Snippet: Martínez de Pisón’s “Filek, the swindler”

Ignacio Martínez de Pisón, Filek. El estafador que engañó a Franco [Filek: the swindler who deceived Franco], 2018, 288 p.

publisher’s summary:

The hunger-ridden Spain of 1939 was at the point of turning into the most important petrol exporting country. This at least is what Franco believed then and what the regime’s press would quickly proclaim to the four winds. An Austrian chemist called Albert von Filek, inventor of a synthetic fuel that mixed vegetable extracts with water of the Jarama river, had put his secret formula to the service of the aggrandizement of the new Spain after turning down very generous offers from the big petroleum companies.

Protected and flattered by the regime, Filek enjoyed the esteem of its highest personalities until a simple chemical analysis revealed the fraud and provoked his imprisonment.

Filek had appeared in Madrid in 1931. Although by that time he had already a long crime record, he wasn’t more than a small swindler. Ignacio Martínez de Pisón follows his traces through archives and newspaper libraries of half a dozen countries until focussing on his Spanish phase, where a stroke of fate turns this old-school rascal , a born survivor, a character with a lot of persuasion skills and few scruples, for a short time into a winner.

From the beginning of his criminal career until his death in Hamburg in 1952, Albert von Filek was witness, protagonist and sometimes victim of some of the most convulsed episodes of the history of Europe in the past century.


There are two older posts on Ignacio Martínez de Pisón from 2017 and 2015.

SOURCE: Seix Barral (Planeta; publisher)


Two novels on Spain’s loss of the Philippines

Juan Manuel de Prada, Morir bajo tu cielo [Dying under your sky], 2014, 747 p.

publisher’s summary:

One of the most heroic and unknown episodes in Spanish history, narrated by one of the most brilliant writers of contemporary literature: the desaster of 1898 and the loss of the Philippines in Juan Manuel de Prada’s latest literary delivery.

Between June 30, 1898, and June 2, 1899, a Spanish unit resisted the siege by Philippine troops, superior in number, in a church in the village Baler, on Luzón island, also when these lands were not Spanish any longer. These soldiers would go down in history as “the last of the Philippines.”

In Morir bajo tu cielo, taking this episode as an inspiration, Juan Manuel de Prada proposes an immersion into the Philippines of the time, through unforgettable characters that will stay in the readers’ hearts and minds: officials wounded by a secret pain, gun-wielding priests, soldiers treated as cannon fodder by their superiors, Philippine insurgents full of greatness and courage, weapons dealers without scruples, and exceptional women who have to be like that in a scary and turbulent world. The readers accompany them in their physical and dialectical battles to barracks and palaces, opium dens and brothels, night meetings of the frightful Katipunan, jungles watched by the ferocious ilongots, mangroves infected by alligators, and estates where one still breathes the perfume of Arcadia, before coming all together in Baler, where they will meet their destiny.

An epic and intimate novel, an adventure novel and a novel of ideas, Morir bajo tu cielo is also a tribute to so many men and women who made up for the ineptitude of disastrous rulers with will, courage, personal sacrifices and love for their neighbors.


Planeta offers this author information in English.

from Carles Barba’s review:

J.M. de Prada has fictionalized the fall of Spain’s last overseas bastion, and he assures the start of a cycle of different volumes. […] [The author] has reconstructed the epoch in an imaginative way… preceded by a minute immersion in the Philippines of the times. … with very individualized characters […] Never, by the way, J.M. de Prada looked so much like a South American author as in this work. […] But J.M. de Prada wrote his Philippines novel with the mortar of classic Spanish literature (from Romancero to Lope), and above all, rendering tribute to Cervantes and his greatest book.


Virgina Yagüe, La última princesa del Pacífico [The last princess of the Pacific], 2014, 446 p.

Planeta offers an English summary on its foreign rights page.

from Carles Barba’s review:

Definitely a good debut by Virginia Yagüe who braids a suggestive story of overcoming in a Pacific being devoured by the great powers.

Yagüe (Madrid, 1973) had already published a novel in 2009 called El Marqués [The marquis]. She is a mainly a scriptwriter and producer of TV series.


Since 2014, Juan Manuel de Prada has published two more novels, El castillo de diamante [The diamond castle; publisher’s summary (2015)], and Mirlo blanco, cisne negro [White blackbird, black swan; publisher’s summary (2016)].

SOURCE: Espasa (Planeta, publisher de Prada); Planeta (publisher Yagüe); review by Carles Barba in “Cultura/s,” La Vanguardia, Jan. 14, 2015 [printed edition]

Snippet: 1st Edhasa prize for historical narrative

The publisher Edhasa has created the Premio Edhasa Narrativas Históricas [Edhasa Historical Narrative Prize], endowed with 10,000 EUR, for which it received 415 entries, and the winner of the first edition is Francisco Narla (Lugo, Galicia, 1978) for Laín. El bastardo [Laín, the bastard].

Núria Escur on the contents:

It’s the story of Rodrigo Sejías’ son, who dreams that his father, the lord of San Paio, feels proud of him. But Rodrigo doesn’t return from the crusades. “I was interested in talking about this epoch and the Spanish presence in the crusades, a fact that is little known,” says the author, who had as an initial aim the weaving of a double plot: “On the one hand the relationship between an illegitimate son and his father; and on the other hand that of a daughter and a father. …” The protagonist alternates experiences and landscapes: taken in by Guy de Tarba, he goes on adventures. From Galicia to the Pyrenees, Venice, Palestine, the Mongolian empire, the Silk Route… He is persecuted by Templars (“it is hardly known that they accumulated so much money with the illegal trade in relics”), betrayed, fooled, tortured, but finally a hero. Revenge nourishes him. Falconry plays a central role. […]

This blogger doesn’t like the cover’s aesthetics and is not a big fan of the genre in general, though he has come across quite impressive works such as Robert Harris’ Pompeii and Miguel Delibes’ The heretic

SOURCE: Edhasa (publisher); Núria Escur in La Vanguardia, Feb. 17, 2018, p. 35 [printed edition; accessible through a link on the Edhasa page]

Snippet: Roser Amills’ “Asja”


Roser Amills, Asja. Amor de dirección única [Asja: one-directional love], 2017, 304 p.

publisher’s summary:

A novel that recovers the lost history of Asja Lacis: an extraordinary woman Walter Benjamin fell in love with.

Asja Lacis was a lot more than the philosopher Walter Benjamin’s lover: she was a high-level thinker, director of a clandestine theater, a convinced Bolshevik, and a survivor of the Russian gulags. Now Roser Amills recovers the lost history of this extraordinary woman, and she brings it close to us in the form of a novel.

Berlín, 1955. The Latvian theater director Asja Lacis, who spent ten years in a work camp in Kazakhstan and returns with a broken soul, visits her old friend Bertold Brecht. After a short conversation in which both try to hide their miseries, Bertold tells Asja that the love of her life is dead: Walter Benjamin. A whirlwind of emotions pushes Asja towards her bittersweet memories of her relationship with one of the most influential European philosophers of the 20th century.

This novel recovers the figure of Asja Lacis, an unknown woman for most of the public, whose potential some wanted to deny and whose talent some tried to reduce to merely anecdotal, an epigraph in the life of a wise man. Asja talks to us about the contradictions of free love in an epoch of diminished liberties, and how a character can resist major atrocities and succumb in front of an emotional dead end.

from Marta Hormaechea’s review:

Situated first in the happy 1920s and then in the more distressing 1930s, with Moscow, Paris, Berlin, Riga and a somewhat idealized Italy in the background, these memories review her tumultuous and profound relationship with Walter. […] Asja looks back and laments her stubbornness. Her revolution failed, as did her free love, “another way of demonstrating human fragility.” And it’s this fragility, these novelized emotions, without a doubt by Amills, but inseparable from the historic facts, that give value to this novel. Very well documented but far from being an essay, Asja, in addition to recovering a woman worthy to be remembered, tells the story of Europe from the confused hearts of those who protagonized the intellectual sphere of the interwar period.

There is a short Wikipedia article in English on Asja Lacis, with a reference to a NYRB article on Walter Benjamin’s correspondence.

Roser Amills (Majorca, 1974) is a journalist and writer; there is a Wikipedia article (in Catalan) that lists her other books, e.g. Las 1.001 fantasías más eróticas y salvajes de la historia [The 1,001 most erotic and savage fantasies in history] (2012)…

SOURCE: Comanegra (publisher); review in “Cultura/s,” La Vanguardia, Jan. 20, 2018, p. 10 [printed edition]

Snippet: The first Spanish Hollywood star

Carmen Ro, Mientras tú no estabas [While you weren’t here], 2017, 544 p.

publisher’s summary:

In the 1930s there arrived a lot of beautiful women in Hollywood, too many really, but only a few of them reached success between the traps of the movies, the mafia of the men and the evilness of the other women on the cast. Among these elected few: Conchita Montenegro.

Here you have the protagonist of this novel, that rescues an unknown figure of a dark Spain and a golden Hollywood. A story of luxury, passion and risk, in which life is bigger than the movies.

Conchita Montenegro, born as Concepción Andrés Picado, was the frist Spanish actress to triumph in Hollywood. “The Spanish Greta Garbo” she was called by the press of her time.

She enchanted Chaplin, detested Clark Gable, was the muse of Balenciaga. Before that she had shocked half of Europe by dancing naked in Paris.

Shortly after her 30th anniversary she returned to Spain as a great movie diva who suddenly abandoned everything without any explanation as if she wanted to bury a crazy and far away life. For more than half a century she hid from everything and everybody.

She married Ricardo Giménez Arnau, a post-war Franco regime diplomat, but the great love of her life was Leslie Howard, beau of Gone With the Wind, a married man who worked as a spy and died in Galicia in tragic and strange circumstances.

From the daily El Mundo´s review (the actress’ picture heading the article is quite nice):

“The exaggerated story of the Spanish Greta Garbo”

[…] Before her wedding she met Leslie Howard again in Madrid and they told each other what had happened while the other wasn’t there; thus, the book’s title. […] Carmen Ro didn’t need to force fiction to achieve an attractive and a somewhat fashionable tale with British spies in 1940s Madrid; the historic reality served it to her on a platter.

The book’s author, Carmen Ro, is a TV journalist for “trashy” Antena 3. Other serious papers haven’t even reviewed the book; probably not great literature but good entertainment for the pool-side…

The Wikipedia has got this article on Conchita Montenegro (1911-2007).

SOURCE: La esfera de los libros (publisher); El Mundo, Dec. 24, 2017

Snippet: Barcino prize 2017 to Pérez-Reverte

(c) El Punt Avui newspaper, Nov. 7, 2017

On November 6, 2017, the first day of the “Barcelona Novel·la Històrica” [BCN historical novel] literature festival, organized by the Barcelona Institute of Culture, Arturo Pérez-Reverte was awarded this year’s Barcino prize in recognition for his many contributions to the genre of historical fiction.

The jury pointed out that Pérez-Reverte has “combined during many years major and minor histories, accurately documented, a pessimist and Galdosian view of the past that already in its own right has been labeled as Revertian, and an obsession for the language, that he has always adapted” whenever the context required it. The jury also said that he fulfilled the premises that “a historical novel has got to entertain, but also help us to understand an epoch. That is the mission of the writer who flees the traps, avoids common places and who constructs narrative artefacts with which he achieves that the past sheds light onto the present.”

Pérez-Reverte’s first historical novel was El húsar [The hussar] in 1986. And then came a lot more…

Available in English are (at least):

The Flanders Panel

The Seville Communion

Captain Alatriste

The Club Dumas

Purity of Blood

The Siege

He also wrote two non-fiction novels, narrative chronicles of two moments of historic relevance: Cabo Trafalgar and Un día de cólera [A day of anger], on May 2, 1808 in Madrid.

This blogger really liked The Seville Communion, though he doesn’t like Pérez-Reverte as a person who seems quite arrogant.

Pérez-Reverte is quite prolific, so there are older posts on Falcó (2016), Guerreros Urbanos (2016), Hombres buenos (2015), Perros e hijos de perras (2014), El francotirador paciente (2013), and El tango de la guardia vieja (2012).

SOURCE: “Cultura/s”, La Vanguardia, Nov. 4, 2017, p. 5 [printed edition]; El Punt Avui (photo); (English titles)

Snippet: “The Heretic” by Miguel Delibes

Image of The Heretic by Miguel Delibes

Miguel Delibes, El hereje [The Heretic], 1998 [2006, translation; summary]

A review by Samantha Schnee can be found here; the Wikipedia has got an article on Miguel Delibes.

It’s one of the favorite Spanish novels (and writers) ever of this blogger, and the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is a good day to remember the book.

Other protestants in fiction can be found in this article by The Guardian.