Snippet: Around the world in 80 cemeteries

Fernando Gómez Hernández, La vuelta al mundo en 80 cementerios [Around the world in 80 cemeteries], 2018, 480 p.

Publisher’s summary:

Let yourself be surprised by the most important cemeteries in the world, discovering the most curious anecdotes and stories that happened there.

La vuelta al mundo en 80 cementerios is a walk around the most important cemeteries in the world. [… (repetitive)…] Written in an enjoyable, simple and agile manner, in this book you will explore, among others, the La Madeleine cemetery in France, the Hólavallagarður in Reykjavik, the Jewish Cemetery in Prague, or the Vatican grottos.

This blogger mentions it because it appeared in Llucia Ramis’ weekly article on Feb. 17, 2018. Putting its name into google, there appeared a lot of blogs that talk about it. Hopefully it is not written as repetitively as the publisher’s summary…


SOURCE: Ed. Luciérnaga (Planeta, publisher)


Today: Frederick Douglass 200th birthday + #FreeDeniz (not Iberian)

Frederick Douglass portrait.jpg

SOURCE: Wikipedia

As he didn’t know the exact day, Frederick Douglass gave Saint Valentine’s day 1818 as his birthday; 200 years ago today.

The Wikipedia has got this article on Douglass, which is available in many other languages, too.

The New York Times‘ coverage can be found here.

The Washington Post has got a number of articles, e.g. an op-ed one on “a champion of American individualism” and another one on “Five myths about F.D.”.

The Guardian considers Frederick Douglass’ book on his own slavery as one of the 100 most important nonfiction books ever.


ALSO TODAY: the Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel has been imprisoned in pretrial detention for exactly one year on espionage charges in a Turkish jail. Cf. the Wikipedia article, and Deutsche Welle‘s articles in English: “one year in prison”, timeline, “the effect on German-Turkish relations”.

UPDATE (Feb. 16, 2018): Deniz Yücel is about to be released from jail, cf. DW’s piece

Snippet: Neus Martín Royo, painter

(c) Neus Martín Royo

The realist painter Neus Martín Royo (Barcelona, 1968) has been compared to Edward Hopper; some of her Irish or Menorcan lighthouses look very similar to Hopper’s from New England…

(c) Neus Martín Royo

A biographical sketch [from “Blueframe Gallery“]:

Neus Martín Royo is a graduate in Fine Arts (main subject: painting) of the Universitat de Barcelona.

She studied engraving at the Escuela de Artes y Oficios [Arts & Crafts School] of the governing body of Barcelona province, and she gained painting scholarships from Güell foundation in Barcelona, the Palacio del Quintanar del Paular in Segovia (Castilla y León), and of the city hall of O Barco de Vaeldeorras (Orense, Galicia).

In 1988 she began her career as a painter. Since then she has followed a very coherent line that affirms her personality. Her style responds to a realist and impressionist volition that she materializes with a first charcoal drawing and an arbitrary color treatment.

There are to be found numerous examples of her work on her own personal website (with links to Instagram, …), and on gallery websites: Blueframe, Sala Parés (Barcelona) I + II.

This blogger saw an announcement for one of the latest exhibitons and was really stunned…


Cuba on my mind

The first weekend of February 2018 saw quite a few articles related to Cuba and Cuban writers in the newspapers perused by this blogger.

La Vanguardia had an obituary on Fidel Ángel Castro Díaz-Balart, called “Fidelito” [little Fidel] (1949-2018), Fidel Castro’s oldest son who suffered from depression and took his life the previous week [Wikipedia article].

“Babelia,” El País‘ culture supplement, presented three books on contemporary Cuba and/or written by Cubans:

La tribu. Retratos de Cuba

Carlos Manuel Álvarez Rodríguez, La tribu. Retratos de Cuba [The tribe: portraits from Cuba], 2017, 264 p.

publisher’s summary:

Carlos Manuel Álvarez is a young Cuban writer with an immense talent, and this book is the living proof of it. La tribu is an intimate journey among the Cubans during a time of dramatic change –from 2014 to 2016–, beginning with the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the United States, and ending with the death of the historic leader of the revolution, Fidel Castro.

[There is] no better guide than C.M. Álvarez to tell us the stories of some who lived –and survived– the great revolutionary epic that comes to an end now. There are the adventures and the calvaries of some Cubans who leave the island in search of fortune in the north; the life of a great poet who has hardly been published and who comes to terms with the fact that he will die unknown; the daily life of a former “Tropicana” dancer who lives in a dump; a mother’s odyssey in her efforts to recover the body of her daughter who committed suicide in a foreign country; the moving return of a Cuban baseball player [José Contreras] who fled, was recruited by the Yankees, and who returns to visit his people and his neighborhood after a lot of years.

 If one loves Cuba –or if one is Cuban and carries it in one’s blood–, one will have to read La tribu, because there is some kind of magic on its pages. But it’s not an invented magic. There is the Cuba that really exists. There is the lasting Cuba, the loved one, the sad one and the abhorred one, that of the bolero verses and now of the reggaeton, that one that is for ever, if one likes it or not. The readers will realize again, that is if they ever doubted it, that despite all the Cubans have got something special, that despite all, they have got a future ahead, in the same way that without a doubt the author of this book has got one.

                                                                                                                                  Jon Lee Anderson

The review by Iván de la Nuez is not as enthusiastic as Anderson:

… a compendium of chronicles that prefers the consequences of the acts to the causes that encouraged them. […] These chronicles of the thaw prefer, in front of the derision of the doctrines, the meat of the facts (with the virtues and some defect that sometimes come with the preference for the bowels).


megustaleer - Cuba en la encrucijada - Leila Guerriero

Leila Guerriero, ed., Cuba en la encrucijada [Cuba at the crossroads], 2017, 180 p.

publisher’s summary:

A book of Cuban chronicles by twelve of the most prestigious journalists and writers of our times –Carlos Manuel Álvarez, Jon Lee Anderson, Vladimir Cruz, Iván de la Nuez, Patricia Engel, Patricio Fernández, Rubén Gallo, Francisco Goldman, Wendy Guerra, Abraham Jiménez Enoa, Leonardo Padura and Mauricio Vicent– that encompasses politics and art, music and baseball, present and past, and that offers to us an exceptional snapshot of the particular crossroads at which the Cuban society stands.

« Of all the questions that need to be asked by journalism, there is only one, if we talk about Cuba, that can be answered easily: where. Everybody knows –more or less– where Cuba is. For all the others –what is Cuba, who are the Cubans, how is Cuba, when did Cuba start to become what it is, why is Cuba like it is, and different variations and combinations of the same– there are not only no easy answers but everyone seems to have theirs.

The twelve texts constituting this book try to get away from the most topical reductionisms and tell the country from the most dangerous, and for the same most interesting, territory of doubt and contradiction. Telling Cuba –like narrating the Normandy landings or the fall of the Berlin Wall– is telling History with a capital “h”: an ambitious task. But, in the strafed stuttering of the present times, these are some attempts.»
Leila Guerriero

In his review, Javier Rodríguez Marcos calls this book “a gold mine”.


Leonardo Padura, La transpariencia del tiempo [Time’s transparency], 2018, 448 p.

publisher’s summary:

Mario Conde who is about to turn 60, and who feels unusually in crisis and more sceptical towards his country than normally, receives unexpectedly an assignment by an old friend from high school, Bobby, who asks him for help to recover the statue of a black virgin that was stolen from him. Conde discovers that this piece is a lot more valuable than was told to him, and his friend has to confess to him that it comes from his Spanish grandfather who, fleeing from the Civil War, brought it over from a hermitage in the Catalan Pyrenees. In Havana’s underworld, Conde finds a suspect that has just been murdered. With the assassination of another accomplice, Conde discovers an unexpected plot of gallery owners and foreign collectors interested in the medieval carving, and he inevitably stumbles on Havana’s homicide squad. But, in interspersed chapters, La transparencia del tiempo also narrates the statue’s century-long epic, a black virgin brought from the last crusade to a hermitage in the Pyrenees by somebody called Antoni Barral, and there will be a different Antoni Barral who saves it and who finds himself forced to embark as a stowaway on the way to Havana.

from J. Ernesto Ayala-Dip’s review:

The formula that gave him a brilliant result in Herejes [Heretics] now turns tiresome and unnecessary. The novel’s focus of interest is blurred every time that the readers need to change the perspective, without this contributing anything to the core story. … in this trance, Padura lets his detective too lost in time.

On the occasion of Leonardo Padura’s presence at the crime novel festival “BCNegra”, La Vanguardia interviewed the author and asked him about the current situation on the island. Here are some excerpts that show quite a bleak picture:

[Question: Why is the generation of the “revolution’s puppies” frustrated?]

… To our broken dreams are added our children who leave us, I would say this is the case in about 90% among my friends, and additionally we have our nonagenarian parents we need to help because they receive pensions of about ten dollars a month.

[Q: You’ve said “moral collapse”…]

In the 1990s the people began to develop survival strategies. There imposed itself the anything goes. There resurfaced prostitution, there appeared drugs, and the black market turned into the only market. The society suffered an enormous los of values that were ancestral. There spread the lack of respect for the rights of the others and being a rogue as a form of living. The word decent, so important before, disappeared from the Cuban vocabulary.

[Q: In that present, that you situate in 2014, you show a marked tendency towards vulgarity in Havana. …]

Reggaeton, all noise, is an effect, not a cause. It’s the consequence of this lack of values and the moral degradation that we talked about. It represents the fall to the lowest point of Cuban music, which is a universal reference. The state tries to stop and to stigmatize this no-music. But the concerts of Cuban reggaeton artists, by the way promoted through social networks, fill up. It sucks, but the truth is that reggaeton has become the soundtrack of the Cuban present. […]

And then there will be Raul’s succession. I believe there will be continuity. What one doesn’t know is how long it will last.

[The Cuban president, Raul Castro, announced that he will step down on April 19, 2018.; cf. e.g. this ABC News piece (text and video).]

Padura also mentioned that it is not easy for Cuban readers to find his books there. There is a lack of paper, and probably a lack of interest by the official spheres…

There are two previous posts on Leonardo Padura from June and November 2015.

Among the authors mentioned above, Wendy Guerra is also a well-known and social media savvy commentarist from inside on the daily life in Cuba (Wikipedia article).

SOURCE: Sexto Piso (publisher La tribu); Debate (Penguin Random House, publisher Guerriero); Tusquets (Planeta, publisher Padura); “Babelia,” El País, Feb. 3, 2018, pp. 5 + 7 [printed edition]; Fernando García interviewing Leonardo Padura, La Vanguardia, Feb. 3, 2018, pp. 30-31 [printed edition].

Snippet: Antonio Ungar’s “Look at me”

Antonio Ungar, Mírame [Look at me], 2018, 192 p.

publisher’s summary:

“On the other side of the yard, on the fifth floor of no. 21, Rue C street, there is now a family. They arrived on Monday. They are dark. Hindus, Arabs or Gipsies. They have brought a daughter.” This is the first note of this novel’s protagonist, a solitary, obsessive character who medicates himself, lives stuck to the memory of his dead sister and resides in a neighborhood where everytime there are more immigrants. A character who writes it all down meticulously into his diary.

Through its pages the reader will be a witness of how he observes his new neighbors whom he suspects to deal with drugs. The readers also will discover how the protagonists becomes obsessed with the daughter, who he ends up spying on with hidden cameras that permit him to see her naked in the bathroom, watching from the balcony, lying in bed, being attacked by one of her brothers. From this moment on, the character turns from observation to action, while he leds himself become entangled in the spider web of the girl that he contemplates, believing to know everything about her, though maybe the things are not as he thinks them to be, and maybe somebody is watching him.

And while the –erotic and violent– tension increases, the narrator starts to feel persecuted, he models some enigmatic sculptures of angels into plaster, and he prepares to do something that will change everything… Antonio Ungar has written an absorbing, unsettling and disturbing novel. A reflection on immigration and xenophobia. The portentous portrait of a character dragged by a sick obsession that through an unstoppable crescendo leads into the grounds charateristic of the most somber thriller.


Anagrama’s author information (in English), where you can also find a summary of (and a lot of praise for) his previous book Three white coffins, translated into various languages but not English.

SOURCE: Anagrama (publisher)

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: Vicenç Pagès Jordà’s “Robinson”

Vicenç Pagès Jordà, Robinson, 2017, 192 p.

publisher’s summary and author’s bibliography:

The surprising history of a modern, urban Robinson.

On a summer day, a middle-aged man enters the house of his neighbors that have gone on vacation, and he settles there in a very peculiar manner. The man is single, his father lives in an old-age residence, and he works as a postman; while the readers accompany him in his invasor’s life, they get to discover the reasons for an unusual behavior that will bring him into trouble with the neighbors and the justice system. An also with a female ex officio lawyer. Robinson, an initiation tale is also a story of love and of madness and a reflection on loneliness, on communication, and on the imagination as a refuge; it makes it evident to the readers that Vicenç Pagès Jordà has reached an unusual level of literary maturity. Because only from plain creative maturity one can write a short novel that is so surprising, intense and touching as this one.

Vicenç Pagès Jordà (Figueres, Girona, 1963). Among his first works there are Cercles d’infinites combinacions [Circles of infinite combinations] (1990), Grandeses i misèries dels premis literaris [Great and awful things of literary prices] (1992) and El món d’Horaci [Horace’s world] (1995). In 1997 he published his first great success, the short novel Carta a la Reina d’Anglaterra [Letter to the Queen of England], that narrates on 100 pages 1,000 years of the protagonist’s life.  This book was followed by Un tramvia anomenat text [A streetcar named text] (1998),  an essay on writing, and the novel La felicitat no és completa [Happiness is not complete], Sant Joan prize 2003. In 1999, he won the Documenta prize with the short-story collection En companyia de l’altre [In the other’s company]. In 2004, the short-story collection El poeta i altres contes [The poet and other stories] won the Mercè Rodoreda prize. In 2006, he published De Robinson Crusoe a Peter Pan [From Robinson Crusoe to Peter Pan], an essay on juvenile literature. Three years later he published Els jugadors de whist [The whist players], that was a commercial success and won the Crexells prize for best novel of the year. In 2011, he published the literary almanach El llibre de l’any [The book of the year], and in 2013 the children’s book La llentia viatgera [The traveling lentil].

Author’s homepage: (multilingual)

from a review by Josep Massot:

The editor, Josep Lluch, says that Pagès Jordà’s story is “claustrophobic, centripetal and horizontal,” and also a love story… A text that signifies a notable change of register in Vicenç Pagès Jordà… For the writer –a big music lover– there are three kinds of creators… The Ramones [play always the same], Bob Dylan [never plays as expected], and “finally — he says– there is David Bowie, with whom I identify. A musician who doesn’t reinvent himself at any moment, but who evolves.”

There are older posts on works by Vicenç Pagès from 2014 and 2013.

SOURCE: Empúries (Grup62, Planeta, publisher); La Vanguardia, Oct. 21, 2017, p. 42 [printed edition]