Snippet: “The lost children” (not Iberian)

Niños Perdidos Los Portada ALTA

Valeria Luiselli, Los niños perdidos. Un ensayo en cuarenta preguntas [The lost children: an essay in fourty questions], 2016, 112 p.


“Why did you come to the United States? That’s the first question on the intake questionnaire for unaccompanied child migrants.” Through her work as an interpreter in defense of child migrants in the federal immigration court in New York City, Valeria Luiselli could get to know first hand the tangled legal process on which depends literally the future of thousands of children from Central America who risk their lives to cross the borders of Mexico and the United States to escape the daily inferno in their respective countries of origin.

Los niños perdidos is a brutal, intimate testimony, written in a frank, brilliant and lucid prose that observes the child migrants’ reality from a distance situated between the desire to remedy the existential helplessness in which they find themselves and the impotence caused by the incapacity to do so. And there is the question put honestly by Luiselli herself: “How does one explain it that it is never inspiration that drives people to tell a story, but rather a combination of rage and clarity?”.

Using as the conductive thread the fourty questions of the questionnaire that serves as the base for the legal process that will determine their situation, Luiselli has entered the migrant children’s reality in order to show us both their past, present and future lives and the labyrinthine and ruthless immigration system of the United States.

There is a very informative recent article by Luiselli on Literary hub (in English); and an author interview on the New York Times (in Spanish).

Other books by Luiselli are:

Papeles falsos (2010; Fake papers)

Los ingrávidos (2011; English: Faces in the Crowd)

La historia de mis dientes (2014; English: The Story of My Teeth)

The Wikipedia has got this article on Valeria Luiselli.

Though this book hasn’t been written by a Spanish author and doesn’t talk about Spain or Portugal, this blogger considers it important enough to mention it here.

Update: The Guardian offers this newspiece (Oct. 5, 2017)

SOURCE: Sexto Piso [publisher]; Weekly literary chronicle by Llucia Ramis, La Vanguardia, March 25, 2017, p. 42 [printed edition]



Snippet: Martínez de Pisón’s “Natural law”

Ignacio Martínez de Pisón, Derecho natural [Natural law], 2017, 448 p.

Publisher’s summary:

At the time when he passes from childhood to adult age in a Spain that is in the middle of the opening process after the “Transition” to democracy, in the interior of Ángel, the protagonist of Derecho natural, throbs the imperious necessity to give meaning to things, to find an order, given that his family has been a model of instability and disorder. The father, an erratic actor of B-movies and Demis Roussos imitator, has got an irrepressible tendency to flight. His stellar appearances and disappearances leave unvisible but indelible marks in every one of his four children. The mother, for her part, is a woman in love who, fed up with believing in him, will have to make superhuman efforts to take life in her own hands in a Spain that hasn’t yet totally woken up from the Franco system. Through Ángel’s conciliatory voice, who will study Law and look for reconciliation with the father, the readers lean into 1970s Barcelona and 1980s Madrid.

Derecho natural gathers in its title those years in which there began the building of a full legislative development, in open contradiction to the long time during which law and justice didn’t coincide.

“How does one sum up a life?”, the narrator asks himself in a given moment. Depending on where one puts the final point, the summary adopts the form of a drama or of a comedy. In the reconstruction that he does, comedy and drama live toghether in an inextricable intimacy that again and again carries us from emotion to laughter.

Ignacio Martínez de Pisón was born in Zaragoza in 1960, where he studied Spanish Philology. Since 1982, he lives in Barcelona, where he studied Italian Philology. He is the author of a dozen books, among them stand out the short story collection El fin de los buenos tiempos [The end of the good times; 1994], the novels Carreteras secundarias [Secondary roads, 1996], María bonita [Beautiful Mary; 2001] and El tiempo de las mujeres [The women’s time; 2003], and the essay Enterrar a los muertos [Burying the dead; 2005] that received the Rodolfo Walsh and Dulce Chacón awards and was unanimously praised by the critics in various European countries.

Antón Castro, in his biographical sketch on Martínez de Pisón, adds other works by the author, not mentioned by his publisher:

Dientes de leche [Milk teeth; 2008; novel]

Aeropuerto de Funchal [Funchal airport; 2009; a short story anthology]

El día de mañana [The day of tomorrow; 2011; novel]

Spanish state TV’s Página 2 book show offers this extended interview with the author on Derecho Natural (in Spanish with Spanish subtitles).

In 2012, Martínez de Pisón won the National Fiction prize for La buena reputación (cf. post).

SOURCE: Seix Barral (Planeta, publisher); Antón Castro, ‘El narrador invisible…’, “Cultura/s”, La Vanguardia, March 18, 2017, p. 4-6 [printed edition]

Personal readings: B. Lynn’s long halftime walk (favorite quotes)

“You know what’s funny,” she said, “everybody around here’s such a major conservative till they get sick, get screwed over by their insurance company, their job goes over to China or whatever, and they’re like, ‘Oooooh, what happened? I thought America was just the greatest country ever and I’m such a good person, why is all this terrible shit happening to me?’…”       (Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, p. 95)

Billy has noticed that audiences don’t seem to mind anyway. All the fakeness just rolls right off them, maybe because the nonstop sales job of American life has installed in them exceptionally high thresholds for sham, puff, spin, bullshit, and outright lies, in other words for advertising in all its forms. Billy himself never noticed how fake it all is until he’d done time in a combat zone. (p. 131)

This blogger hasn’t been overwhelmed by the book, but he likes how Ben Fountain renders a convincing portrait of Americans -under the George W. Bush presidency, but it could also be under Trump- who don’t belong to the liberal, East Coast establishment, and how he uses the right language register according to his characters’ origins, level of education, social status, etc. The novel has been translated to Spanish and Catalan.

Snippet: Yúfera’s “Last king of Tenerife”

Pedro L. Yúfera, El último rey de Tenerife [The last king of Tenerife], 2016, 592 p.

Publisher’s summary:

In 1474, Isabel I of Castile and her husband, Fernando, then king of Sicily and heir of the crown of Aragón, signed the Segovia Concordat. Both agreed in this treaty on the future government of the kingdoms, but a later confrontation between both monarchs let them to also secretly sign another document, that was hidden in a Valladolid monastery on decision of the cardinal Mendoza.

Twenty years later the document disappears from the monastery and the abbot charges Rodrigo, a soldier of fortune encloistered due to problems with the Inquisition, with recovering it. Besides, a dispute at the Valladolid chancellery about a possible fraud leads Gonzalo, a young and ambitious lawyer, to fall into a trap that originates his discredit and expulsion from the profession. Gonzalo moves to Seville and there, on behalf of a Genovese trader, he becomes a spy of the murky deals of Alonso Fernández de Lugo, to whom the kings have granted the command of the expedition to conquer the island of Tenerife.

It doesn’t take long before the paths of the novel’s principal protagonists cross -Rodrigo, the soldier searching for the royal document, and Gonzalo, the young guy expelled from the advocacy and converted into spy-, and together they embark on the dangerous and bloody adventure of the island’s conquest.

El último rey de Tenerife is a thrilling historical novel through which parade characters such as Guacimara, a beautiful Guanche [Tenerife aboriginal] princess, and Beatriz de Bobadilla, the beautiful and cruel mistress of Gomera, as well as great figures of the epoch, among them the very cardenal Mendoza, and his successor, the cardenal Cisneros, the duke of Medina Sidonia, and the young master of the military order of Calatrava, Rodrigo Téllez Girón.

With a clear and nice prose, Pedro L. Yúfera invites the reader to reflect on political power and its moves, and on the brutal extermination of the Guanche population as a result of the conquest, and at the same time he presents the battle of two men who confront their own past and who try to change the hardly flattering future that destiny seems to have in store for them.

“A historical novel of marked excellence, a beautiful reflection on human beings’ destiny.” (Juan Ángel Juristo, “Cultura/s”, La Vanguardia, Feb. 25, 2017, p.9)

Pedro L. Yúfera is a lawyer and this is his second novel.

Though a lover of history, this blogger’s “still to read list” is too long already to include this one…

SOURCE: Stella Maris (publisher)

Snippet: Iturbe’s “In the open sky”

Antonio Iturbe, A cielo abierto [In the open sky], 2017, 624 p.

Premio Biblioteca Breve 2017 [“Short library award”]

Publisher’s summary:

France, 1920s. Only the best pilots are accepted at Latécoère. Among the chosen are Jean Mermoz, Henri Guillaumet and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, three heroic aviators who will open the first mail delivery lines in unexplored routes. No distance is too far for them, no mountain too high: the letters need to get to their destination. When they land, they face the turbulences of life on the ground in a century divided by wars.

A cielo abierto narrates the incredible feats of three close friends that marked the history of aviation, and it is also a tribute to the author of The Little Prince, an unforgettable writer who could see reality through the eyes of a child.

Antonio Iturbe has written a thrilling novel thanks to the careful balance between fast action and the subtle emotionality projected by Saint-Exupéry’s view on the world, to the perfect characterization of the personalities and the settings of both the Parisian salons and the New York literary circles, and the universe that surrounded these legendary aviators. A celebration of literature’s essence in a story of friendship, of impossible dreams, of love and passion, of the pleasure of flying and discovering, from the sky, a beautiful planet full of mysteries.

Carles Barba (critic):

“It counts in favor of Iturbe to have written an epic of heroes in antiheroic tone. And that a story that lent itself to loops and pirouttes of all kinds, in contrast extolls the hidden and well done work, the camaraderie of the squadron, the service in favour of the community, and the intimate conviction that “the medals that count dangle on the inside.” … The greed for life, the hunger of flying, the zest for being useful and feel oneself connected with the others, and the passion of writing, these are the leitmotifs that resound in A cielo abierto… Yes, A cielo abierto celebrates the glory of existing but it also reflects its tormenting uncertainty.”

Antonio Iturbe was born in Zaragoza in 1967 and grew up in Barcelona. He is the author of the novels Rectos torcidos (Distorted straights, 2005), Días de sal (Days of salt, 2008), and La bibliotecaria de Auschwitz (The Librarian of Auschwitz, 2012) winner of the Troa Prize “Books with values” and published in eleven countries. He is the author of the children’s books series Los casos del Inspector Cito (Inspector Cito’s cases), translated into six languages, and of the series La Isla de Susú (Susú’s island). As a cultural journalist he worked for El Periódico, Fantastic Magazine and Qué Leer (“What to read”), a magazine that he directed during seven years, and he contributed to radio and publications such as Fotogramas and Avui. Currently he is the editor in chief of the magazine Librújula [“Book compass”], and contributor to Cultura/s, El País, Heraldo de Aragón and Mercurio, and he teaches at the Universitat de Barcelona and at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. (Planeta)

Iturbe’s previous novel, The Librarian of Auschwitz (Macmillan, will be published in the US on Oct. 10, 2017.

This blogger really likes Iturbe’s weekly column in La Vanguardia‘s literary supplement “Cultura/s” where he focusses on the publishing industry, especially small and new publishers who aim at quality, on cultural politics, public libraries, etc.

SOURCE: Seix Barral (Planeta, publisher); “Cultura/s”, La Vanguardia, March 25, 2017, p. 4-5 [printed edition]

Snippet: Spanish booktubers

In a country where reading is not among the favourite pasttimes of the local population, every initiative that could incite people to grab a book and start, is to be welcomed. A special group of influencers are booktubers (described by Antònia Justícia as follows):

They are between 15 and 25 years old, lovers of both, reading and social media. They use youtube, the world’s #1 online video platform, to diffuse their passion for books. They do it before the camera, in a refreshing but critical manner, and a lot of them already sum thousands of followers.

They have got enough with a webcam, a computer and ease, a lot of ease. … they share with their followers habits, manias, games and other philias related to books. … “Video reviews provide a lot of dynamism. I am very expressive, and in this format I can express myself as I am, a thing that you cannot transmit with a blog, where there are only the words.” (May R. Ayamonte (Huelva, 1997; youtube channel) … All booktubers tend to overact. … More elaborate in his presentations is Sebas G. Mouret (Oviedo, 1996; El coleccionista de mundos). … The interaction -converse with the followers-, maintain a regularity and be original, are three of the keys to success of these online critics… there are some who begin to recognize the booktubers’ merit in the renaissance of the pleasure of reading in a generation famous for reading very little. … Two of the famost followed booktubers, Esma Verdú and May R. Ayamonte, have published a juvenile novel on a booktuber called Besos entre líneas [Kisses between the lines; English summary] that enabled them to see for themselves how hard it can be to be the object of online critique…

Spanish state TV had this piece of news on booktubers [video, 01:13 min, in Spanish].

You can find Spain’s most popular ones and their youtube channels conveniently summarized in this blogpost. Among the Catalan ones are Marta Botet (Barcelona, 2000; a TED talker; Recomanacions de llibres) and Bernat (Perduts entre llibres).

As to their real appeal, in a recent El País article on youtubers in general, Carles Geli referred the numbers of a specialized website, according to which “with their supposed beatific naturality [youtubers] hook a 66% of those aged between 18 and 55, with a medium weekly consumption of 3.5 hours…” According to this article, to be successful one needs to upload one or two videos every week. And “one needs to create a brand and diversify with books, records… One can make more money outside of youtube than inside. … From 10,000 followers upwards one begins to feel something.”

Fortunately, money-making doesn’t seem to be the first priority of booktubers. Keep on vlogging!

SOURCE: Antònia Justícia, “Cultura/s”, La Vanguardia, July 9, 2016, p. 4-5 [printed edition]

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

A Little Blog of Books

Fever Dream Samanta SchweblinTranslated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, ‘Fever Dream’ by Samanta Schweblin tells the story of Amanda, a woman who is critically ill in a rural Argentinian hospital, where David is trying to get her to remember the events which led her there. She recalls encounters with her daughter Nina and David’s mother Carla who once told her how David’s soul was split in two in order to save him after he was poisoned. However, David is not quite the same afterwards, and neither are Amanda and Nina.

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