Snippet: BCNegra 2018 (crime fiction festival)

From Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2018 at various venues in Barcelona; the program can be consulted here (Catalan or Spanish only). This year’s Pepe Carvalho lifetime achievement award will go to James Ellroy.

There are these posts on older editions of the same festival: 2017, 2015, 2014, and 2013.


Snippet: Ramon Llull prize 2018 to Martí Gironell

In theory, the Ramon Llull prize is the most prestigious literary prize for a work written in Catalan, though in the past editions it has hardly gone to serious writers but rather to best-selling journalists (cf. older posts linked below; Wikipedia article in Catalan).

The 2018 edition (the 38th) has been no exception to this trend, and the prize was awarded to Martí Gironell for the novel La força d’un destí [The strength of a destiny].

“[T]he recreation of the life of Ceferino Carrión, born in Santander [Cantabria] and a Catalan by adoption, who managed to construct an identity for himself as Jean Leon and to turn into a popular person in Hollywood as an intimate friend of, among others, James Dean and Frank Sinatra. The book will go on sale on Feb. 28 and will be published in Catalan (Columna), Spanish (Planeta) and French (Belfond). […]

The real history of Ceferino Carrión was that of a young man who fled from grey and suffocating Franco Spain in search of fresh air. He embarks in Le Havre to the destination United States. In New York he changes his identity and becomes Jean Leon, the man who will become the confidant of big Hollywood stars. ‘With James Dean they had a project to open a restaurant, but Dean died the day before signing the contract.’ Jean Leon decides to continue alone and opens La Scala, a reference site where all the Hollywood characters of the 1950s and 60s would go. […]

[For the documentation Gironell talked to the people who knew his protagonist well.]

‘It’s the story of a desire. Of a man who leaves Barcelona at age 21 in search of the American dream and who is successful…,’ details Gironell who considers this book the work of his life. […]”


You can find a lot of biographical information on Jean Leon in English on the website of the spectacular wine cellar he founded in the Penedes region. The Wikipedia article is only available in Spanish or Catalan.

This blogger considers Gironell, whose main journalistic work on TV has been telling the viewers where to expect traffic problems, one of the worst authors he has ever read; maybe this book is really better than his previous ones. It will no doubt sell very well due to the Ramon Llull prize label.

There are posts on the previous editions of the Ramon Llull for 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2013.

SOURCE: article by Núria Escur in La Vanguardia, Jan. 27, 2018, p. 37 [printed edition]

Snippet: Writers on other writers (non-fiction)

José Manuel Caballero Bonald, Examen de ingenios [Exam of wits/witty people], 2017, 464 p.

publisher’s summary:

Examen de ingenios is a book of portrayals of Spanish writers and artists whom the author got to know, a marvelous compendium of anecdotes and reflections on some of the most relevant figures of 20th century culture.

A hundred literary portraits of artists, sorted according to a chronological order that looks to the epoch when he got to know them, unique moments, personal experiences of the author with writers and artists of five generational groups: those of the years 1898, 1914, 1927, 1936 and 1950. Among them Azorín, Borges, Pío Baroja, Max Aub, Neruda, Joan Miró, Cortázar, Torrente Ballester, Delibes, Rulfo, Jorge Oteiza, Antonio López, Mario Vargas Llosa or Paco de Lucía.

The Wikipedia in English offers some biographical information on Caballero Bonald; the full bibliography is available in the Spanish article.


J. Ernesto Ayala-Dip, Dos décadas de narrativa en castellano [Two decades of Spanish narrative], 2017, 506 p.

publisher’s summary:

The author J. Ernesto Ayala-Dip was born in Buenos Aires on Dec. 18, 1945. He moves to Spain in 1970, making his regular home since then in the city of Barcelona. In 1973, he starts his activities as a literary critic in the magazines Triunfo [Triumph] and Cuadernos para el diálogo [Notebooks for dialogue]. In 1978 he becomes a staff member at the magazine El Viejo Topo [The old mole] and he starts ocasional contributions to El País‘ book supplement. In 1991 he became a regular contributor to the sections Babelia, Cultura and Opinión [culture supplement, culture, and opinion]. During that year he also starts as a regular critic in the supplement Territorios de la Cultura [Territories of culture], of the newspaper El Correo, of the autonomous region of the Basque Country. He works as a literary critic for publications such as Revista de Libros [Book journal], Quimera [Chimera] and Qué leer [What to read]. He was a member of different juries for literary prizes, among which stand out the Dulce Chacón de Narrativa [D.C. narrative], the Premio Iberoamericano de Narrativa [Ibero-American narrative], awarded by the Junta de Extremadura [regional government], the Premios nacionales de Ensayo [national essay prizes], the Premio de la Crítica [Critics’ prize]. His articles have been published in several studies on Latin-American and Spanish literature, among which stand out those dedicated to Mario Vargas Llosa, Enrique Vila-Matas and Juan Marsé.

DOS DÉCADAS DE NARRATIVA EN CASTELLANO. Literary critique is a speculative activity. Its solidity is based on the good government of its uncertainties. Its laws don’t have the demonstrative consistency of the sciences, but they exist; and even though being approximative, they are protected by the rigour of literary tradition and by classicity (including the contemporary). Concepts such as coherence and internal balances, sense, narrative plausibility and artistic truth, among others, are operative. Maybe there are some who think it convenient that these concepts lean on psychology, others on sociology, or on philosophy, or on history.

Álvaro Colomer wrote in his short review:

… Ayala-Dip [is] without a doubt one of the most constant and conscientious critics of all that swarm around us, and in addition one of the few reviewers who doesn’t see the job as a platform for his own launch as a writer, but as a profession with enough entity to be considered an art on its own. … The volume contains only reviews written for El País. …

In my opinion the real value of this book is to be found in its prologue, where the author explains the way in which he prepared to exercise his task. It is here where Ayala-Dip teaches an authentic lesson on the craft of literary critic. …

This blogger plans to read Ayala-Dip’s book, and if not all of the 150 reviews, at least the prologue…

SOURCE: Seix Barral (Planeta, publisher Caballero Bonald); Huerga & Fierro (publisher Ayala-Dip); review by A. Colomer in “Cultura/s,” La Vanguardia, Aug. 26, 2017, p. 8

Snippet: The smell of books (not only Iberian ones)



For those reading German, there is an interesting article written by Jessica Braun for the science section of the weekly DIE ZEIT entitled “The perfume of books” which brought your blogger onto the topic.

Summarised very shortly, the article explains the smell emitted by (old) books in libraries such as that of the triforium in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London. The smell is produced by volatile organic compounds (VOCs); if decoded, these enable researchers to make judgements on the quality of the paper, the state of decay, etc. without doing harm to the books themselves (as is done by more traditional, invasive methods). The most important substances found through gas chromatography are: acetic acid, vanillin, benzaldehyde, hexanal, and furfural. If the researchers know the paper’s composition, they can recommend the ideal storage conditions. The article also explains that the biggest problem for conservation is overacidified paper. Since the 19th century most books were printed on cheap groundwood paper that contained aluminum sulphate, and that decomposes relatively quickly. An expert cited estimates that around 70% of all books in western libraries were printed on this kind of paper. A relatively easy process to find the affected books is a method called “aroma wheel”.

The scientific background to the article came from two researchers of University College London’s Institute for Sustainable Heritage. One of them, Prof. Matija Strlic, lists English speaking newspaper articles on the topic of old book smell on his website (cf. bottom part of  his “biography”); there is also a link to a lunch hour lecture on the topic available on youtube.

The smell of books is so important to some people that there exist scented candles with names such as “Bibliothèque” and “Book Addict”, perfumes called “In the library” and “Paper passion”; and the Japanese, when asked in 2001 by the Ministry of the Environment for smells that had to be conserved, voted in third place for the smell of the Kanda neighborhood in Tokyo, home to a lot of book antiquarians (Jimbocho Book Town).


A lot of cheap paperbacks bought by this blogger in his student days in the 1990s show signs of deterioration such as dark brown covers and brown pages, very much like a rotting apple…

SOURCE: DIE ZEIT, Nº 53, Dec. 20, 2017, p. 37 [printed edition]

Snippet: Anagrama prize to Llucia Ramis

The 3rd Premi Llibres Anagrama de Novel·la, the 2018 Anagrama book prize for a novel written in Catalan, was awarded to Llucia Ramis for Les possessions [Possessions].

The publisher’s summary:

This is a ghost story. A novel that starts with a return and ends with a howl. The narrator of Les possessions travels from Barcelona to Palma to put a break to the “conspiranoic” spiral of her father, who as a retiree has turned from being a peaceful high school teacher to start a legal battle against a presumed town planning crime.

It’s an uncomfortable weekend of conversations with a suddenly unknown father, a mother who acts as if everything was normal and a former lover and mentor. These meetings open up old wounds and bring the protagonist to the center of her family’s history, marked by a macabre event in Madrid in 1993: involved in economic martingales and seeing himself doomed to ruin, the businessman Benito Vasconcelos, the former business partner of her grandfather, assassinates wife and son and afterwards commits suicide.

Between an elegy, a chronicle and a thriller, Llucia Ramis has written a novel of multiple layers that come apart with lightness and profundity at the same time. A very personal and courageous inquiry into the past of a family and a country; into the nature of love relationships and disappointments, of ambitions and frustrations; into how we construct our own identity and hold on to objects and affections, conscious that there is nothing that lasts forever. Not even the homes where we were happy, because growing up consists in not having a place to go back.

There is a 2015 post on the writer Llucia Ramis (Palma de Mallorca, 1977). This blogger has read and enjoyed all of her novels so far and is a follower of her weekly article on the literary events in Barcelona in La Vanguardia newspaper.

SOURCE: Anagrama (publisher)

Snippet: 3 journalists in the Asturias revolution (1934) (non-fiction)

M. Chaves Nogales, J. Díaz Fernández, Josep Pla, Tres periodistas en la revolución de Asturias [Three journalists at the Asturian miners’ strike of 1934], 2017, 236 p., foreword by Jordi Amat

publisher’s summary:

In the early morning hours of Oct. 5, 1934, encouraged by the convocation of a general strike that will fail in the rest of Spain, the Asturian miners rise up against the authorities and take the control of the city halls and the quarters of the Guardia Civil [police force]. From the government of the Republic it is decided to respond as hard as possible to suffocate the «Comuna asturiana» [Asturian commune], that it took two weeks to defeat. The balance was shocking: nearly 1,500 dead, 2,000 injured and more than 30,000 prisoners.

Manuel Chaves Nogales and Josep Pla –correspondents for the newspapers Ahora [Now] and La Veu de Catalunya [The voice of Catalunya] respectively– were two of the first journalists who could enter Asturias after the Republican order had been restored; from there they narrated the events of the two previous weeks, during which the rebels got so far as to minteing their own coins and cities like Oviedo were destroyed.

José Díaz Fernández, for whom the events were very close, would publish the following year the book Octubre rojo en Asturias [Red October in Asturias], a report in novel format on the same topic. This book collects the texts by these three great writers on the Asturian revolution, a key chapter of Spanish 20th century history.

Manuel Chaves Nogales (1897-1944) was born in Sevilla. He started his career as a journalist at an early age, first in his home city and later in Madrid. Between 1927 and 1937, Chaves Nogales reached his professional peak writing reports for the most important publications of that epoch, and acting since 1931 as the director of Ahora [Now], a newspaper close to Manuel Azaña [Wikipedia], of whom Chaves was a recognized supporter.

At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War he puts himself to the service of the Republic and continues to work as a journalist until the government definitely leaves Madrid; at that moment he decides to go into exile in France. The arrival of the Nazis, that he would describe masterfully in the essay La agonía de Francia [France’s agony], obliged him to flee to London where he died at age 47.

In addition to brilliant journalist he is the author of a splendid literary work from which stand out his books on Russia: the reports La vuelta a Europa en avión. Un pequeño burgués en la Rusia roja [Return to Europe by plane. A petit bourgois in Red Russia] (1929), Lo que ha quedado del imperio de los zares [What remains of the Zarist empire] (1931) and El maestro Juan Martínez que estaba allí  [The master J.M. who was there] (1934); the biography Juan Belmonte, matador de toros, su vida y sus hazañas [Juan Belmonte, bullfighter, whose life and accomplishments], his most famous work, considered one of the best biographies ever written in Spanish; and A sangre y fuego. Héroes, bestias y mártires de España [To blood and fire. Heroes, beasts and martyrs of Spain] (1937), an impressive testimony of the civil war where he denounces the atrocities committed by both sides with a suprising lucidity ahead of his times.

José Díaz Fernández (1898-1941) was a Spanish writer and politician born in Salamanca, though he lived the greatest part of his childhood and youth in Asturias. He was recruited for army service in 1921 and served in the [Second] Moroccan war [Wikipedia]. When he returned he worked as a journalist for different publications.

Committed to “regenerationist ideas” [Wikipedia], in 1936 he was elected MP in the rows of the Izquierda Republicana [Republican left], Manuel Azaña’s party. He died shortly after the end of the civil war in exile while he waited for the opportunity to travel to Cuba. Among his works stand out the novels El Blocao (1928) and the novelized report Octubre rojo en Asturias (1935).

Josep Pla (1897-1981) is the most read and most popular Catalan writer of all times. When still a student of law in Barcelona, he began to frequent the cultural circles of the city, such as the “Ateneo barcelonés” [culture club], and decided early to dedicate his life to writing obsessively. He started to work as a journalist for the newspaper La Publicidad and in 1920 he was already sent abroad as a correspondent. He traveled through the convulsive Europe of that time and wrote political and cultural chronicles. His style represented a revolution as he combined effectively everyday speech with a rich and creative literary language. His definite complete works, begun in 1966 with the publication of El quadern gris [The grey notebook; cf. the NYRB’s 2014 article on the English edition], encompass more than 45 volumes and around 20,000 pages, and they suppose a monument to the memory of half a century of the society, history and landscape of Catalonia as well as of Spain and Europe.

The Wikipedia has got an article in English on the “Revolución asturiana” (Austurian miners’ strike, Oct. 1934).

SOURCE: Libros del Asteroide (publisher)

Snippet: Cabré on Roig i Capmany (essay)

[cover image available at the SOURCE]

Maria Àngels Cabré Castells, Miralls creuats: Roig/Capmany [Crossed mirrors: R/C], 2017, 278 p.

33rd Josep Vallverdú Essay Prize 2016

publisher’s summary:

If there are two women who stand out as feminist writers in the Catalan literature of the second half of the 20th century, these are Maria Aurèlia Capmany and Montserrat Roig, master and disciple, friends, and two of the clearest voices of these years of radical political and social transformations. The firs was one lucky enough to enjoy the Second Republic, but the price for it was suffering the [Spanish Civil] war; the second one was born in the postwar period and the Transition [from the Franco regime to democracy] was the scene of her literary effervescence. Both of them died from cancer in the same year, 1991. This walk through their lives and their works is to discover the territories common to them, as there are the city of Barcelona, theater, journalism, Catalanism, and obviously feminism, that has turned them into two indispensable links of our female genealogy.

M. Àngels Cabré: “With this essay I wanted to honor two women who have educated me as a writer, M. A. Capmany and M. Roig, and of whom this year [2016] we commemorate the 25 anniversary of their death.”

M. Àngels Cabré (Barcelona 1968) is a writer and literary critic. She published a biography of the poet Gabriel Ferrater, the novel El silencio [Silence] and the poetry collections Gran amor [Great love] and Si se calla el cantor [If the singer gets silent], and the essays Leer y escribir en femenino [Reading and writing as a woman], A contracorriente. Escritoras a la intemperie del siglo XX [Agains the current. Women writers in the 20th century outdoors], Wonderwomen. 35 retratos de mujeres fascinantes [Wonderwomen. 35 portraits of fascinating women] and María Luz Morales, pionera del periodismo [MLM, pioneer in journalism] (2017). She directs the Observatori Cultural de Gènere [Cultural gender observatory], dedicated to the fostering of gender equality in culture, and she contributes regulary to different media, among them the newspapers Ara and La Vanguardia.

from Marta Hormaechea’s review:

These are two parallel biographies… the author recreates the lives of teacher and student without a strict chronology, switching from paragraph to paragraph in a game of mirrors. […] The two “competent, protesting, without mincing words and above all free, wrote from progressive thought.” […] After reading Miralls creuats, we get an approximate idea of how through a woman’s eyes the social, political and cultural scene of 20th century Catalonia was seen and thought. [Both died in 1991.] […] … “the male and female rebells of a recent past are very necessary as lighthouses.” But if there is too much fog, we need somebody –coincidentally it has been a woman– to dissipate it and who reminds us that their light continues here, even though their books are not published as much as we would like and their texts are not part of the high-school curriculum.

There is a 2016 post on Cabré’s book of women who “swam against the current”.

SOURCE: Pagès Editors (publisher); “Cultura/s,” La Vanguardia, Sept. 9, 2017, p. 15 [printed edition]