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]

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Snippet: Roser Amills’ “Asja”

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); amazon.com (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.

Snippet: Almudena Grandes’ “Dr. García’s patients”

Almudena Grandes, Los pacientes del doctor García [Dr. García’s patients], 2017, 768 p.

Publisher’s summary:

After Franco’s victory the physician Guillermo García Medina still lives in Madrid with a false identity. The documentation that saved him from being executed was a present by his best friend, Manuel Arroyo Benítez, a Republican diplomat whose life he saved in 1937. Guillermo thinks that he will never see him again, but in September 1946 Manuel returns from exile with a secret and dangerous mission. He plans to infiltrate a clandestine organization, the escape network of war criminals and fugitives of the Third Reich, directed from the Argüelles neighborhood by a German and Spanish woman, Nazi and falangista [Wikipedia], called Clara Stauffer. While doctor García lets himself being recruited by Manuel, the name of another Spaniard crosses the two friends’ destiny. Adrián Gallardo Ortega, who had his moment of glory as a professional  boxer before joining the División Azul [“blue division”, Wikipedia] to continue fighting as an SS volunteer and participate in the last defense of Berlin, and who lives rather badly in Germany, ignoring that someone wants to supplant his identity to escape to the Argentina of Perón.

A thriller and a spy novel, Los pacientes del doctor García is maybe Almudena Grandes’ most international and fastest-paced story, her most ambitious narration, in which she connects real and unknown events of World War II and the Franco regime to construct the lives of some characters who not only share Spain’s fate but also Argentine’s.

From a review:

In earlier books by Grandes everything was excessive… The reading of this book has been exciting, and every one of its pages is fully justified. … to draw a true mural of our contemporary history. … It is interesting to see that the marked ideological emphasis of other of her novels … has been substituted by an objectivity where there are no bad ones and good ones, but victims and executioners. … A highly documented novel where history merges with fiction and intensifies it.

J.A. Masoliver Ródenas

The same reviewer tore to pieces Almudena Grandes’ previous novel, so this one might be worth reading. Sounds like a story by Philip Kerr set in Spain.

SOURCE: Tusquets (Planeta, publisher); review in “Cultura/s”, La Vanguardia, Sept. 30, 2017, pp. 6-7 (printed edition)

Snippet: Carmen Posada’s “Cayetana’s daughter”

Carmen Posadas, La hija de Cayetana [The duchess’s daughter], 2016, 520 p.

Publisher’s summary:

An amazing and forgotten episode protagonized by one of the most famous women in our History: Cayetana de Alba, the unforgettable muse of Goya.

Eccentric, capricious and free, for more than two hundred years her power of seduction has endured unalterable. But very few know that the duchess adopted a black girl, María Luz, whom she loved and educated as her own daughter and to whom she bequeathed part of her fortune.

Carmen Posadas narrates with a master’s hand the fate of the two mothers: the adoptive one with her loves and dramas at Carlos IV’s court, an authentic nest of intrigue, and that of the biological one, Trinidad, who, as a slave in Spain, fights to find the baby that was taken from her shortly after giving birth.

Posadas presents interesting places (Cuba, Madrid, Sevilla, Cádiz, Madeira and the Coto de Doñana (reserve) and a lot of palace politics, art, and social history: how people lived at the end of the 18th and in the early 19th century, the French Revolution seen from afar, violence as part of daily life, especially for poor women, and the impotence of rich and poor alike in front of epidemics and death. At the end of the book, the author explains that she stuck to the facts wherever possible, i.e. mainly with reference to the life of the duchess and the painter Goya. This blogger didn’t know that there lived slaves in the Iberian peninsula in the 18th century – mostly as luxury objects to show off with, though this didn’t improve the way they were treated/abused. He enjoyed the book, except for the excessive descriptions of dresses and hairstyles…

More information on the Uruguayan-Spanish author Carmen Posadas (Montevideo, 1953) who has lived most of her life in Spain can be found at the Wikipedia, though the bibliography is incomplete in the English article. Also on the house of Alba.

Amazon.com offers her novels Child’s Play, The Last Resort, and Little Indiscretions in English.

SOURCE: Planeta (publisher)