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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Not strictly Iberian: Mathias Énard’s “Compass”

cover image for Compass

Mathias Énard, Compass, Prix Goncourt 2015, to be published in English on March 22 (UK) and March 28 (USA), 2017.

There are hardly any books, except for those by Karl-Ove Knausgaard, that recently have impressed this blogger in such a way that this one has. It is called a novel but could also be named a series of very lively encyclopedic articles held together by a neatly interwoven love story. A sleepless, feverish musicologist specialized in Oriental music who lives in Viena remembers anecdotes of his research journeys to Istanbul, Damascus, Aleppo, Palmyra (before the civil war), Teheran (before, during and after the Islamic Revolution), among others. He introduces the readers to Western male and female orientalists of the past, and shows how Western composers, authors, poets, etc. were influenced by Oriental authors, and how Eastern intellectuals for their part were influenced by their Western colleagues. There are a few references to Al-Andalus, to Pessoa; I learned that the island of Hormuz  in the homonymous strait was once a Portuguese colony (1507-1622; cf. Wikipedia); i.e. there is an “Iberian link”…

You can find a proper summary on the publishers’ pages (cf. source).

The Financial Times offers this review.

A blogger’s exercise in translation on “Americans in Prague” from Compass in Catalan:

… -one doesn’t know why the young Americans have become infatuated with Prague and with Kafka; they show up there in small or large groups, they spend a few months in the Czech capital, if not years, especially the young writers fresh from the creative writing universities; they go to Prague as one did before to Paris, to find inspiration; they have blogs and fill notebooks or blacken virtual pages in cafés, they drink litres and litres of Czech beer, and I am sure that some of them are still in the same place after ten years, finishing up their first novel or a collection of nouvelles [short stories] that should catapult them to glory-…

(M. Énard, Brúixola, Empúries, 2016, p. 114)

SOURCE: Fitzcarraldo Editors; New Directions Publishing (cover picture)



Snippet: Flavia Álvarez, illustrator

flavita banana spain reading

(c) Flavia Álvarez, published on Instagram, Jan. 23, 2017



In life you have to do three things:

plant a tree,

have a child

and write read a book.


Flavia Álvarez (Oviedo, 1987) studied Art and Design. She publishes under the name of Flavita Banana, mainly on Instagram, facebook, and in El País‘ female fashion supplement “S Moda“. In February 2017 she published Las cosas del querer [The issues of loving]. This blogger got to hear her name on Spanish TV’s Página 2 book show (the link to the short film in Spanish is on her Instagram page).

megustaleer - Las cosas del querer - Flavita Banana

SOURCE: Lumen (Penguin Random House)

Snippet: Vila-Matas'”Mac and his setback”

Enrique Vila-Matas, Mac y su contratiempo [Mac and his setback], 2017, 304 p.

Publisher’s summary:

Mac has just lost his job and takes a daily walk through El Coyote, the Barcelona neighborhood where he lives. He is obsessed with his neighbor, a famous and recognized author, and he feels offended everytime that this author ignores him. One day he overhears him talking to the bookseller about his first novel “Walter y su contratiempo”, a book from his youth full of incongruent passages, which he remembers vaguely, and Mac, who cherishes the idea of writing, decides in this moment that he will modify and improve this first story that his neighbor would prefer to leave in oblivion.                                         “The novels that I like are always like Chinese boxes, they are always full of stories,” affirms the narrator of this astonishing novel that disguises as a very funny diary, as an essay on the origin and process of writing, as a criminal investigation, and as an apprentice novel. Enrique Vila-Matas destroys the myth of the necessity of an own voice while he reworks tradition in order to prove that he is the owner of one of the most personal voices of the contemporary literary landscape; he allows himself to touch in depth the process of literary creation without foregoing to offer the readers moments of true laughter; he praises normality through an eccentric and peculiar protagonist, and he pretends improvisation in a masterly novel that contains different levels of reading, surprises as to the story, really great finds, thanks to a structure that is able to flip around like a sock from the exact middle of the book, leaving the readers with open mouthes until its perfect ending.

Funny and profound. Accessible and erudite. The best Enrique Vila-Matas.

There are older blog posts on Enrique Vila-Matas from 20152014 and 2012.

This blogger enjoyed Vila-Matas’ weekly columns in El País‘ Sunday-supplement “Domingo” during the early 2000s…

SOURCE: Seix-Barral – Planeta (publisher)