition -as with the Anagrama prizes-, the more solvent is the choice of the winner and the more adjusted to quality.

[As to the Ramon Llull] It would be better to call it “Honors in patriotism”.


SOURCE: Núria Escur, La Vanguardia, Feb. 4, 2017, p. 37 [printed edition]; Jordi Llovet, El País, Feb. 16, 2017