April-June 2015: The Iberian Peninsula

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April-June 2015: The Iberian Peninsula

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Edited: Mar 26, 2015, 4:37pm

The Iberian Peninsula is the westernmost portion of Europe, bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, France to the north, and the Mediterranean Sea to the east and south. Because of its near complete isolation from the rest of Europe it has a separate identity from it. The peninsula also serves as the closest point between Europe and Africa, as the Strait of Gibraltar, which connects the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea and separates the two continents, is only 7.7 nautical miles wide.

The peninsula consists of three countries, Spain, Portugal and Andorra, along with Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory. Part of France also resides within the peninsula (for the purposes of this theme Iberian France will not be included).

Spain is notable for its heterogeneous population and different regional cultures. Four distinct languages are recognized: Castilian (the country’s official language), Catalan (spoken by 17% of Spaniards), Galician (7%) and Basque (2%). Catalan is also the official language of Andorra, although Spanish, French and Portuguese are also recognized languages.

Edited: Mar 26, 2015, 4:04pm

This theme will be a continual work in progress during this quarter and possibly beyond, as I intend to add to it over the next few weeks. This is a group project in my view, so I would encourage everyone to contribute to it, and add items and suggest corrections to it as they see fit. In the coming weeks I plan to add subtopics to this theme, which will include:

• Catalan literature
• Galician literature
• Basque literature
• Andalusian literature
• Women authors from the Iberian peninsula
• Travel literature and nonfiction
• Iberian literary prizes
• Sports and other aspects of Iberian culture (football, bullfighting, cuisine, politics, etc.)

Edited: Mar 26, 2015, 4:37pm

Spanish Literature

La Plaça del Rei, Barcelona (14th century)

Medieval Spanish literature (11th-15th centuries)

The first notable work of Spanish literature was Cantar de Mio Cid (“The Song of My Cid”), which is an epic poem published in 1207 by an unknown author about the Castilian hero El Cid. It takes place during the Reconquista, the reconquest of Spain from the Muslim Moors, who ruled over much of the southern regions of the Iberian peninsula between 722 and 1492.

Mester de juglaría (“craft of the minstrels”): A Castilian genre of literature in spoken word form from the 11th through the 14th centuries; these stories were often accompanied by short theatrical scenes and were performed in public settings. They include epic poems such as Cantar de mio Cid and plays such as Representacíon de los reyes Magos (“Representation of the Magi”).

Mester de clerecía (“craft of the clergy”): A more rigorous and academic form of Castilian written poetry present during the mid 13th to the 14th centuries, which contrasted the oral and popular mester de juglaría. The best known example is El libro de buen amor (“The Book of Good Love”), which was initially written in 1330 and 1343 and is a semi-autobiographical series of romantic adventures by Juan Ruiz, the Archpriest of Hita. He wrote it primarily to make the distinction between good (pious) and bad (carnal) love.

Other works of this period include Los milagros de nuestra señora (“Miracles of Our Lady”) by Gonzalo de Berceo (1290), which describes several miracles that were attributed to the Virgin Mary, and is one of the most notable works of Marian literature; Libro de los ejemplos del conde Lucanor y Patronio (“Book of the Examples of Count Lucanor and of Patronio”, or “Tales of Count Lucanor”) by Don Juan Manuel (1335), one of the earliest works of prose of Castilian literature, which consists of a series of short stories from a variety of sources; and La celestina o tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea (“The Tragicomedy of Calisto and Melibea”) by Fernando de Rojas (1499), a continuous series of dialogues that is considered to be one of the greatest in Spanish literature, and marks the transition between medieval literature and the beginning of Spain’s literary renaissance.

Spanish Renaissance literature (15th-17th centuries)

This period begins in 1492, with the final expulsion of the Moors and Jews and the unification of Spain by Catholic monarchs. The close relationship between Spain and Italy beginning in the latter half of the 15th century led to a cross-pollination between the cultures of both countries, including their literature.

Major themes of the Spanish Renaissance include the importance of the Greco-Latin world; the placement of man at the center of the universe and the master of his own destiny; the dominance of reason and scientific analysis over feelings and beliefs; and the belief that beauty is found in the real world and not in idealistic representations of it.

Major literary figures include:

• Antonio de Nebrija: the first important Spanish Renaissance author, whose book Gramática castellana was the first grammar book in any Romance language and helped ensure that Castilian became the official language of Spain, replacing Latin.

• Garcilaso de la Vega: one of the two most influential authors of the Spanish Renaissance, a lyric poet whose simple and deeply personal language continues to make him one of the most popular Spanish writers today.

• Juan Boscán: the other major author of the Spanish Renaissance, whose poems about love written in the first half of the 16th century have been coupled with those of his friend Garcilaso de la Vega for nearly 500 years.

El Siglio de Oro: The Golden Age of Spanish Literature (16th-17th centuries)

This period encompasses the Renaissance and the Baroque Eras in Spain and Europe, and is marked by a flowering of arts and literature that was linked to the rise and fall of the Habsburg Dynasty. Major works include:

Amadis de Gaule (“Amadis of Gaul”) (1508): first known novel of chivalry, which was one of the most popular Spanish novels until the release of Don Quixote

Lazarillo de Tormes (1554): the first picaresque Spanish novel

Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605): the most influential novel in the history of Spanish literature

Edited: Mar 26, 2015, 4:37pm

Spanish literature (continued)

El Museo del Prado, Madrid

Enlightenment literature (18th century)

The influence of French neoclassicism led to a shift away from fiction and poetry and toward knowledge and reasoning, which had an inhibitory effort on Spanish literature. The essay became the dominant form during this period. Major figures include Friar Benito Jerónimo Feijoo y Montenegro, Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, and José Cadalso.

Romanticism (first half of the 19th century)

This period was a reaction to and rejection of neoclassicism, in which verse and prose were the dominant literary forms, and is most notable for costumbrismo: a celebration of local habits and folklore, with emotional characters and a focus on imagination over reason along with a nostalgia for the values and customs of the past. The historical novel also originated in Spain during this era.

Major poets in this period include José de Espronceda, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Carolina Coronado, Gustavo Alofo Bécquer, and Rosalia de Castro. The best known prose writers are Enrique Gil y Carrasco, Francisco Navarro Villoslada, Ramón de Mesonero Romanos, Serafím Estébanez Calderón, Ángel de Saavedra, Duque de Rivas, José Zorrilla y Moral, and Mariano José de Larra.

Realism (second half of the 19th century)

Realism arose as a reaction to costumbrismo, and is notable for its accurate depictions of people and nature, which were favored over wistfully nostalgic ones. The primary literary of this period include Benito Pérez Galdós, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, Leopoldo Alas (who is better known as Clarín), Juan Valera, José María de Pereda, Pedro Antonio de Alarcón, Emilia Pardo Bazán, and Armando Palacio Valdés. José Echegaray, a dramatist who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1904, was also active during this time.

Modernismo and the Generation of ’98 (late 19th and early 20th century)

Modernismo was a movement that rejected Realism, and it was strongly influenced by the humiliating loss of Cuba to the United States in the Spanish-American War (known in Spain as “The Disaster of ’98”), which led to the collapse of the Spanish Empire, as Puerto Rico, the Phillipines and Guam were subsequently ceded to the US. Spain’s worldwide influence and economy suffered dramatically as a result of the War, along with its national psyche, as the country underwent a moral, political and social crisis.

Major writers from this period include José Martinez Ruiz (Azorín), Miguel de Unamuno, Rubén Darío, and Antonio Machado.

Edited: Mar 26, 2015, 4:36pm

Spanish Literature (continued)

The city of Toledo, Spain

Novecentismo (early 20th century)

This period bridged the gap between the Generation of ’98 and the Generation of ’27; the novecentistas are sometimes referred to as the Generation of ’14. During this time Catalan literature gained more prominence, as Catalonia sought its independence from Spain as a result of its decreased importance to Spain after the Disaster of ’98 and the effects of La semana trágica (the Tragic Week) in 1909, in which Spanish troops fought bloody battles with the working classes in Barcelona and other cities in Catalonia.

The most notable writers were José Ortega y Gasset, Josep Pla, Ramón Pérez de Ayala, Gabriel Miró Ferrer, Benjamin Jamés, Ramón Goméz de la Serna, and Ramón Sender, along with Jacinto Benavente, a dramatist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1922.

Generation of ‘27

This was a highly influential group of writers based primarily in Madrid which arose from 1923-1927 in order to incorporate elements of the avant garde into poetry and literature that dominated Spanish literature until the dawn of the Spanish Civil War. Jorge Guillén, Federico García Lorca, Miguel Hernandez, Dámaso Alonso, Luis Cernuda, Juan Ramón Jiménez (winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1956), Manuel Altolaguirre, Emilio Prados, and Vicente Aleixandre, poet who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1977, were active during this time.

Literature during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the early years of Francoist Spain (1939-1955)

Several writers from the Generation of ’27 were murdered (Federico García Lorca), died in jail (Miguel Hernandez), or went into exile, and the movement as a whole was fragmented, as the arts were severely curtailed during the fascist dictatorship of Generalíssimo Francisco Franco. Despite the crackdown on dissent, several notable authors were active and published influential books during this period, including Camilo José Cela, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1989 (La familia de Pascual Duarte), Carmen Laforet (Nada), and Juan Goytisolo (Juegos de manos).

Literature during the later years of Francoist Spain and the Generation of ’50 (1955-1975)

The Generation of ’50 was a group of writers who were born during the civil war. They used metaphysical and philosophical techniques to escape censorship during the Franco regime. The most important writers of this generation include José Augustin, Juan Goytisolo, Ana María Matute, Mercè Rodoreda, Juan Marsé, Julio Llamazares and Luis Martin Santos.

Edited: Mar 27, 2015, 6:28am

Spanish Literature (continued)

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (Antoni Gaudí's masterpiece, begun in 1882 and scheduled to be finished in approximately 2030)

Literature in Democratic Spain (1975-1999) and Modern Day Spain (1999-present)

Upon Franco’s death in 1975, there was a relaxation of the dictator’s censorship rules that led to a gradual rebirth of the arts in Spain. Juan Marsé, Almudena Grandes, Enrique Vila-Matas, Javier Marías, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Bernardo Atxaga, Manuel Rivas, Laura Freixas, Antonio Muñoz Molina, Julio Llamazares and Javier Cercas are amongst the best known modern Spanish writers internationally. Other notable writers whose works have published in English include Lucia Etxebarría, Quim Monzò, Llorenç Villalonga, Jordi Puntí, Carmen Martín Gaite, Carlos Rojas, María Dueñas, Rosana Ubanel, and Jesús del Campo.

Excerpts from works of several rising stars in Spanish literature can be found in Granta 113: The Best of Young Spanish Novelists, which was published in 2011. In addition, the web site lletrA (http://www.lletra.net) is an excellent online resource for Catalan literature.

Edited: Mar 26, 2015, 9:50pm

Portuguese Literature

Portuguese literature is not as well known internationally as Spanish literature, as it was not widely studied until the 19th century, and far fewer works have been translated into English. In general, the major movements of Portuguese literature coincided with ones from Spain, save for those which are unique to its neighbor, such as the Disaster of ’98 and the Spanish Civil War, Francoist Spain). The best known and most important translated Portuguese authors are Luiz de Camões, José Maria de Eça de Queirós, Fernando Pessoa, José Saramago, António Lobo Antunes, Miguel Torga, Jorge de Sena, and Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen. Contemporary Portuguese writers of note include Gonçalo M. Tavares, Luis Miguel Rocha, José Rodrigues dos Santos, José Luis Peixoto, and Lídia Jorge.

• Gil Vicente: 16th century court dramatist who was essential in the development of the modern play in Portugal and Spain.

• Luiz de Camões: Author of the 16th century epic poem Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads), which concerns the history of Portugal and Vasco da Gama’s first voyage to India, along with numerous other works of lyric poetry.

• José Maria de Eça de Queirós (1845-1900): An influential novelist and reformer who introduced Realism to Portugal; he is widely considered to be the most influential 19th century Portuguese novelist. His major works include O Crime do Padre Amaro (“The Sin of Father Amaro”), O Primo Basílio (“Cousin Bazilio”), and his masterpiece Os Maias (“The Maias”), a depiction of upper middle class and aristocratic Portuguese society.

• Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935): One of Portugal’s greatest poets and Moderist novelists, best known for his novel Livro do desassossego (“The Book of Disquiet”) and his collection “The Selected Prose of Fernando Pessoa”.

• José Saramago (1922-2010): Winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Literature, he is probably the most read contemporary Portuguese author. His major works include Blindness, Seeing, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, Baltasar and Blimunda, The History of the Siege of Lisbon, Journey to Portugal, and The Stone Raft. He has written more than two dozen books, most of which have been translated into English and other languages.

• António Lobo Antunes (1942-): One of the most likely candidates to win the next Nobel Prize in Literature for Iberia, he was trained as a psychiatrist and served his country during its wars with the former Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique, and Portuguese Guinea (now known as Guinea-Bissau). Those experiences strongly affected his writing, as much of his novels focus on death and a view of “the other”. Lobo Antunes, like Saramago, has also been widely translated into English, and are currently available. He is best known for his novels The Inquisitors’ Manual, The Land at the End of the World, Fado Alexandrino, and Knowledge of Hell. A personal favorite of mine is The Fat Man and Infinity: And Other Writings, a superb collection of essays, journalistic pieces and short stories.

Edited: Mar 26, 2015, 9:53pm

Andorran Literature

The 20th century authors Michèle Gazier, Ramon Villeró and Ricard Fiter have gained renown within Andorra and in neighboring France and Spain. However, none of their works appear to have been translated into English. The play Andorra by the Swiss dramatist Max Finch is the best known work in the English speaking world about the country. Other books available in English that are set in Andorra include Crewe Train by Rose Macaulay, and the romance novels The Basque Swallow by Leigh Daniels, and If You Dare by Kresley Cole.

Gibraltarian Literature

Similar to Andorra, literature from Gibraltar is very limited, due to its small size. The best known authors are Héctor Licudi (?-1959), a journalist whose 1929 novel Barbarita explored the relationship between Gibraltar and Great Britain; Elio Cruz, a 1960s playwright who wrote the two most popular plays staged in Gibraltar, La Lola se va pa Londre and Connie con cama camera en el comedor; and Mary Chiappe, a columnist and former Minister for Education for Gibraltar, who has written several novels in the 2000s and 2010s along with Sam Benady, a local pediatrician and historian, which are based on the life of the 19th century Gibraltarian detective Giovanni Bresciano.

Edited: Apr 1, 2015, 11:15am

Contemporary Iberian women authors whose works are available in English translation:

Matilde Asensi, Checkmate in Amber, Everything Under the Sky, Iacobus, The Last Cato, The Lost Origin
Maria Barbal, Stone in a Landslide
María Dueñas, The Heart Has Its Reasons, The Time In Between
Elia Barceló, The Goldsmith’s Secret, Heart of Tango
Carmen Martín Gaite (1925-2000), The Back Room
Alicia Giménez-Bartlett, Death Rites, Dog Day
Almudena Grandes, The Ages of Lulu, The Frozen Heart, The Wind from the East
Lídia Jorge, The Painter of Birds
Carmen Laforet (1921-2004), Nada
Imma Monsó, A Man of His Word
Rosa Montero, Tears in Rain
Elvira Navarro, The Happy City
Mercè Rodoreda (1908-1983), A Broken Mirror, Camellia Street, Death in Spring, My Christina and Other Stories, The Selected Stories of Mercè Rodoreda, The Time of the Doves
Clara Sánchez, The Scent of Lemon Leaves
Mamen Sánchez, The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman
Esther Tusquets, Stranded

Edited: Mar 26, 2015, 6:07pm

Some of my favorite books from the Iberian peninsula:

António Lobo Antunes, The Fat Man and Infinity: And Other Writings
Elia Barceló, The Goldsmith's Secret
Javier Cercas, Soldiers of Salamis; The Anatomy of a Moment; The Tenant and the Motive
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
Unai Elorriaga, Plants Don't Drink Coffee
Gijs van Hensbergen, Gaudí: A Biography
Robert Hughes, Barcelona
Javier Marias, A Heart So White
Juan Marsé, Lizard Tails
Quim Monzó, A Thousand Morons
George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia
Jordi Puntí, Lost Luggage
Manuel Rivas, The Carpenter's Pencil: A Novel of the Spanish Civil War
José Saramago, Blindness; Cain; Death at Intervals; The Elephant's Journey; The Gospel According to Jesus Christ; The Stone Raft
Gonçalo M. Tavares, Jerusalem
Colm Tóibín, Homage to Barcelona
Giles Tremlett, Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Secret Past
Richard Wright, Pagan Spain
Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

Edited: Mar 26, 2015, 5:36pm

Selected unread Iberian books from my library:

António Lobo Antunes, Fado Alexandrino; The Inquisitors' Manual
Bernardo Atxaga, Obabakoak
Jesús del Campo, A History of the World for Rebels and Somnambulists
Camilo José Cela, The Family of Pascual Duarte
Javier Cercas, Outlaws
Carmen Martín Gaite, The Back Room
Juan Eslava Galan, The Mule
Ian Gibson, The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí
Juan Goytisolo, Forbidden Territory and Realms of Strife
Almudena Grandes, The Frozen Heart
F. Xavier Hernàndez, The History of Catalonia
John Hooper, The New Spaniards
Carmen Laforet, Nada
Federico García Lorca, The Selected Poems of Federico García Lorca
Sid Lowe, Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona vs Real Madrid
Elizabeth Nash, Madrid: A Cultural and Literary Companion
Cees Nooteboom, Roads to Santiago: Detours and Riddles in the Land and History of Spain
Patrick O'Brian, Picasso: A Biography
José Luís Peixoto, Blank Gaze (alternate title: The Implacable Order of Things)
Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet; The Education of the Stoic
Josep Pla, The Gray Notebook
José Maria de Eça de Queirós, The Maias
Alice Leccese Powers, Spain in Mind
Paul Preston, The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain
Mercè Rodoreda, Death in Spring; The Selected Stories of Mercè Rodoreda
Carlos Rojas, The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet Federico García Lorca Ascends to Hell
José Saramago, The History of the Siege of Lisbon; Journey to Portugal
Colm Tóibín, The South
Llorenç Villalonga, The Dolls' Room
Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Angel's Game

Mar 27, 2015, 6:25am

Thank you for putting together such a fabulous introduction to the theme.

Mar 27, 2015, 6:36am

You're welcome, Anne; thanks for the compliment. Now that it's up I see quite a few weak areas that I hope to address, and hopefully members of the group can help me do so. It's very weak on contemporary women authors, and it's heavily biased toward literary and historical fiction, which are my favorite genres. I'd like to read at least two books by different women writers every month during the upcoming quarter, starting with Nada by Carmen Lafloret and The Back Room by Carmen Martín Gaite in April.

Mar 27, 2015, 7:20am

This is fantastic, Darryl. Thanks so much for setting it up. I've added a link on the Reading Globally home page, so people should be able to find this thread easily, and once April rolls around I'll change the picture at the top of the page. I look forward to reading everything later today and looking at my own TBR piles to figure out what I might read.

Edited: Mar 27, 2015, 7:27am

Interestingly, a book that I just picked up is very contemporary (published in the UK yesterday), by a woman writer, and verges on genre, although I have a feeling it straddles the literary/genre divide:

The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman, by Mamen Sánchez, translated by Lucy Greaves.

Edited: Mar 27, 2015, 7:52pm

Author Spotlight: Javier Cercas (Spain) (1962-)

Javier Cercas was born in Ibahernando, a village in the province of Cáceres in western Spain. His family moved to the Catalonian town of Girona when he was four, and he was educated at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He was a teaching assistant at the University of Illinois for two years before returning to Spain. Since 1989 he has been a professor at the University of Girona, and he also writes a regular column for the Catalan edition of the prominent daily newspaper El País. He currently lives in Barcelona with his wife and son.

Cercas's first published works were the darkly humorous novellas El móvil (The Motive, 1987) and El inquilino (The Tenant, 1989), which were published together in English translation as The Tenant and the Motive in 2005. He achieved worldwide recognition in 2003 after the release of Soldados de Salamina (published as Soldiers of Salamis in 2004), a historical novel about the Spanish Civil War which won several awards including the 2004 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. His subsequent novels La velocidad de la luz (The Speed of Light, 2006), Anatomía de un instante (The Anatomy of a Moment, 2011), and Las leyes de la frontera (Outlaws, 2014) have all been translated into English.

Cercas's novels are expertly rendered narrative works of historical fiction that involve the lives of real characters, some of whom were known to him. Soldiers of Salamis is centered around a prominent nationalist leader at the end of the Spanish Civil War who was imprisoned by Republican soldiers and condemned to be executed, but he was only wounded by the bullets that struck him. He escaped and was later discovered by a Republican soldier (Cercas's grandfather in the actual event) who spared his life, which allowed him to return safely and become a prominent member of the Francoist government. The Speed of Light concerns the relationship between a Spanish professor in the Midwest and a troubled Vietnam veteran, and The Anatomy of a Moment recounts the failed 1981 coup of the Spanish government by soldiers of the old regime.

His latest novel, Outlaws, is narrated by a middle class teenage Gironan boy,who is lured into a gang by the leader's alluring girlfriend. The members move from petty crimes to more serious ones, and the leader and the narrator are captured. The influential father of the narrator encourages the policeman holding his son to release him, so that he can learn from his mistake and make something of his life. The leader, who came from a poor family, was given a long prison sentence, which became a cause célèbre in Catalonia. Twenty years later the narrator, now a prominent lawyer, is persuaded to take on the case of the former gang leader (who is based on a real person).

I have read, and would recommend, The Tenant and the Motive, Soldiers of Salamis, and The Anatomy of a Moment, and I'll read Outlaws in April.

Edited: Mar 27, 2015, 8:04am

>14 rebeccanyc: You're welcome, Rebecca! I'm glad that you like what I've done with this thread so far. Please provide me with any criticisms or suggestions (and that goes for everyone else as well).

>15 anisoara: I found this synopsis for The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman:

Atticus Craftsman never travels without a supply of Earl Grey and a favourite book. So when he is sent to shut down a failing literary magazine in Madrid, he packs both. A short Spanish jaunt later, he’ll be back in Kent, cup of tea and smoked-salmon sandwich in hand.

But the five ladies who run the magazine have other ideas. They’ll do anything to keep the jobs they love and their cosy office together. Even if it involves hoodwinking Atticus with flashing eyes, the ghosts of literature past and a winding journey into the heart of Andalucía.

With not the most efficient of detectives in hot pursuit, it’s only a matter of time before Atticus Craftsman either falls in love, disappears completely or – worst of all – runs out of Earl Grey.

Crime comedy, love story and literary adventure all at once, The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman is fiendishly fun and delightfully different.

That sounds promising! It isn't available in the US yet, so I'll be interested to get your take on it. This book also appears to be the only one written by her that has been translated into English so far.

Mar 27, 2015, 8:47am

Thanks for setting this up, Darryl. I haven't been active in the group for a couple of years but will try to participate this quarter. I've read several from your lists, though not enough. I loved Soldiers of Salamis and Don Quixote. Must make mention of Graham Greene's Monsignor Quixote.

I've read The Time of the Doves by Catalan writer Mercè Rodoreda and can recommend it.
The city and the mountains by Eca de Queiroz is a fun read and I'll be tackling his The Crime of Father Amaro for this challenge as well as In the Wilderness by Galician writer Manuel Rivas.

I'm slowly making my way through Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's Pepe Carvalho crime series, mostly set in Barcelona. Also Jason Webster's Or the Bull Kills You, the first of his Max Cámara crime novels set in Valencia has me seeking out more. Webster has written several nonfiction books about Spanish/Moorish culture too.

A quick glance at my 'to read' pile shows up some lighter fare by Richard Zimler, Arturo Perez-Reverte, and Ildefonso Falcones.

Mar 27, 2015, 11:29am

Darryl....this s fantastic. I may not read anything here, (I'm a Saramago fan tho and have read several of his) but I'm really getting an eye opening education about the area, the writers, and unfortunately have had to add 5 years to my hoped for life expectancy so I can add some of these to my teetering Mt TBR. Thanks for all the goodies.

Mar 27, 2015, 12:15pm

I haven't read much from the Iberian peninsula so far, so I'm looking forward to this read. What I've read so far:

From Spain: only a bunch of Manuel Vazquez Montalban mysteries, set largely in Barcelona.

From Portugal: Saramago's History of the Siege of Lisbon, which I loved, and which prompted me to buy several others of his books, and Eca de Queiros's The Maias, which I liked.

Books on my TBR, some of which I hope to read this quarter.

The Life of Lazarillo de Torres
Tyrant Banderas by Ramon del Valle-Inclan
Juan the Landless by Juan Goytisolo
Guadalajara and A Thousand Morons by Quim Monzo
Traveler of the Century by Andres Neuman (although he is Argentinian by birth, so maybe not eligible for this read)
Tristana by Benito Perez Galdos
The City and the Mountains by Eca de Queiros
The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, Baltasar and Blimunda, Death with Interruptions, and The Stone Raft by Jose Saramago
The Buenos Aires Quartet and The Man of My Life by Manuel Vazquez Montalban

Of course, other books and authors are tempting too . . .

Edited: Mar 28, 2015, 3:31am

>20 rebeccanyc: Nice list, Rebecca. How are the mysteries by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán? I'd be willing to read anything worthwhile that is set in Barcelona, after spend 1 1/2 weeks there last summer. If I was to read one of his books, which would you recommend?

I'm glad that you loved The History of the Siege of Lisbon and The Maias, as I own and hope to get to both books this quarter.

I also own Juan the Landless, and after I noticed that it's a short novel I'll almost certainly read it in may or June. I liked A Thousand Morons, but not Guadalajara.

Andres Neuman lives in Granada and holds dual Argentinian and Spanish citizenship, so Traveller of the Century counts IMO.

I don't remember much about The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, which I probably read 10-12 years ago, but I highly enjoyed Death with Intervals (the UK title of Death with Interruptions) and The Stone Raft. I own but haven't read Baltasar and Blimunda yet.

Edited: Mar 27, 2015, 8:35pm

Author Spotlight: Matilde Asensi (Spain) (1962-)

The best selling historical novelist Matilde Asensi, who has been named the 'Queen of the adventure novels', was born in 1962 in the city of Alicante, located in the province of the same name. She was educated at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, and worked as a radio and print journalist before she began writing novels. Her best known work is her 2001 novel El último Catón, published in English as The Last Cato in 2006, which won the 2007 International Latino Award for Best Mystery Novel. Described as a "masterful blend of Christian scholarship and thrilling adventure, The Last Cato is a novel about the race to find the secret location of the Vera Cruz, the True Cross on which Christ was crucified, and the ancient brotherhood sworn to protect it."

Asensi's books have been translated into several languages, including English, and have sold over 20 million copies. At least four of her other books are available in the US and UK: Checkmate in Amber, Iacobus, The Lost Origin, Everything Under the Sky, all of which are available as e-books for less than $5 or £5.

Mar 28, 2015, 3:39am

>18 avatiakh: You're welcome, Kerry; thanks for mentioning that list of books. I hadn't heard of Monsignor Quixote and since I loved Cervantes's masterpiece I'll be on the lookout for it. I have In the Time of the Doves on my Kindle, so I'll read it when I'm on holiday in England (and hopefully Spain) in June.

>19 tututhefirst: Thanks for the compliment, Tina!

Edited: Mar 28, 2015, 6:15am

Thanks, Darryl, for putting this together. Looking forward to joining the group read this quarter. I love the idea of sub-topics, and the fact that we're not limiting ourselves to books. Knowing a bit more about the place's culture and ways of life definitely enrich any reading done about it. I hope to make some contributions on this aspect. Btw, you forgot to list Portuguese literature on #2. May I suggest Poetry from Iberia as a sub-topic? Also, instead of Andalusian literature, may I suggest Castilian (which is missing there, actually) to replace it? Andalusia is a region, but it is not a separate linguistic area as the previous items suggest (Catalan, Galician, Basque). If we include Andalusia as a regional category, then we should also include the rest of the country's regions (e.g. Extremadura), which would not make much sense. May I also suggest as a sub-topic, Films from Iberian filmmakers? Or perhaps include this under the last category, culture? We could also include music, in which the peninsula has a rich heritage. Think flamenco, fado.

Mar 28, 2015, 7:25am

>21 kidzdoc: I started reading the Montalbans because someone on LT let me know that Andrea Camilleri (whose mysteries I love) named his detective, Montalbano, after Montalban. They are most interesting for the sense of place, particularly when they're set in Barcelona, but there always seems to be a time in the book where the detective, Pepe Carvalho, either is attacked or uses violence against attackers, or both, which I can take or leave. They haven't all been translated into English, and I am trying to read them in order, but I would recommend Off-Side as a place to start. I enjoyed it even though I know nothing about soccer/football.

Edited: Mar 28, 2015, 10:29am

>24 deebee1: Hi, deebee! I'm glad that you'll participate in this group read, and not only because you live in Portugal. I look forward to your contributions about Portuguese literature and culture, as I've only visited Barcelona on the Iberian peninsula (although that will almost certainly change later this year, and I hope to visit Lisbon and possibly Porto in October, along with Madrid and Seville; I'll probably make another trip to Barcelona sometime in June).

That list in #2 wasn't meant to be a complete or definitive one. I didn't include Portuguese literature, as I think of Portugal of being a much more homogeneous culture than Spain, which has four official languages. My impression was that Andalucían culture, and its early literature, are somewhat different from Castilian culture, as the former was influenced by the presence of its Arab and North African inhabitants during much of its early and medieval history, and subsequently due to its proximity to Morocco. However, I need to learn more before I can say anything about this. I thought it would be useful to explore the literature and culture of the regions where Catalan, Galician and Basque are spoken, and to compare them with the larger Castilian culture. (I picked up a few basic Catalan words and phrases when I visited Barcelona last summer, although I spoke to people almost entirely in Castilian Spanish, the form that we learn and generally speak in the US.)

I like your ideas of including poetry, music, and films as subtopics. I was thinking of doing something like that for Catalonia, including the stunning architecture in Barcelona created by Antoni Gaudí, Francesc Berenguer, Lluís Domènech, Josep Puig and others, especially since I saw, took photographs, and read about these architects and the buildings they designed, but I doubt that I would have the time to do that for anyplace else, at least not until I visited those cities and regions.

I'll definitely read nonfiction during this theme, including travel literature (e.g., Roads to Santiago by Cees Nooteboom), memoirs (The Gray Notebook by Josep Pla, which was published by NYRB last year and is set in Barcelona in the early 20th century), and biographies (Picasso: A Biography, The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí).

That reminds me: Archipelago Books will publish a book of short stories written by Josep Pla, entitled Life Embitters, in early May. I'll definitely read it this coming quarter as well.

>25 rebeccanyc: Thanks for the information about Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, and the recommendation of Off Side. I do like football, and I intend to read a book I purchased at Llibreria anglesa, an English language bookshop in Barcelona, titled Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona vs Real Madrid, which is about the two most famous football clubs in Spain, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, the two cities that they call home, and the league they play in, La Liga. I've added Off Side to my Amazon wish list.

Mar 28, 2015, 2:46pm

Author Spotlight: Mercè Rodoreda (Catalonia) (1908-1983)

Mercè Rodoreda was one of the most influential Catalan authors of the 20th century, and she is widely considered to be the best one of the post-Civil War period. She was born in the Eixample district of Barcelona and was largely self taught, as she only received three years of formal education. She married her mother's brother, who was 17 years her senior, and after her only child was born she sought to become an independent, modern woman and to pursue her passion of writing, beginning with short stories in magazines. She published her first book, Aloma, in 1938, which she rewrote 30 years later, even though it won a major local award, the Crexells Prize, upon its initial release. Her writing interests shifted after Franco came to power in 1939 and after she spent two decades in exile in France and Switzerland, beginning in 1957. Her best known and most critically acclaimed novel, La plaça del diamant The Time of the Doves was written in 1962, which is a stream of consciousness novel about the struggles of a working class woman in Barcelona before, during and after the Civil War, and her growth from a submissive girl to a mature and independent woman. Her later novels are colored by her experiences in exile, and focus primarily on the effects of the war on families and individuals. She returned to Barcelona after Franco's death, and died of cancer in the Catalonian city of Girona at the age of 74.

Several of Rodoreda's novels, including The Time of the Doves, have been translated into English and are currently available: the novels El carrer de les camèlies Camellia Street, Mirall Trencat A Broken Mirror, and La mort i la primavera Death in Spring, along with two collections of short stories, My Christina and Other Stories and The Selected Stories of Mercè Rodoreda.

Books I own by Mercè Rodoreda: Death in Spring, The Selected Stories of Mercè Rodoreda.

Mar 28, 2015, 3:27pm

Darryl, I like the idea of doing the subtopics not just for Catalonia, but for the other "regions" in the Peninsula as well, as each has its distinct and very particular culture. This is obvious in Spain, and even in Portugal where there is very much a distinct culture in the north (where Porto is) as there is in the South (where Lisbon is). Culturally, one can forget about the political and administrative divisions in both countries, because simplistic as it may sound, there are just a couple of general divisions really, the south of the peninsula (that means Andalucia in Spain, and Alentejo and Algarve in Portugal) and the north (all others above these regions). This is largely because of their history (south and center of the peninsula were Moorish for several centuries) and geography. The influences of these factors are very much still in evidence in many aspects of people's lives. In literature, the impacts of religion (Roman Catholicism) and land ownership that divided the northern and southern regions (the south was poor, dry, peasant country with large landholdings held by very few) are evident in the literature that emerged from the respective regions. In short, I think it is worthwhile to go ahead with your idea. I can't promise to have the time either, but I promise to contribute as much as possible (not in sports, though!) whenever I can. If it's any help at all, you may even assign me a sub-topic to take care of. I have travelled to most parts of the peninsula and know a little bit about it and the local culture.

Now on books :-). For the challenge, I'll probably read the 2nd book of Juan Goytisolo's Álvaro Mendiola trilogy, Count Julian. I've read Marks of Identity, the first book, and liked it very much. I've not decided yet on other titles, but would like to pay tribute to Herberto Helder, considered the greatest Portuguese poet in the second half of the 20th century (and a notorious recluse) who died just the other day -- by reading a book by him. Obabakoak by Bernardo Atxaga will be my choice for short stories. I started the collection some time ago but laid the book aside, so now's the time to pick it up again. Knowledge of Hell by António Lobo Antunes is another option for fiction. Still have to decide on a female author.

Mar 28, 2015, 3:53pm

Thanks for putting this together, Darryl! I have not read much from this region, but it looks like there are lots of intriguing writers. I will start with Saramago's Blindness, which I have been meaning to read.

Edited: Mar 28, 2015, 5:53pm

I don't think you can completely understand Spanish culture until you read a little about bullfighting which I know isn't everyone's cup of tea. I've read three books recently which were set in the world of bullfights and even though I'm very much not an aficionado, if you read Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon you can begin to appreciate the grace and courage of a great matador.

>25 rebeccanyc: I also came to the Montalban novels because of Camieri's Montalbano novels. The first one I read was The Buenos Aires Quintet and now I'm also trying to read them in order.

Mar 28, 2015, 5:38pm

Thank you, Darryl, for this incredible introduction to this quarter's reading. I've only read Saramago, where I've only dipped a toe into his wonderful literature.

From your short bio I was intrigued enough to order Checkmate in Amber and hope to fit it into April's reading so that I can choose others as the quarter goes along.

Mar 29, 2015, 2:56pm

I noticed on your other thread that you are reading Roads to Santiago. This is a title that I read some years ago and loved it. I know that Cees Nooteboom is well thought of in Europe as an author. At the time I thought of him as only a travel writer because I have only read that one book of his. I need to read some others. I find the whole concept of a pilgrimage to Santiago Di Compastela fascinating and have read many magazine articles about it. It is on my bucket list of things to do someday - walk the pilgrim way to that city.

I also read Cathedral by the Sea by the Catalan author Ildefonso Falcones some years ago as well. That is historical fiction about the building of Santa Maria del Mar and it is a wonderful book. Santa Maria del Mar is a building that you featured on your other thread. The Cathedral by the Sea is much like Pillars of the Earth in that it is about the building of a great medieval cathedral. It had the misfortune to be translated and published in English about the same time as Pillars. I think it just got over-shadowed by Pillars because Opriah made Pillars a pick for her book club. Cathedral just got washed under by that tidal wave. There was so much history of Barcelona in that book that I found fascinating. Things like the fact that it was a free city and not under the rule of any monarch until much later in the history of the Spanish Empire makes it unique. This inspired me to read another book of essays about Barcelona that you have also read. This book is part of the National Geographic Directions series. Barcelona: The Great Enchantress by Robert Hughes. I like that National Geographic series and have been trying to read one book a year from it. If I can't travel overseas, I can at least read about it from some very good authors.

Last summer I read an highly recommend Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by Maria Rosa Menocal. It made my personal Best Reads of the Year for 2014 list. There was a wonderful BBC radio series done about the Muslims in Spain titled "Cross and the Crescent'' that I recommend to school teachers for use in the classroom that inspired me to find out more about Medieval Spain.

I have all four of the Manuel Vázquez Montalbán mysteries, but I haven't read them yet. I learned about the Pepe Carvalho mysteries them from a series on international mysteries that was done by the BBC a couple of years ago.

If I get time I will try to find the links for these two BBC Radio productions and post them here.

Mar 29, 2015, 3:56pm

>32 benitastrnad: The BBC radio series considering international mystery/ crime is Mark Lawson's Foreign Bodies - the Spanish show is no longer available to listen to, (although later episodes - from series 3 - are accessible)

From Mark Lawson's article in the Guardian
In the work of Spain's foremost author in the form – Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1939-2003) – the conflict that underlies the writing is the Spanish civil war, or, at least, the dictatorship of General Franco that followed and the subsequent transition to a constitutional monarchy, with King Juan Carlos I as a rare example of a monarch as a post-revolutionary figure. Montalbán (after whom Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano is named in homage) employs his Barcelona private eye, Pepe Carvalho, to interrogate this complex political situation. Montalbán's work is an exemplar of how crime novels can be used to analyse shifts in society: An Olympic Death, published just after the 1992 Barcelona games, makes fascinating reading in a London also struggling with the cost and legacy of hosting the event.

Mar 29, 2015, 4:40pm

>32 benitastrnad: There are actually 26 Pepe Carvalho mysteries, per this series page (http://www.librarything.com/series/Pepe+Carvalho) but as far as I know only eight of them have been translated into English (even though its title is listed in Spanish, Los Mares del Sur is available in English as Southern Seas.

Mar 29, 2015, 5:19pm

>28 deebee1: Thanks for that excellent insight into Spain and Portugal, deebee! I want to learn more about the history of Spain outside of Catalonia, so I've started reading Cees Nooteboom's book Roads to Santiago: Detours & Riddles in the Lands and History of Spain, and I'll at least look at the other books I own about Spain.

Thanks for your offer to help out with this group read! Don't feel committed to doing anything, as I know that you're busy, but any information about Portugal and its writers, culture, etc. would be greatly appreciated. I'm currently exploring lesser known (in the English speaking world) 20th and 21st authors, especially women writers, who have, ideally, two or more books that have been translated into English and are readily available. I've found a small handful of Spanish women writers, but not Portuguese ones yet. If you could do that, and let us know about up and coming Portuguese writers of either gender who are worth knowing about, even if their works haven't been translated into English yet, that would be very helpful. I'm also in the process of exploring online resources for Spanish writers, including the Hispabooks Publishing page, which is an independent publisher that is putting out books by acclaimed young Spanish authors in English translation, and lletrA, a resource for Catalan authors, past and present.

I'll probably join you for Knowledge of Hell and definitely for Obabakoak, as I own both books. I'll be curious to get your take on Count Julian, as I own but haven't read yet anything by Juan Goytisolo.

>29 banjo123: You're welcome, Rhonda. I was blown away by Blindness, which was the first book I read by Saramago, not long after he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I plan to read at least two or three of his books (and the same number by António Lobo Antunes) this coming quarter.

>30 avatiakh: Thanks for mentioning Death in the Afternoon, Kerry. I have a collection of Hemingway's books, so I'll have to see if that one is included in it. I do own the book On Bullfighting by A.L. Kennedy, which is less than 200 pages in length, so I think I'll add that to my ever growing books to read this quarter. I also read a superb book about the legendary bullfighter Manolete many years ago which was quite memorable, but I'm sure that I no longer own it, and I'll have to see if I can find the title of it.

>31 whymaggiemay: You're welcome, Maggie. José Saramago is one of my top five all time favorite writers, so I would highly recommend him to everyone. I'm glad that the author spotlight of Matilde Asensi encouraged you to buy Checkmate in Amber. I'll post more author bios in the next few weeks, continuing with António Lobo Antunes tomorrow.

Edited: Dec 8, 2015, 5:02am

Back to >30 avatiakh: Since you've traveled to Spain extensively, Kerry, feel free to post information, photos, recommendations, etc. here, and to tackle a subtopic, but only if you would like to, and if you have the time to do so.

>32 benitastrnad: Thanks for your enthusiastic recommendation of Roads to Santiago, Benita. I'll probably read Cathedral By the Sea, as I walked past (but didn't enter) Santa Maria del Mar, the 14th century church located in Barcelona's El Born neighborhood, on my way to the Museu Picasso last year; here's a photo I took of it:

As its name implies (mar = sea in English) it is close to the Mediterranean Sea.

>33 charl08: Thanks for information, Charlotte; I'll check out that Guardian article later today or tomorrow.

>34 rebeccanyc: Thanks, Rebecca.

Edited: Mar 30, 2015, 8:01am

Darryl, do you plan to open new threads for the sub-topics or do you prefer everything to be in one place (this thread)? There are advantages and disadvantages to each, of course, but it's your call :-). Below is a short write-up which offers some insights on Iberian poetry and languages. I'm not sure why Basque and Galego are not included here, though I would hazard that the latter may also have been included under Portuguese. Old (Medieval) Portuguese is Galego-Portugues spoken in what is now Galicia (Spain) and Portugal.


Almost none of Portuguese women writers have been translated into English so far. Lídia Jorge, a multi-awarded novelist, is the most internationally known today. Even at this stature, she has not been widely translated. Among her works (which also include children's books, essays and a play), only two are available in English (The Painter of Birds, The Murmuring Coast) of which only one seems easily accessible. I've not read The Murmuring Coast but have seen the movie adaptation. It is a beautiful and haunting story. Here's a peek


Which brings me to a theme that appears often, and in some cases, dominates the writing of contemporary authors - the Portuguese colonial wars. The wars were waged in 3 different countries at once (Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea) from 1961 to the Portuguese revolution in 1974. The theme dominates the novels of Antonio Lobo Antunes, for example, in terms of what it did to the lives of soldiers who fought the wars.

Going back to poetry and women, I'd like to share a very beautiful piece by Florbela Espanca who lived between 1894-1930. She lived a short, tumultous life and died by barbiturate overdose. Her wikipedia page is, however, only in Portuguese http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florbela_Espanca.


Would like to share more but don't have much time now as I'm traveling tomorrow and will be away for the next 3 weeks. When I can squeeze it in, and have good internet (doubtful, though, as it is in Central Asia!), I'll try to say more about the Portuguese part of the peninsula.

Mar 30, 2015, 9:54am

>37 deebee1: Thanks for this great information and ideas, deebee! I'd lean towards keeping all of the information about this theme in one thread, although I'd like to get input from others. As you said, I can see pros and cons to both approaches.

Lídia Jorge's novel The Painter of Birds seems to be readily available in the US and UK, but apparently the English translation of The Murmuring Coast is as rare as hen's teeth, as Amazon US has two copies on sale, both for $999.11 (oddly enough, Amazon UK is also selling it, for £999.11). I see that my local alma mater, Emory University, has a copy of the English language version of it, but it's at the Oxford College campus library 45 minutes outside of the city, so I seriously doubt that I'll read it. The film clip of it is very interesting, though.

I did find one excellent online resource, Portuguese Literature In English, but Lídia Jorge is not included in the list of authors.


Speaking of António Lobo Antunes and his experience in the Portuguese colonial wars, I did find an excellent article about him that appeared in The New Yorker in 2009, titled Doctor and Patient:


Florbela Espanca does have a Wikipedia page in English:


Unfortunately none of her poetry seems to be translated into English. However, I found this translated web page which contains information about her, and excerpts from her work:


Thanks again for the information you provided us, deebee. Have a safe and pleasant trip to Asia!

Mar 30, 2015, 1:27pm

Thanks, Darryl. For those who'd like to explore Portuguese literature further than Saramago or Lobo Antunes, Carcanet Press, an independent UK publishing company, has the most extensive range of works translated into English. The list of these books appear under the heading "Aspects of Portugal." They can be purchased online. I have a few of these which I picked up from random book fairs in Lisbon, but have not read them yet.


Mar 30, 2015, 2:26pm

What about works about Portugal? I read Night Train to Lisbon by the German, or maybe Swiss, author Pascal Mercier and found it to be very thought provoking. I believe it is translated from the German. It was a novel that stayed with me for a long time after reading it. I also found that Small Death in Lisbon and Company of Strangers were very much about what happened during the dictatorship of Salazar and its effect on the population of Portugal. The Wilson books are not translated as I believe he is English, but nonetheless they are very much about the history of Portugal done in a spy/thriller kind of way.

Mar 30, 2015, 4:45pm

A couple of other books by non-Portuguese authors that are also worth looking into are Antonio Tabucchi's Pereira Declares and Erich Maria Remarque's The Night in Lisbon.

Mar 30, 2015, 9:24pm

I'm going to do a little reading in this area, though the 1st book I chose was Luis Vaz de Camoes' The Lusiads. I know very little about it, so it should be quiet a discovery about discovery.

Mar 31, 2015, 8:53am

>39 deebee1: Thanks for posting the Carcanet Press link here, deebee.

>40 benitastrnad: Works about Portugal and the rest of the Iberian peninsula written by non-Iberian authors definitely count, Benita. Thanks for mentioning Night Train to Lisbon, as I own it but haven't read it yet.

>41 deebee1: Ah, I had forgotten that Pereira Declares is set in Portugal. I loved that book, and would highly recommend it. I hadn't heard about The Night in Lisbon, but I would be interested in it, since I enjoyed reading All Quiet on the Western Front last year.

>42 SoschaF: Welcome, SoschaF! I'm glad that you'll be joining us, and I look forward to your comments about The Lusiads.

Mar 31, 2015, 9:32am

>42 SoschaF:
I read the Penguin Classics (Atkinson) translation of The Lusiads a few years ago and found it deadly dull. It's in prose and more-or-less in the style of the minutes of a committee meeting. Very efficient if you want a crib for the original, but not much fun to read for pleasure. I'm sure there's a livelier version somewhere.

Apr 1, 2015, 10:15am

I've converted message >9 kidzdoc: above to a list of books by contemporary and recently deceased Iberian women authors that are widely available in English translation. I doubt that it's a complete list, as I found and purchased one book earlier this morning, Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal, which is supposedly a classic novella of Catalan literature that was recently released in English translation by Peirene Press. The Kindle version of it is currently available for $6.59 in the US and £2.99 in the UK. As I find more books and get more recommendations from all of you I'll add them to that list.

Apr 1, 2015, 10:17am

Stone in a Landslide is very good.

Edited: Apr 1, 2015, 11:46am

Quite by accident (I wasn't thinking of the theme read at all when I chose it from my TBR shelf) I just finished a novel that fits this category: Disfraces terribles by Elia Barceló. It doesn't seem to be available in English, but there is a German and I think also a Dutch translation. I enjoyed it a great deal and managed to finish it in a single weekend.

Barceló was born in Spain and writes in Spanish, but for some years she has been living and working in Innsbruck (Austria) where she is a literature professor.

I'm finding this a rather difficult book to review. I will start with a note that I picked it up because of the opening pages, which I immediately suspected were a homage to the beginning of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca ("Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."). And Du Maurier's novel is, I think, ultimately a helpful point of comparison. The novel does not (fortunately) attempt to imitate Rebecca, but the way it builds its narrative effect is similar: through the gradual revealing of secrets from the past, the enormous power of one person to affect lives in the present even from the grave, the sense of inevitability of events driven by nearly irresistable passions.

In brief (although I don't want to give away too much of the plot): The scholar Ariel Lenormand travels to Paris to research the biography of Raúl de la Torre, a by all accounts brilliant writer who published two novels in the 1970s which made him famous overnight; a decade later, after the mysterious death of his second wife in an automobile accident, he fell madly in love with a young man and publicly declared his homosexuality, but this affair was cut short by the young man’s death from AIDS and Raúl committed suicide shortly thereafter. So much is clear. These basic facts are clear. But Ariel is confronted by dark spaces in Raúl’s biography, which he hopes to resolve with the help of the two people who knew Raúl best: his first wife Amelia and his publisher André. Amelia turns out to be cagey and resistant to the intrusion into her past, André is haunted in his own way by Raúl’s memory, and Ari soon begins making discoveries which suggest that Raúl may have had secrets even from those closest to him.

In other words, this is a literary thriller of the sort that has become popular in recent years, and the underlying premise is essentially the same as, for example, A.S. Byatt's Possession. In fact, it reminded me quite a bit of Possession--again, not in a derivative sense, but rather because it has the same sense of the investigation taking on a life of its own and capturing all those involved within its spell, and of completely unexpection passions being unleashed.

Unlike Possession, or Carlos Ruiz Zafón's Shadow of the Wind (the other comparison that springs to mind here), which stay in the narrative “present” as the protagonist unravels the past, so that the reader’s knowledge is limited to what the protagonist knows, Disfraces terribles jumps back and forth between past and present, between Ari’s investigations and Amelia’s memories. At first I doubted the effectiveness of this narrative choice, but in the course of the novel the reasons for the choice became clear: we, the readers, have all the pieces of the puzzle which we can gradually assemble, but the characters do not; to the end, each of them only has a partial view of events: what really happened on the day Raúl’s second wife died, why he married her in the first place when it was clear he never loved her, and why he never wrote more than two novels. Raúl’s shadow lies heavy over all the characters, and their memories are often painful. As we gradually come to understand the scars they bear and the misunderstandings that have shaped their lives, we also understand their reasons for choosing to remain silent about what they know.

Although the suspense of the story depends on the plot (or rather, our process of piecing it together), it is the characters and the psychological drama that ultimately make the novel successful. It’s not perfect--a few of the discoveries are a bit too coincidental to be plausible--but nonetheless an effective portrayal of a group of people whose lives have all been permanently marked by one man (he left his brand on them, like horses, to mark his ownership, one of the characters muses at one point). And an illustration of how we all create our own stories of the past, stories that are incomplete and distorted by our wishes and fears, and what happens when these stories are called into question.

Edited: Apr 1, 2015, 4:36pm

Enjoying the list, and reviews very much. I picked up Books Burn Badly from my TBR pile . It's in translation from the Galician by Jonathan Dunne. I'm enjoying it, but its proving hard work as there are disparate strands across time, often without any clear indication of the connection between them.

ETA Another 100 pages on, and its all coming together nicely :-)

Apr 2, 2015, 2:58pm

Darryl--Wow! Great job on setting up this thread. This is a treasure trove of information and reading recommendations. What a great resource. Your efforts are much appreciated.

Of books I've recently read from the Iberian peninsula, I can highly recommend Montano's Malady by Enrique Vila-Matas and Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas. I also recently read The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazan, which I enjoyed, but more as an academic/historic read rather than as a novel to be devoured, which Is why it would not be my recommendation if someone only wants to read one or two books from Spain.

From Portugal, I discovered Eca de Queiros a few years ago, and he is now one of my favorite 19th century novelists. I highly recommend The Crime of Father Amaro and The Maias.

On my shelf, from which I hope to read at least 3 or 4 over the next quarter are:


Javier Marias Fever and Spear
Tomorrow In The Battle Think On Me
Jaume Cabre Confessions
Merce Rodoreda The Time of the Doves
Julio Llamazares The Yellow Rain
Albert Sanchez Pinol Pandora in the Congo
Pio Baroja The Restlessness of Shanti Andia and Other Stories
Abel Sanchez and Other Stories
Bartolome de las Casas A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies
Benito Perez Galdos Misericordia
That Bringas Woman
Carmen Laforet Nada
Eduardo Mendoza A Light Comedy


Antonio Lobo Antunes Fado Alexandrino
de Queiros Tragedy of the Street of Flowers
Saramago History of the Siege of Lisbon
Baltasar and Blimunda
All The Names
The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis
The Gospel According to Jesus Christ

I'm wondering whether to count Jose-Eduardo Agualusa as Portuguese? I have his My Father's Wives on the shelf.

I may also try to read Homage to Catalonia by Orwell.

Also, though not strictly Iberian Tariq Ali's Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree about Medieval Spain, the Moors and the Christians also appeals.

Apr 2, 2015, 6:28pm

>46 anisoara: I'm glad that you liked Stone in a Landslide, Anne. I'll probably read it in June.

>47 spiphany: Great review of Disfraces terribles, Brenda. You're right, it doesn't seem to be available in English translation. I've read and reviewed one of Elia Barceló's novels, The Goldsmith's Secret, which I thought was pretty good.

>48 charl08: I look forward to your comments about Books Burn Badly, Charlotte.

>49 arubabookwoman: Thanks, Deborah! I agree with your recommendation of Soldiers of Salamis. I started reading Nada today (which I'm enjoying so far), and I'll almost certainly read The Time of the Doves, The Yellow Rain, Baltasar and Blimunda, and The History of the Siege of Lisbon.

I'd say that José Eduardo Agualusa counts as a Portuguese author, since he lives for a good portion of the year in Lisbon, although he was born in Angola. That would give me the opportunity to read The Book of Chameleons, which has been high on my TBR pile for awhile.

However, I'd suggest that Mia Couto, who is also of Portuguese descent and was born in Mozambique, another former Portuguese colony in Africa, wouldn't qualify based on residence (he works as an environmental biologist in the Mozambican capital of Maputo. (I'm open to discussion about this, and I certainly won't quibble with anyone who chooses to read a book by him.) He would qualify if any of his books are set in the Iberian peninsula, as would those written by any non-Iberians (e.g., Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell or The South by Colm Tóibín).

Edited: Apr 2, 2015, 11:11pm

I am very interested in that novel by Tariq Ali. I read Ornament of the World last summer and loved it and want to read more about that place and time.

Apr 3, 2015, 7:40am

>50 kidzdoc: For what it's worth, I felt The Book of Chameleons seemed more "European" than "African" in that most of the characters were of European descent. On the other hand, I found Sleepwalking Land by Mia Couto to be steeped in African mythology.

Apr 3, 2015, 4:06pm

>52 rebeccanyc: Thanks, Rebecca. I'll probably hold off on reading The Book of Chameleons for this quarter, then.

Apr 5, 2015, 11:04am

The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes by Anonymous

I found this classic work of Spanish literature mildly entertaining, definitely satiric, and undoubtedly much more shocking when it was written (hence, the anonymous authorship) than it is today. Narrated by Lazaro himself, it tells the tale of his work as a servant for various, mostly harsh and, indeed, abusive, masters, starting with a blind man when he was but a boy, and progressing through working for a penniless squire who nonetheless acts as if he has money but doesn't deign to work, various, largely corrupt, representatives of the church, and a constable, eventually achieving a position of his own in government. This allows the anonymous author much opportunity for satire, as well as the opportunity to show the hardships prevalent in 16th century Spain. I found the chapter in which Lazaro works for a seller of indulgences especially funny, but overall I didn't enjoy this book as much as the introduction by Juan Goytisolo led me to believe I would. As an added note, this is said to be the first picaresque novel.

Apr 5, 2015, 12:59pm

Nada by Carmen Laforet, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman

This semi-autobiographical bildungsroman, written in 1943 when the author was 22 years of age, is widely considered to be one of the best novels of the post-Spanish Civil War period. It was largely unknown in the English speaking world until Edith Grossman's translation of it was published in 2007. It won the inaugural Premio Nadal, one of the oldest and most prestigious Spanish literary prizes, in 1944, and it continues to be widely read more than 70 years after its initial publication.

The novel opens in Barcelona in 1939, shortly after the Civil War has ended, as Andrea, an 18 year old orphan from the country who has won a scholarship and a small stipend to the Universtat de Barcelona, arrives in the city. She intends to stay with her grandmother on Carrer d'Aribau in the city's well to do L'Eixample neighborhood, in a home that she remembers fondly from her stay there as a young child.

The Civil War has been devastating to the residents of Barcelona, including Andrea's grandmother and her family. What was once an opulent and spacious apartment is now one half of its original size, decaying and filthy, and filled with decrepit relics from her grandparents' former wealth. Andrea provides a powerful description of the main bathroom on the night of her arrival, as she prepares to take a shower:

That bathroom seemed like a witches' house. The stained walls had traces of hook-shaped hands, of screams of despair. Everywhere the scaling walls opened their toothless mouths, oozing dampness. Over the mirror, because it didn't fit anywhere else, they'd hung a macabre still life of pale bream and onions against a black background. Madness smiled from the bent faucets.

The sense of claustrophobia and inhospitality is intensified by Andrea's extended family, and their struggles with poverty and hunger. Her grandmother, once a proud and virile matriarch, is now a senile and frail old woman, who doesn't recognize Andrea at first, and she confuses her with Gloria, her beguiling but maddening daughter in law. Gloria is tormented by her abusive and domineering husband Juan, his musically talented but shady and mentally unstable brother Román, and their suffocatingly devout and controlling sister Angustias. The family members routinely engage in bitter and sometimes violent arguments, similar to the characters in Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialist play No Exit, and Andrea is frequently dragged into the middle of these heated battles.

Andrea finds respite from this house of horrors in her studies, and especially in the company of her classmate and best friend Ena, a beautiful girl from a merchant family whose wealth and social standing have not been adversely affected by the war. Their relationship is occasionally fractious, due to Andrea's diffidence and to Ena's desire to know more about her friend's family and particularly her uncle Román, who Ena is strangely attracted to.

As the novel proceeds, Andrea's sense of independence grows, while at the same time she recognizes that she needs intimacy and friendship as an essential balance to the chaos and increasingly disturbing behavior of her family and her best friend. However, she is caught in the middle of a contracting whirlwind surrounded by these characters, one that she has little control over and that threatens her own sanity.

Nada is a fascinating and superbly written novel about adolescence, despair and escape, set in a city under siege that is attempting to regain its footing and former glory after a crippling war. This insightful debut novel reminded me of Carson McCullers's first book The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, and Laforet's effort is nearly as good as that masterpiece.

Apr 5, 2015, 2:51pm

Coming to this a bit late. Great job by kidzdoc as I would expect. The one major name I see missing from the 20th century would be Miguel Delibes author of The hedge and Five hours with Mario. My favorite though would be his The stuff of heroes which is set during the Spanish Civil War. Delibes was nominated at least once for the Nobel and is a very important Spanish writer.

The Mexican writer Homero Aridjis wrote his The lord of the last days--an apocalyptic novel set in Spain and centered around the year 1000 and the wars and conflicts between the adherents of Mohammed and the adherents of Christ.

Edited: Jul 2, 2019, 6:41pm

I was directed to this thread by avatiakh since I am on a Portuguese literature-kick at the moment. Great thread with some extremely helpful information. Thank you especially to >38 kidzdoc: and >39 deebee1: for those lists - some nice additions to my wishlist there!

If I may offer a tip for those of you reading in English, if you have a choice of editions for the book you want to read and one of the choices is translated by Margaret Jull Costa, go for her translation - she is a wonder!

My own thread in the group is very much dormant, unfortunately, but I'll be following this thread eagerly to see what everyone comes up with. I'm currently working on The Book of Disquiet, which is very interesting but slow-going and have recently started The Inquisitors' Manual, but I'll have to say that I'm a huge fan of Eça de Queirós' and highly recommend any of his books to those of you who enjoy 19th century literature.

Also, if there are any short story readers in the group, I've recently realized that Eugenio Lisboa has edited a few collections of short stories by Portuguese authors, some of which have not been translated into English before.

Again, thanks to everyone on the thread for great suggestions!!

Apr 6, 2015, 1:57pm

I finished Books Burn Badly a couple of days ago as part of the Iberian challenge. The author was new to me, and I picked this book up several years ago, got about thirty pages in and abandoned it for something else. I'm really glad that I picked it up again though, because it is a fascinating book.

I think I can guess (I can't remember) why I put it down in the first place. This is a weighty book, and it makes no concessions to ignorance of Spanish history or geography. I ended up googling at several points. It also plays fast and loose with chapter labels, reaches across time and omits character names. Don't expect to know who is being thrown in the river until a couple of pages into the chapter. Don't expect to know why (or how it links to the actions of the other characters) until much later on.

This complicated structure may be frustrating but it also enables the gradual build up of a picture of the impact of the overthrow of the (democratically elected) Republican government, and the years of dictatorship on one town. The local celebrity boxer who faces down the fascists, the municipal gardener forced to dispose of book ashes after the fires, the former republican who returns twenty years later only to find Franco's government aren't as willing to forgive as they claimed. The nun doing deals on the side for the sake of the orphans in her care. The Judge trying to justify his increasingly nonsensical decisions, whilst searching for a rare book that may (or may not) have survived the fascists' book burning. The young man who was born nine months after the coup, and promptly given away to the nuns. And many more. Can't recommend it highly enough, and I'm keen to read more of his work - much of which is translated into English from the Galician e.g. The Carpenter's Pencil and All is Silence.

Edited: Apr 7, 2015, 7:34pm

Darryl, this is a wonderful thread. Just reading through it, I feel like I'm getting a better sense of the possibilities for this challenge. I have recently purchased and plan to read The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón and Baltasar and Blimunda by José Saramago.

Based on my reading here, I have added Nada and The Time of the Doves to my wish list, as well as something by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, probably Off Side. I kind of want to get a copy of The History of the Siege of Lisbon, too, but I know I won't get to so many in this quarter!

And I just got word that The Queen of the South by Arturo Pérez-Reverte is waiting for me at the library. Spanish, I think?

Apr 8, 2015, 11:32am

Tristana by Benito Pérez Galdós

This is a strange and depressing book, relieved by the portrait of a budding feminist young woman. Tristana is an orphaned 19-year-old, entrusted to and taken in by an old family friend who tried to help her parents when they fell on hard times. But this family friend, Don Lope Garrido, is an unrepentant Don Juan: he "was a skilled strategist in the war of love and prided himself on having stormed more bastions of virtue and captured more strongholds of chastity than he had hairs on his head." Soon, of course, he adds Tristana to his "very long list of victories over innocence."

Needless to say, Tristana is depressed by her life with Don Lope, especially because most of the day she helps the servant, Saturna, and is confined to the house. But she is able to go out with Saturna when she goes shopping or visits her son, who she had to place in an institution when her husband died and she had to go to work, and in the course of one of these excursions she meets a young artist, Horacio. Of course, they fall in love, and talk talk talk about their love, his art, and his unhappy childhood. But Tristana is enlivened not only by love but also by her innate imagination and ability to think, as we would now say, outside the box. She develops a love for and skill at painting and drawing, once they progress to Horacio's studio; reads literature; and declares she never wants to marry but wants to have her own work which will support her. And this in 19th century Spain! She turns out to be enormously talented at languages, and eventually music, too.

But things do not go well. Don Lope, of course, has his suspicions. Horacio has to take his elderly aunt to a house he owns near the Mediterranean, and the lovers correspond daily. I found this section, with their endless epistolary expressions of love, tedious. And then, Tristana has a very serious health crisis, which in turn provokes Don Lope to discover he truly cares about her "as a daughter" and to realize that the relationship with Horatio will come to naught because of both changes in Tristana and Horacio's reaction to the aftermath of her health problem. The changes in Tristana because of this crisis and its aftermath are not entirely hard to believe, but they also seem to be very dependent on a a time and a place. I found the conclusion of the novel depressing, but the last lines of it are brilliant.

All in all, I'm glad I read this book. Parts of it were, as I said, tedious, and overall I found it hard to read, but it was a fascinating portrait of two people, Tristana and Don Lope. The introduction to my NYRB edition notes that Pérez Galdós wrote other books with the names of women as titles and women as protagonists.

Apr 12, 2015, 7:34am

Author Spotlight: António Lobo Antunes (Portugal, 1942-)

António Lobo Antunes is widely considered to be the best living novelist in Portugal after the death of Nobel Prize laureate José Saramago. Many of his novels have been translated into English, but he remains largely unknown and underappreciated outside of his own country. He was born in Lisbon, decided that he would become a writer at the age of seven, but attended medical school at the University of Lisbon at the behest of his father, a respected neurologist. Antunes specialized in psychiatry, and after his graduation he served in Angola during his country's war with its former African colonies Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau, which lasted from 1961-1974. His experiences in Angola during the war and in the years that followed, when Portugal underwent a transformation from the authoritarian dictatorship of the Estado Novo under António de Oliveira Salazar and his successor Marcelo Caetano to a democratic state after the Carnation Revolution in 1974, serve as the primary inspirations of his novels.

In Knowledge of Hell (1980), a physician named António Lobo Antunes reflects on his medical career in the jungles of Angola and an insane asylum in Portugal, his failed marriage, and his estranged relationship with his daughter. Fado Alexandrino (1983) is a complex individual and societal psychological portrait set in Lisbon as five former soldiers reunite on the 10th anniversary of their troop's return from Mozambique, and reflect on the disillusionment they experienced during the war and during the coup that overturned Portugal's right wing government. In Act of the Damned (1985), a formerly wealthy Portuguese family is forced to flee the country in the face of accusations against it, and as the patriarch lies dying the "depraved and the retarded" heirs turn on each other to lay claim to the remains of his former estate.

My favorite book by Antunes so far is his recent collection The Fat Man & Infinity: And Other Writings (2009), which consists of humorous and insightful personal chronicles that he wrote for newspapers and magazines in Portugal, along with short but evocative fictionalized accounts of working class people in Lisbon, which I found to be touching and, at times, almost unbearably sad.

Antunes continues to write and to work in a clinic in his native Lisbon.

Books I've read by Antunes: The Land at the End of the World; The Fat Man & Infinity: And Other Writings

Books I own and plan to read: Knowledge of Hell; Fado Alexandrino; Act of the Damned; The Inquisitors' Manual; An Explanation of the Birds

Apr 12, 2015, 12:04pm

An Olympic Death by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán

Darker than other Pepe Carvalho mysteries I've read, this one portrays Barcelona as it was being torn down and built up for the Olympic Games. The characters Carvalho encounters mirror the changes being wrought in Barcelona itself: for example, former Communists who are now managing and profiting from the multimillions being thrown around in preparation for the games. The mystery itself is not so much a murder mystery a mystery of character and hidden and disguised agendas and actions. Thankfully, it did not have the violence in many of the previous works I've read in this series; disappointingly, not all have been translated into English, so the death of one regular character came as surprise, as well as the changed relationship with another.

Apr 12, 2015, 3:49pm

^ I looked for something by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán during my recent Powell's excursion and they had nothing. I was disappointed. I may have to use mail order.

Edited: Apr 16, 2015, 1:11pm

I just read The Goldsmith's Secret for this challenge.

This beautiful, but short novel opens with a man reflecting on his failure to get over his one true love. A goldsmith, hence the title, he has a job in New York, and is successful. Travelling in Spain, on a whim, he steps off at his former home town. He left, broken-hearted, at the end of a love affair with an older woman. But the town is not as he remembered it: he has stepped back into the past, that of the 1950s, many years before he was born. Evocative without whitewashing living in a small catholic town under Franco, this was a lovely read.

Apr 16, 2015, 1:54pm

Outlaws by Javier Cercas, translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean

A Spanish journalist decides to write a biography about Antonio Gamallo, better known by his nickname of Zarco, a boy from a broken home in a poverty stricken neighborhood who led a gang of teenage bandits in the Catalonian city of Girona in the years immediately following Franco's death in 1975, until he was finally caught and imprisoned after a failed bank robbery. He spent the remainder of his adult life in prison, where he continually tormented his guards and the Spanish legal system as he publicly denounced his lengthy prison sentence in interviews and the two books he wrote. In doing so his case because a cause célèbre throughout Spain, as he brought to light the appalling conditions of Spanish prisons and the harsh sentences that were meted out to poorer Spaniards who could not afford the best legal representatives. Zarco developed a heroin addiction during his wild teenage years, which continued in prison, and it led to his death from AIDS in the early 2000s.

The unnamed journalist decides to interview those who knew Gamallo best, in an effort to distinguish between Antonio, the flawed man, and Zarco, the legendary persona adored by many. His primary source of information is Ignacio Cañas, a well established criminal defense lawyer in Girona. Unbeknownst to most people, Cañas was a member of Zarco's gang in the 1970s, as he was led into it, and out of his comfortable middle class existence, by Zarco and his alluring female companion Tere, but he managed to escape from the police chase that led to Zarco's capture. Cañas became Zarco's defense lawyer more than 20 years after his arrest, on the request of Tere, and the two men resumed their strong yet distant and troubled friendship, as Cañas attempts to gain Zarco's release from prison, and reestablishes his relationship with Tere after his divorce.

Many unanswered questions and mysteries about what happened on the day of Zarco's capture and the events that led up to it have persisted in each of the three main characters' minds for two decades. Each of them holds onto their secrets tightly, and what is divulged to the other two, and ultimately to the journalist, is often dubious and unreliable. In chapters that consist of transcribed interviews of Cañas and others who knew him well, the stories of Zarco, Tere and Cañas. who was known as Gafitas during the time he spent in Zarco's gang, unfold like a matryoshka doll, yet many unanswered questions and the essential truths about Gamallo/Zarco remain elusively out of reach to each of them, and to the journalist.

Similar to Javier Cercas's other novels, Outlaws is based on a real person, in this case Juan José Moreno Cuenca (1961-2003), who led a teenage gang in Barcelona until his capture in the late 1970s. Similar to Zarco, "El Vaquilla", who embodied a generation of Spanish youth lost to heroin in the 1970s and 1980s, wrote two books about his life and imprisonment, Yo, El Vaquilla (I, El Vaquilla) and Hasta la Libertad (Until Freedom) and his life was the basis of the movie Perros Callejeros (Stray Dogs). Numerous songs were written in honor of him after his death as well.

Outlaws is an outstanding page turner of a novel, filled with twists and unexpected revelations around sudden turns in the narrative. Although Zarco is the focus of the book, the lives of Gafitas and Tere are just as captivating, and the mysterious and uncertain relationships between the three held my interest from the first page to the last. In keeping with my other most favorite novels I could easily start reading it again now, and I certainly will do so in the near future.

Edited: Apr 16, 2015, 2:29pm

Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal

This novella is set in a small Catalonian town in the early 20th century, narrated by a young woman in a farm town who is sent to live with her childless maternal aunt and her husband as a 13 year old girl. She works hard for them, marries the love of her life, and lives contentedly with her husband, children and her aunt and uncle until tragedy befalls them during the Spanish Civil War.

I found Stone in a Landslide to be an evocative description of life in a small Spanish town, which was well written and mildly interesting but ultimately forgettable.

Edited: Apr 17, 2015, 7:28am

Iberian Author Profile: Almudena Grandes (Spain, 1960-)

Almudena Grandes is one of the best selling and most widely respected contemporary Spanish writers. Born in Madrid in 1960, she read geography and history at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and after graduation she worked primarily as a journalist. Her first novel, Las edades de Lulú (The Ages of Lulu), was published in Spain in 1989, which received wide acclaim after its release. A modern erotic novel about a young Frenchwoman who is seduced by the butcher whose shop she works in during one hot summer, it won the La sonrisa vertical literary award, was translated into multiple languages, and was the basis of a movie of the same name directed by Bigas Luna.

Her second novel Te llamaré Viernes (I'll Call You Friday) received little attention, but her third book, Malena es un nombre de tango (Malena), which concerns a young woman from Madrid who rebels against her wealthy family and her beautiful older sister, was also a critical and commerical success, and a movie was based on it as well.

Grandes's most accomplished and ambitious work is El corazón helado (The Frozen Heart), an epic novel in which two families reflect on their combined histories, and in doing so the history of their country, from the Spanish Civil War to the present, and the far reaching impact that the war and life under Franco had on ordinary citizens. This book was reviewed in Belletrista in 2010, which you can read here: http://www.belletrista.com/2010/issue7/reviews_19.php.

Almudena Grandes has won numerous literary awards and accolades, and she continues to write books and frequent columns in the national newspaper El País. Her latest two novels, El lector de Julio Verne (2012) and Las tres bodas de Manolita (2014), have not yet been translated into English, but hopefully will be soon.

Books by Almudena Grandes available in English translation: The Ages of Lulu; The Wind from the East; The Frozen Heart.

Apr 17, 2015, 2:01pm

I read Blindness by Jose Saramago.

I could hardly bear to read it, but at the same time I couldn’t put the book down.
In this modern fable, a city experiences an epidemic of sudden blindness. The blindness is contagious, leading to futile attempts at quarantine, and then to a breakdown of the structure of the city. The blindness is figurative as well as literal. We see quickly how a veneer of humanity covers shocking brutality and selfishness.
Saramago is a good writer! He manages to develop his characters fully with a minimum of detail, and no names. The dialogue is told without punctuation, which makes it hard, at times, to figure out who is speaking and where the speeches stop and start. Somehow, this difficulty added to the impact of the story.

Apr 18, 2015, 4:50pm

>69 banjo123: I read Blindnes about three years ago and was both moved and left with plenty to think about. Definitely a novel that will get a reread down the line.

Apr 19, 2015, 7:38pm

Finished The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman.

This book is definitely the exception to the rule that translated fiction tends to be literary - a light hearted story centred around a small magazine staff in Madrid, threatened with closure by the publisher. The English owner sends his son to close them down in person: but he then disappears. Inspector Manchega is asked to investigate. Romance, literary mysteries and flamenco guitar lessons ensue. The British characters in this don't come off well (they're completely caricatured stiff upper lip) but if you can cope with that and ignore the unlikely plot points and coincidences, this is an enjoyable light read. Mamen Sanchez has written four other novels, but this is the first one to be translated into English.

Edited: Apr 22, 2015, 6:47pm

Read Heart of Tango, a novella set (mostly) in Buenos Aires.

Like the Goldsmith's Secret this is a romance, and is full of the uncontrollable emotions felt by a couple facing separation. However Barcelo also weaves in a bit of mystic time travel, a beautiful painting of a couple dancing tango, and a cold night in modern Innsbruck where two people come together to dance.

I love Strictly Come Dancing when the professionals do the Argentinian tango, and this book has all the passion of those dances. Recommended!

Apr 25, 2015, 1:01pm

Author Profile: José Luís Peixoto (Portugal, 1974-)

José Luís Peixoto is one of Portugal's literary stars, as his books have won or been nominated for numerous literary awards in his home country and abroad, and the late Nobel Prize writer José Saramago referred to him as “the most surprising revelation in recent Portuguese literature.” Peixoto was born in a small village in the Alentejo region of Portugal, received degrees in Modern English and German Literature at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, and taught for several years before he became a full time writer.

Peixoto's first published work was Morreste-me, which was written in 2000 and is a tribute to his late father. It was translated into English with the title You Died on Me, and it appeared in the December 2010 issue of The Warwick Review. Peixoto first gained literary attention later that year with the release of his first novel, Nenhum Olhar, which won the Prémio José Saramago, the biennial award for the best novel published by a Portuguese writer, and it received critical acclaim after it was published in English translation as Blank Gaze in the UK in 2007 and The Implacable Order of Things in the US the following year. This surreal and bleak but richly imaginative novel is set in a poor village in the Alentejo region in the days before the world ends.

To date, Peixoto has written nine works of fiction, four of which have been translated into English, including The Piano Cemetery, three poetry collections, and three plays. His most interesting work was a collaboration with the Gothic metal band Moonspell, which resulted in a collection of short stories titled Antidoto, published as Antidote in English translation, along with an album with the same name. His visit to North Korea in April 2012 for a 15 day "Kim Il-Sung's 100th Birthday Ultimate Mega Tour" was published in two parts in the American literary journal Ninth Letter last year.

Apr 25, 2015, 2:23pm

Blank Gaze by José Luís Peixoto (US title: The Implacable Order of Things)


I think: perhaps the sky is a huge sea of fresh water and we, instead of walking under it, walk on top of it; perhaps we see everything upside down and earth is a kind of sky, so that when we die, we fall and sink into the sky.

I think: perhaps suffering is tossed by handfuls over the multitudes, with most of it falling on some people and little or none of it on others.

This surreal, haunting and bleak novel interspersed with glimpses of tender beauty is set in an unnamed small town in the arid interior region of Alentejo in southern Portugal. Life is a daily battle for its poor residents, who battle poverty and the whims of nature to eke out a hardscrabble existence in a village beset with jealousy, violence and tragedy, with little hope for a better future.

Blank Gaze is centered around several memorable and sometimes fantastic characters over two generations of village life. The most influential character is the devil, who conducts infrequent services and occasional weddings at the abandoned and decrepit town church, while taunting several men in the local bar run by Judas about the infidelities of their wives while the men are working away from home. Gabriel is an ever present 120 year old wise man, whose good advice is rarely followed. Moíses and Elias are Siamese twins joined by a common pinky finger. An old blind prostitute whose mother and grandmother are similarly afflicted services men on a regular basis, and a giant regularly torments a sheepherder and his wife.

The novel consists of snapshots of these characters over a 30+ year period, and consists of third person observations and first person accounts, which resemble haunted confessions by people who are overwhelmed by the untoward events affecting their lives and the ones of those closest to them. Brief periods of tenderness and joy are soon squelched by tragedy, which ultimately consumes everyone, including the devil, under an unforgiving blazing hot sun.

I found Blank Gaze to be a stunning and unforgettable novel, whose rich images outweighed the ethereal portrayals of its characters. Reading this was akin to watching a play on a stage covered in fog, as characters spoke initially hidden from sight, who subsequently appeared and were sometimes different from the one I thought was speaking. Although the points and themes that Peixoto were trying to express eluded me, I enjoyed reading this short book, and I will definitely look for more of his work in the near future.

Apr 26, 2015, 10:41pm

^ Great review and another work I'll add to my growing list of TBRs for this quarter.

Edited: Apr 27, 2015, 11:17pm

>74 kidzdoc:
Thank you for that review! I've started that one a few times, but it never managed to reel me in. I'll definitely make a greater effort next time I try - it sounds well worth it!

Edited: Apr 28, 2015, 7:05pm

The Education of the Stoic by Fernando Pessoa

This short work is a collection of observations and reflections of life by the Baron of Tieve, the fictional "quasi-author" who contributed to Pessoa's famous novel The Book of Disquiet. The baron was a sensitive and tortured soul, who spent much of his life in solitude and ultimately committed suicide due to his immense unhappiness and inability to find love with a woman. Although this book has a high rating on LT I could not connect with it, as I found the baron's comments to be obtuse, morbid and banal. Your mileage may vary with this one.

Apr 28, 2015, 9:14pm

I finished Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago today. A wonderful, challenging novel! My comments can be found here:


Apr 29, 2015, 11:17am

Hello, I've not been able to catch up with this quarterly read so far...but I hope to soon. I have though, loved the reviews cross-posted at the RG Region 25 thread (Europe VII: Spain, Portugal, Andorra, Gibraltar).

Edited: May 3, 2015, 2:37pm

In Diamond Square. Up there as my favourite read for the Iberian challenge so far (also translated as The Time of the Doves). Natalia marries a man she meets dancing in 1930s Barcelona. The novel follows her early years of marriage, pregnancy and her husband's enlistment in the Republican militia, and her survival in the Francoist aftermath. Rodoreda herself left Spain following the defeat of the Catalan government, and the novel is convincing on living through an unpredictable time, as a woman with limited options beyond marriage. Originally published in the 1960s, this is a Virago Modern Classic.

May 3, 2015, 11:36am

Voyage along the Horizon by Javier Marías

I am still puzzling over this book after finishing it a few days ago, because it is essentially composed of stories about people inside a "novel" called Voyage along the Horizon which is inside this novel of the same title. What is Marías trying to say? (The "Eight Questions for Javier Marías," included at the end of my edition, don't shed much light on this!)

The novel starts when the narrator meets a man and a woman at a party: the man is trying to promote a manuscript by a friend of his, Voyage along the Horizon, which features the story of one Victor Arledge, a writer, and may shed light on his fate; the woman has written her thesis on Arledge and is fascinated by him. The man agrees to read the manuscript to her the following day, and the narrator is invited along. The reading of the novel takes two days, and the woman fails to show up for the second day, creating another mystery.

Voyage along the Horizon (the "novel" within the novel) tells the tale of an sailing ship that left from Marseille, ostensibly to bring a group of apparently largely English scientists, artists, musicians, and writers on an expedition to Antarctica. There is a prequel of sorts in which one of those musicians either was or wasn't abducted and imprisoned for a few days in Scotland, and Arledge becomes obsessed, on the journey, with trying to find out what really happened to the musician. They spend weeks, if not months, traveling around the Mediterranean (i.e., never heading towards Antarctica), and spend some time in Alexandria while an investigation of the mysterious death of the boatswain proceeds. Throughout the "novel," the characters interact with each other, mostly failing to connect, and other tales interrupt the narrative of the journey. For example, there is a long story about the second in command of the ship, Kerrigan (an American), after he, in a drunken violent rage, throws a woman overboard (she is rescued) and attacks the captain, gravely injuring him. The story involves his past as a somewhat shady owner of a business in the far east, and his subsequent signing on with a pair of millionaires (and one of their wives) trying to find a south sea island to buy.

I enjoyed this book, although much of it mystified me. For example, is the "novel" the "true" tale of a really weird expedition, or is it made up by the novelist even though it includes at least one "real" person, Victor Arledge? Marías started the novel at the age of 19, and finished it at 21; it is accomplished for someone so young, but perhaps Marías is a little too entranced by the idea of being mysterious. Nevertheless, he is a wonderful story teller. And, as he says in response to the last of the eight questions addressed to him at the end:

What counts the most -- and what we remember the most -- is the atmosphere, the style, the path, the journey, and the world in which we have immersed ourselves for a few hours or a few days while reading a novel or watching a movie. What matters then is the journey along the horizon -- in other words, the journey that never ends." p. 18

Edited: May 3, 2015, 1:48pm

Maybe this book is like Focault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco. For me it was a good read, but there is no way I understood why he was writing it or what the objective was.

May 7, 2015, 2:36am

The cover and the title of The Scent of Lemon Leaves seem designed to make the reader expect a nostalgic romance: it's not.

I am mostly positive about this novel - it's a really interesting premise - elderly Nazi hunter called in for 'one last job' by a letter beyond the grave from the man who helped him survive Malthausen, alongside the narrative of a young woman who is oblivious to the background of the elderly couple who help her when she collapses at the beach. There are plenty of red herrings to please the crime fans, whilst alongside this runs a debate about the nature of criminality - is it still worthwhile chasing these villains when (at least in the mind of the writer - recent legal events seem to suggest otherwise) there is little interest in their official prosecution. It was billed in a couple of descriptions I found online as a 'thriller', and whilst I wouldn't go that far, it certainly ramped up the tension towards the end.

Mostly positive though, because there were a few places where I thought the translation was a bit clunky. I was also a bit sceptical about the elderly narrator's view of the young woman as somehow innocent and to be protected from the taint of addressing the Nazi crimes: surely there are plenty of horrors going on in which many are implicated (the never forget so we don't repeat the same mistakes argument). The ending was not quite satisfying for me Whilst I thought Julian's retreat into a care home to pursue two of the former Nazis was well done, his young friend Sandra magically discovered a purpose in life through family and a small business, and happily forgets her flirtation with one of the young men she met inside the 'brotherhood'. A sexist implication to the ending ('no need for her to know') for my liking.

Edited: May 10, 2015, 11:32pm

The Crime of Father Amaro by Jose Maria Eca de Queiros (1874 Portugal) (English 1962)

Late last year I read his The city and the mountains and found it quite delightful, this one however is rather more serious.
Father Amaro is a newly ordained priest, he hasn't chosen the Church, it has been chosen for him. The youthful and decidedly handsome young man is sent to a small town where he lodges with a widow and her daughter of marriageable age, who Amaro ends up seducing. The novel explores the religious zeal of the townspeople, the corruption within the Church both political and sexual. In the beginning one's sympathy lies with the young Amaro, who isn't really cut out for priesthood but as the novel progresses and Amaro begins to become overwhelmed by his love/lust for the daughter, he becomes more and more conducive to corruption in order to achieve his goals.
While it's a serious novel, Queiros is a masterful writer and gives us many incidents and characters to enjoy.
I came across this book first in the 2002 film, El crimen del padre Amaro, it was adapted and set in 20th century rural Mexico and starred Gael García Bernal.

May 11, 2015, 2:52pm

A cousin of mine who lived in Mexico as a college exchange student for one year, once told me that if you wanted to know what was wrong with Mexico (if you thought that anything was) that you should watch that movie. He thought it was one of the best movies that he had ever seen. I didn't know it was a book and was originally set in Portugal. I will have to look for it.

May 17, 2015, 4:48pm

I've been lagging behind with all the Iberian reading I planned for this quarter: somehow I had a lot more energy to read Spanish books this time last year...
But, anyway, I started last week with Eduardo Mendoza's series of pastiche detective novels, featuring an anonymous investigator/narrator who has spent much of his life (for reasons that are never quite explained: Mendoza says he simply never bothered to think them up) confined in a Barcelona institution for the criminally insane. They are very funny inversions of most of the conventions of serious crime fiction, with quite a lot of space for mocking the absurdities of life in Barcelona at the time.

So far I've read the first in the series, El misterio de la cripta embrujada (1978 - The mystery of the enchanted crypt), a gothic spoof in which young girls are kidnapped from a boarding school and carried off through a mysterious secret passageway in their nightgowns (if it had been written 25 years later you'd suspect it of being a parody of La sombra del viento), and the most recent, El enredo de la bolsa y la vida (2013 - not translated into English yet), which has our hero caught up in the middle of the eurozone crisis and trying to prevent an old friend and fellow-inmate from staging a terrorist attack, supported by the Catalan equivalent of the Baker Street Irregulars (two living statues, a street musician, and a pizza deliverer).
I think I'm getting hooked - I've just started the second in the series, El laberinto de las aceitunas (1982).

Mendoza is of course far better known for his more heavyweight novels, like Riña de gatos : Madrid 1936 and La ciudad de los prodigios, which I'm sure I'll move on to at some point, but I'm enjoying the subversive element of the crime stories. Especially as an antidote to the noir-worship of people like Perez-Reverte. Mendoza's protagonist drinks nothing but Pepsi-Cola, and is pretty much immune to beautiful women crossing their legs at him. In fact he loses his own clothes even more often than they do.

May 17, 2015, 6:57pm

>85 benitastrnad: I waited till I watched the movie again so I can comment. I really enjoyed the film, it's modern setting was done well, tying the church into money laundering for the local drug lord and guerilla activity. With regards to adaption from the novel, many of the motivations of characters were different and two important characters in the novel became one in the film. As is usually the case, the novel is far superior to the film, but the film updates and shows that nothing much has changed since Queiros wrote his book. Anyway I'm a sucker for most films starring Gael García Bernal.

May 24, 2015, 7:48am

Tyrant Banderas by Ramón del Valle-Inclán

I found this book fascinating on several levels. First, it is the story of a Latin American dictator of a fictional country, but written by a Spanish author in the 1920s. Second, del Valle-Inclán's writing style is wonderful: he uses a mixture of perspectives, alternating among them, and writes with an almost surrealistic feeling (in these, he set the stage for future Latin American writers). And third, the book has a tight numerical structure. It is divided into seven parts, each made up of three "books," except the fourth part which has seven "books." Each "book" is then divided into a varying number of short sections. There are also a prologue and an epilogue

The novel takes place over a two-day period including, tellingly, the Day of the Dead. The reader learns from the prologue that there is a revolt against Tyrant Banderas planned for that day. Then the novel switches to a a complex mixture of voices, from the tyrant himself to his sycophants, the representative of the Spanish crown, other ambassadors, several prostitutes, an opposition leader and his supporters, a betrayer, a student who gets mixed up in the plot and his mother, and many more. Sometimes it takes a while to make sure whose perspective is whose. (The blurb on the back of my NYRB edition describes the writing as "cubist.") Several locations are dramatically described, including the old monastery that the dictator has made his headquarters and home and an old castle by the sea that now serves as the Tyrant's prison (sharks feature in this too). In less than 200 pages, del Valle-Inclán paints a full portrait of a dictator, his crimes, the people fighting against him, and the people who benefit from his rule.

There is much that is chilling in this book, and much that is impressive.

May 24, 2015, 11:30am

Great review of Tyrant Banderas, Rebecca. I've added it to my wish list, and I may read the Kindle version of it next month.

I leave for my five week trip to Europe on Thursday, which will begin with a nearly two week stay in Barcelona. My reading output will pick up dramatically starting then, and it will be heavily focused on Iberian literature.

The Madrid Book Fair takes place from May 29 to June 14, and since Madrid is only 2 hr 30 min from Barcelona by express train I'll probably go there one day, depending on what events are taking place. I'll post book related items in this thread, and other topics in my 75 Books and Club Read threads.

Edited: May 28, 2015, 11:51am

Having been away for some time from this reading group I was happily surprised to see this wonderful thread regarding the literature of both Spain and Portugal. Many thanks to kidzloc and rebeccanyc for creating this space.

here are a few comments:

regarding Portugal:

I was blown away by Goncalo M. Tavares' Learning To Pray In The Age of Technique. I have copied my review below.

I also am a big fan of Antonio Tabucchi as an Italian he well represents that strong connection between Iberia and Italy as above #3's description of Spanish Renaissance literature (15th-17th centuries).

From Goodreads:
"Antonio Tabucchi was an Italian writer and academic who taught Portuguese language and literature at the University of Siena, Italy. Deeply in love with Portugal, he was an expert, critic and translator of the works of the writer Fernando Pessoa from whom he drew the conceptions of saudade, of fiction and of the heteronomouses. Tabucchi was first introduced to Pessoa's works in the 1960s when attending the Sorbonne. He was so charmed that, back in Italy, he attended a course of Portuguese language for a better comprehension of the poet."

Tabucchi's Pereira Declares and The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro both take place in Portugal. Pereira, dealing with the fascists of the 1970's and how a journalist responds, while Missing Head (a great title), is a mystery that illuminates some of the Roma/Gypsy lifestyle and community.

regarding Spain:

will we consider Roberto Bolano a Spaniard. Though originally from Chile and then Mexico, much of his adult life and his literary career were spent close to Barcelona. Of course, he is a giant!

A shout out to Enrique Vila-Matas (#49). I loved both Bartleby & Co., Montano's Malady and Dublinesque. For any reader who loves books and writers and the creative process as part of the story he is an excellent choice...I also add one of my reviews below.

#18>the Pepe Carvalho series by Montalban are excellent. A food loving detective as interested in a good meal and romance as he is in justice and pay back. His Buenos Aires Quintet set in Buenos Aires is a fun read.

someone missing from the above posts that I have recently enjoyed is Marcos Giralt Torrente who writes elegant pieces about lost loves and memory. I especially enjoyed The End of Love
see review below.

Also I liked to mention Javier Cercas' Anatomy of a Moment, LT review copy I thoroughly enjoyed reviewing (se below).


Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique (Portuguese Literature Series)… by Gonçalo M. Tavares

Learning To Pray in the Age of Technique by Goncalo Tavares

This Portuguese novel takes place in an unnamed city and country.

Lenz Buchman the younger son of a military man is introduced to us as he performs surgery- a most respected surgeon in full control of his craft. His steady right hand slowly removes whatever disease is threatening his patient.

He almost, though, appears bored wanting to be tested in new ways- trying to become the man his father would have admired – a man tested by metal. Lenz enjoys danger and detests most people including his brother who’s memory he succeeds in erasing, and his wife whom he both humiliates and titillates by raping her in front of beggars and madmen who stop by their mansion looking for alms. Buchman is a man who seeks domination through debasement.

Giving up his medical profession he decides to become a politician seeking to control and operate on society like he has proven he can do in the surgery room. He partners with K.and the two run a campaign of fear to win over the population who seeks these strongman to protect them from their perceived fears. To manipulate the population’s vulnerabilities they plant a bomb to further stir up fear.

On the cusp of gaining power life intrudes. A yet unknown disease interrupts his ability to take office and becoming the man his father would have been proud of. Ironically he succumbs to his illness and becomes dependent on the descendants of a soldier his father killed while on a mission, a man the father had decided needed to be killed to maintain discipline and guarantee the success of the mission. It is those descendants, both meek in their very existence, his secretary/assistant and her deaf mute brother who inherit all of the Bachman legacy and estate.

To save face Buchman decides to commit suicide but has lost the strength and ability to do so and in a last attempt in aggression the saliva he tries to spit into the face of a priest bedside to perform the last rites cannot be spat out and merely becomes spittle that is wiped away from his chin as he breathes his last breath.

In the tradition of Jose Saramago who has endorsed his younger compatriot-Goncalo Tavares- this book is an allegory commenting on the thirst for power, how power corrupts and how justice is meted out in cruel and ironic turns. I highly recommend this unusual tale. ( )

Montano's Malady (New Directions Paperbook) by Enrique Vila-Matas

Vila- Matas speaks to me. He is one of my favorite writers who specializes with inventiveness.

As in the earlier Bartleby & Company he writes about reading and writers; indeed Montano's Malady is a sickness in which the sufferer is exhausted by their never ending obsession with books.

He has special affection for Sebald, Musil, Walser, Kafka and other experimentalists.

If you have a touch of this malady you will find some relief in this novel. ( )

Pereira Declares: A Testimony by Antonio Tabucchi

In Lisbon with AntonioTabucchi's curious hero Dr. Pereira, cultural page editor of a fascist leaning newspaper. In the late 30's with the Spanish Civil War next door, Pereira quietly protests by writing translations of French writers praising democratic ideals. Pereira Declares is a short novel by the highly respected Italian novelist and journalist, Antonio Tabucchi.

Dr. Pereira is an intellectual interested in the highest ideals of literature and the democratic spirit as exhibited by the French. Living in Portugal at the time of fascistic governments in Germany and Spain, Portugal stands at a precipice; democracy or dictatorship.

In his small way, Pereira, a recent widower who converses daily with the photograph of his deceased wife, tries to educate and influence the readership of the small evening newspaper he serves on as Editor of the Cultural pages. He writes translations of French writers (Balzac, Daudet) who illuminate liberty, freedom and the democratic spirit.

It is not long until his boss intervenes suggesting he start publishing Portuguese traditionalists. With the Spanish Civil War raging next door, Pereira is drawn in by a young writer and femme fatale who are doing all they can to elicit support for the republicans who are fighting against the dictator Franco.

Pereira’s favorite sounding board is a young doctor who eventually decides to relocate to France.

This is an entertaining short piece that captures the times, the late 1930’s, when the Iberian Peninsula served as the prologue to the coming calamities of Nazi Germany and WWII. ( )

The End of Love by Marcos Giralt Torrente

an interesting collection of 4 novellas. most depict distant memories of an adolescent, events that were sure to influence his own future journey through life.

there is a sense of not quite belonging, of separation, yearning that permeates these tales. They remind me of earlier writers from Eastern Europe in the early 20th century- Elias Canetti, Robert Walser; writers who mine the interior life of their characters.

i am drawn to these kind of tales. Torrente is a most interesting writer.

in addition, as a book lover, i appreciated the quality of the production of this book: McSweeney's took time and effort, the pages are woven together, the cover is simple and sturdy, this is a book that would last several decades as if new on one's bookshelf. ( )

The Anatomy of a Moment: Thirty-Five Minutes in History and Imagination… by Javier Cercas

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Anatomy of a Moment by Javier Cercas

A history, a meta-non-fiction, written by the acclaimed Spanish novelist Javier Cercas. An Anatomy of a Moment takes place on 23February at the Parliament building (Cortes) in Madrid, Spain. Throughout the end of 1980 the new Spanish democracy, designed and assembled through the leadership of the former Francoist Alfonso Suarez. has begun to unravel. In the prior two centuries of Spanish history a coup d’état, or as the Spanish call it: a golpe de estado, had occurred over 50 times. The last, in 1936, had brought Franco into power. The new democracy began in 1976 at King Juan Carlos’s request following Franco’s death, but by 1980 Suarez had lost the support of all his constituents: the King, the church, the military, the leftists, the bankers and businessmen. Picked by the King as an “errand boy” to serve as a transitional figure Suarez had outlived his usefulness.

This book focuses on several of the leading characters and protagonists at the center of this moment: Prime Minister Alfonso Suarez, the Communist party leader Santiago Carillo, the Deputy prime Minister General Gutierrez Mellado, Lt. Colonel Tejero who entered the Cortes pistol in hand like his predecessor General Pavia who entered on horseback in 1874, the military boss behind the plot and the former Secretary the king, General Alfonso Armado and many of his fellow golpistas. Cercas deftly provides background information on all and describes the intermingled web of relationships that connect them all to this moment in the Spanish Republic’s history.

Referring to the famous photo of Tejero with three pointed hat and pistol in hand he effectively builds a panoramic shot inclusive of the various politicians cowering under their desks, the courageous Suarez defiantly smoking a cigarette as he sits erect behind his desk and, on the other side of the Cortes, Carillo also defiantly refusing to cower in fear.

Cercas draws on historic contexts as he writes that “history repeats itself. Marx observed that great events and characters appear in history twice, first as tragedy and then as farce, just as in moments of profound transformation men, frightened by their responsibility, invoked the spirits of the past, adopted their names, their mannerisms and slogans to represent with the prestigious disguise and detachable language a new historical scene as if it were a séance.”

As an American (USA) reader much of the nuances of Spanish history are unfamiliar yet enough is explained that (with an occasional assist form Wikipedia) I was able to gain a deeper insight into Spain’s recent history of its republic. Much of Franco and the Falangist past is a part of this history and the Republic's survival is in response to this.

In this intriguing re-imagination of his country's history Javier Cercas has thrown down the gauntlet bidding other great novelists do likewise with their own national histories. I began to wonder how several of our current novelists could approach our recent events: the Clinton years, the Reagan years, both Bushes and the historic Obama; all could be imagined and understood on a deeper level if mined by a novelist's touch. Several moments in our own history come to mind: the Oliver North hearings, Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN Security Council, Clinton’s “I did not have sex with that woman”, LBJ taking the oath of office aboard Air Force One as it made its way back to DC form Dallas: all these moments are seared in photographic memory waiting to be dramatized. If Cercas was from the United States he might be busy at this very moment writing his next book. ( )

May 29, 2015, 4:50pm

Journey to the Alcarria by Camilo Jose Cela, translated by Frances M. López-Morillas
Published in 1948
3 stars

Or travels through the Spanish Countryside is a travel book of Camilo José Cela. The author was awarded the 1989 Nobel Prize of Literature. It is a sketchbook of the region of Alcarria. The author decides to go on a walk. He does ride a bus, some carts but generally walks. He gives us his impressions of the area as he wanders through the area. Cela is an urban intellect. As he travels he describes the people. There are blond and blue eyed people, dark haired dark eyed people. Most are friendly some not so friendly. He describes the dogs and kicks a couple of them. He describes some locals he refers to an beggars or idiots. The area is rocky, dry, famous for honey and seems to be mostly poor. It was written in 1948 which would be after the war. I can't say it was in anyway a favorite for me as I've read better travel literature but I am happy to have read it.

May 30, 2015, 8:18am

>90 berthirsch: Wow! Thanks!

May 30, 2015, 11:48am

>92 rebeccanyc: what's your take on Bolano- Spaniard or Latin American?

May 30, 2015, 3:31pm

>93 berthirsch: I always thought of him as Chilean, although of course the first two books I read by him, The Savage Detectives and 2666, took place largely in Mexico. I never really thought of him as Spanish, but I think we take a broad view here in Reading Globally. Of course, there were a variety of South American/Central American writers who ended up in Europe, thanks to dictatorships/censorship at home.

May 30, 2015, 6:25pm

>94 rebeccanyc:. The 2 Bolano books you mention are both classics and must reads

Jun 1, 2015, 7:19am

>90 berthirsch:, >93 berthirsch:
BTW: You probably already know this, but Bolano appears as a minor character (the narrator's friend, an exiled Chilean novelist called "Roberto Bolano") in Cercas's novel Soldados de Salamina. Which is also a book well worth reading - rather more novel-like than the rather dry documentary style of Anatomía de un instante, and also surprisingly funny.

Jun 1, 2015, 6:06pm


mucho gracias
I have yet to read Cercas' best known novel ...Salamina.
I do though have his "American" novel the speed of light
would you also suggest this as a good read.

Edited: Jun 1, 2015, 6:08pm

I apologize for the repeat mesage

Jun 2, 2015, 5:30am

>97 berthirsch:
I haven't read The speed of light yet, but it's on my (long) list. For that matter, I still haven't read any Bolano, and I'm sure I should.

Jun 2, 2015, 5:41am

>88 rebeccanyc: This is really tempting, will add it to the wishlist.

Jun 2, 2015, 12:43pm

The Time of the Doves by Mercè Rodoreda, translated from the Catalan by David H. Rosenthal

(Original title: La Plaça del Diamant; alternate title: In Diamond Square)

This novel is widely considered to be one of the greatest works of Catalan literature, and an evocative portrait of life in Barcelona during and after the Spanish Civil War. It is set almost entirely in the city's Gràcia neighborhood and is narrated by Natalia, a simple and attractive young woman who works in a small shop there. She lives from day to day, with little concern of her future or the larger world outside of Gràcia, as she is largely unaware of the political turmoil and imminent danger facing the citizens of Barcelona and Catalonia as those loyal to the government and nationalists led by Francisco Franco begin to take sides against each other.

Natalia meets Quimet, a spirited young carpenter, on La Plaça del Diamant, who doggedly pursues and ultimately weds her. The marriage is a not completely blissful one for Natalia, as Quimet is a paternalistic, dismissive and unaffectionate husband, although he is apparently loyal to her and loves the two children she gives them. Quimet insists that raising doves will be their ticket out of poverty, and he builds a dovecote on the top of their apartment to the chagrin of Natalia, as the doves' home comes as the expense of her private work space. She tolerates this intrusion with resentment, which is followed by a surprising act of silent protest.

Quimet joins the Nationalists as war breaks out, and Natalia is left to fend for herself and her children. As the stress of poverty and the uncertainty of Quimet's fate haunts her, she realizes that no one will come to her aid in the besieged city where everyone is struggling to find enough food to eat. At her most desperate moment she is rescued by a kindly older man who takes her and her children under his wing. She is driven nearly to madness, but the experience emboldens and matures her, yet it is one that scars and continues to disturb her for the remainder of the story.

The Time of the Doves is largely narrated by Natalia, in a breathless manner of a woman who is overwhelmed by life, yet manages to overcome obstacles and survive tragedy. Hers is a sad and tragic story, but through it Rodoreda permits the reader a look at the lives of ordinary citizens helplessly caught up in political events, war and its aftermath. I found the first half of the book mildly interesting at best, but the second half was a much more compelling read, as Natalia's personal misfortunes threaten her sanity and the lives of her children. I was sorry to see this novel come to an end, and I will likely get to it again soon, as I suspect that it will be considerably more rewarding on a second reading.

Edited: Jun 2, 2015, 6:01pm

regarding Bolano- a short novel. a peripheral work to Savage Detectives would be Amulet- this is an excellent appetizer to his larger feast.

Jun 9, 2015, 4:38pm

The Buenos Aires Quintet by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán

This book was unlike any other Pepe Carvalho novel that I have read so far. In it, Pepe travels to Argentina, at the request of his uncle, to search for his cousin, Raúl Tourón. Raúl had initially fled Argentina for Spain, at the time of the so-called Dirty War 20 years earlier, but has returned, worrying his father. At the time, his wife was supposedly killed and his infant daughter was among the "disappeared," presumably being "adopted" by someone high in the regime. It develops that Raúl is searching for his daughter, as well as wanting to receive some kind of compensation for his scientific work which is now being exploited by businessmen, businessmen undoubtedly connected to some of the killers of the prior dictatorship.

That's about as straightforward as this novel gets. Nothing is what it seems to be and people have shifting, or at least secretive, loyalties. Carvalho initially meets Raúl's sister-in-law, Alma (who turns out to be someone else), a professor who just happens to be teaching Raul's daughter, now known as Muriel, at the university; Muriel, in turn, has been "adopted" by the Captain, a nefarious holdout from the Malvinas/Falkland war and, especially, from the Dirty War. (All of this comes out early in the book, so it isn't really a spoiler.) Other characters include some policemen, who may or may not be crooked; a cross-dressing Jewish nightclub impressario; a tango singer; a man who dresses up as Robinson Crusoe, complete with a Man Friday, a llama, and a parrot; a con man whose latest con is to claim that he's the illegitimate son of Borges; various habitués of a club devoted to Borges and a gourmet club; a boxer; a heroin-addicted flunky; some motorcycle-riding thugs and a man known as the "fat man" who provide violent backup for the Captain; and many more. Over the course of the novel, various of these characters get gruesomely beaten up or killed. It was difficult for me to keep track of who all the secondary characters were, and how they were connected to the main plot. There are many many twists and turns.

The recent history of Argentina, and the fate of the "disappeared" are a major theme of this novel, and it takes a pessimistic view of the current (1990s) state of politics, with many of the architects of the Dirty War reincarnated as corrupt businessmen.

The tango also plays a large role in the book, with many tango lyrics quoted (or made up by Montalbán). Most of them are gloomy. There are also many references to Argentine literature, especially but not exclusively Borges, and I suspect a lot went right by me.

Edited: Jun 17, 2015, 2:10pm

Thank you kidzdoc for starting this thread and dedicating so much time to making it educational and interesting!

I have The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón in my tbr pile, so thank you for the push to get it out and read it before summer is over.

*ETA: I just noticed The Angel's Game is 3rd in a series. Does it stand alone or should I start at the beginning?

*ETA: I just found the answer to my own question from the author. "I realized I would have to write four different novels. They would be stand-alone stories that could be read in any order."

Jun 20, 2015, 11:40am

Juan the Landless by Juan Goytisolo

In the first line of his afterword to my edition of this book, Goytisolo writes, "I have always rejected the term "experimental" in relation to my novels . . . Every book that aspires to be innovative does just that, experiment . . ." And yet, if this novel isn't experimental, I don't know what is! Not only is it written in completely run in sentences divided by colons (with nary a period in sight, and no capital letters to start), but it is very difficult to follow what is going on. And, indeed, not much "happens," in the traditional novelistic sense; it appears to be more a series of vignettes that frame scenes fraught with some meaning that is developed at length, in almost poetic language, but opaque to me.

There are several recurring themes and images. Perhaps the most recurring is the use, which requires a strong stomach, of different approaches to defecation as a metaphor for the difference between poor, powerless, people of color and rich, powerful white people. Goytisolo first uses these images in the first section, which refers to his ancestors, slave-owning sugar cane farmers and processors in Cuba. Another image/metaphor Goytisolo uses is the of the writer's pen as analogous to a penis. Needless to say, the Catholic church doesn't come off well in this book.

Reading this book drove me constantly to Wikipedia and Google Translate: not only are there references to writers, places, etc., but some subsections have Latin titles, and indeed there are passages in Latin, French, and other languages.

What is this book about? I hesitate to say. Some descriptions I have read say it reflects Goytisolo's attraction to the pariahs of the world. This book has been on my TBR for several years, and I read it for the Reading Globally theme read on the Iberian Peninsula. I'm glad I read it, but it mystified me. (It has been almost a week since I read it, and perhaps I could have said something slightly more meaningful if I'd had a chance to review it earlier, but definitely only slightly.)

Jun 20, 2015, 7:57pm

I actually finished this book in March, just before the quarter, but don't see it reviewed here, so thought I would add it. Also posted on my Club Read 2015 thread.


The Crime of Father Amaro by José Maria Eça de Queirós translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa
- first version published as an unedited draft in 1875, this edition translated from the third version published in 1880, in Eça's words "Correct, rewritten and entirely different in form and plot from the original edition"

Not everyone who enters the priesthood comes to it with a true vocation. Father Amaro was a perfect example. The orphaned child of servants to the Marquesa de Alegros, he was brought up by her in her household with the goal of entering the Church. Then the Marquesa died in turn and the young boy went to live with his surly uncle, the grocer.

While Amaro had never chosen the monastic life, he "began to think of the seminary as a liberation" from his relatives, and so, at the age of fifteen, he entered the seminary. However, by this stage, he knew it was not the life for him, absorbed as he was in discovering women. Unfortunately for him, there were no other alternatives.

The idea of women pursued Amaro even into the seminary. The images of the Virgin did not depict the pure Mother of God to him, but rather a pretty blonde girl. Then there was the kind of woman the priests warned of, the woman who personified the Path to Iniquity.
What kind of creature was this, then, who, in theology, was either placed on the altar as the Queen of Grace or had barbarous curses heaped upon her? What power did she have, that this legion of saints should one minute rush to meet her, passionate and ecstatic, unanimously handing over to her the Kingdom of Heaven, and at the next, uttering terrified sobs and cries of loathing, flee from her as if she were the Universal Enemy, hiding themselves in wildernesses and in cloisters so as not to see her and to die there from the disease of having loved her? Unable precisely to define these troubling feelings, he nevertheless experienced them. They would constantly resurface, demoralizing him, so that before he had even made his vows, he was already longing to break them.

By the time Amaro was ordained and made his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, it was obvious that at least one would be broken.

Amaro's second parish was in the town of Leiria, a comfortable provincial town, run by the usual suspects and full of devout elderly ladies. Both factions were "narrow minded, credulous bigots". The priest he was to replace, the "glutton of all gluttons", had died of apoplexy bought on by overeating on Easter Sunday. He had never been popular, so the handsome youthful Amaro was a welcome addition to the town.

Amaro's new superior would be Canon Dias. Dias decided Amaro would be lodged at São Joaneira's house, as it was clean, full of good food, and well located. What Amaro did not realize at the time, was that his new landlady was the Canon's mistress. The coadjutor of the town suggested mildly that this might not be the best situation for the young priest, since Joaneira had a lovely young daughter, Amélia, and tongues might wag. The coadjutor was overruled.

Matters between the two young people took the very course any town gossip starved for fodder would predict. But while breaking religious vows is a sin, it is not a crime. Father Amaro had a long way to go before he crossed that Rubicon.

The Catholic Church teaches that there are not only sins of commission, there are also sins of omission. As Father Amaro tried to deal with the inevitable consequences of his sins of commission, he was led just as inevitably into sins of omission. While he himself did not commit legal crimes, the omissions were contributing factors to crimes by others. Amaro did not sin like Ambrosio in The Monk, or Schedoni in The Italian. What then were his crimes?

Eça has written a classic nineteenth century novel of social realism and for him, Amaro's crimes were moral crimes against the society he should have served. The translator, Margaret Jull Costa, calls the novel "an attack on provincialism, on the power of a Church that allies itself with the rich and powerful, tolerates superstition and supports a deeply unfair and unChristian society.. It is also... a critique of the position of both men and women in Portuguese society of the time." It is also an attack on institutional celibacy.

There are two moral standard bearers in the novel. One is the doctor, the rationalist and nonbeliever. One is the elderly Father Ferrão, the man who represents all that the Church should be. The Church and the small town politicians and all who support them are the hypocrites. Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride; all the seven deadly sins are committed by the town's leaders. It is their corruption, which Amaro is a part of, which is the crime against the ordinary people of the town: the poor, the unemployed, those without connections. People like João Eduardo, Amélia's would be suitor, don't stand a chance, and so turn to ideas considered dangerous, like those of the Paris Commune.

Amaro's crimes were in the moral realm, against society. This may sound like a heavy read, but Eça de Queirós has the sly touches of Dickens, the social eye found in Zola and Balzac, and the social conscience of Hardy, making this a rewarding read.

Edited: Jul 14, 2017, 4:15pm

I was just in Spain and picked up Private Life by Josep Maria de Sagarra in Barcelona. I wanted an example of Catalan literature and this one looks interesting.

Edited: Jul 14, 2017, 4:42pm

I also own a copy of Private Life, and I plan to read it this month or next.

ETA: I was in Spain (Bilbao, San Sebastián and Madrid) recently as well!

Jun 17, 2019, 8:48am

Lord of All the Dead (El monarca de las sombras) by Javier Cercas, translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean

What I realised was that the protagonist of The Odyssey was the exact opposite of the protagonist of The Iliad: Achilles is the man of a short life and glorious death, who dies at the youthful peak of his beauty and his valour and thus achieves immortality, the man who defeats death through kalos thanatos, a beautiful death that represents the culmination of a beautiful life; Odysseus, on the other hand, is the polar opposite: the man who returns home to live a long life blessed by fidelity to Penelope, to Ithaca and to himself, although in the end he reaches old age and after this life there is no other.

I thought: Uncle Manolo didn't die for his country, Mamá. He didn't die to defend you and your grandmother Carolina and your family. He died for nothing, because they deceived him and made him believe he was defending his interests when he was actually defending other people's interests and that he was risking his life for his own people when he was risking it for others.

In his latest work of auto-fiction, the acclaimed Spanish writer Javier Cercas turns his gaze for the first time on his own family, namely his maternal great-uncle Manuel Mena, who was killed at the age of 19 while fighting for the right wing Falangists in the Battle of Ebro in 1938, during the height of the Spanish Civil War. Manolo's death was and remained devastating to Cercas's mother, and because Mena fought for a group that was later aligned with the fascists led by General Francisco Franco, it proved embarrassing to Cercas and cast a shadow over his life as well.

Javier Cercas was born in Ibahernando, a small village in the autonomous community of Extremadura in western Spain, close to the country's border with Portugal. His mother Blanca met her future husband there, and when he was a child they moved to Girona, a moderate sized city in Catalunya, which suffered greatly for five decades under Franco's rule due to its role in the Republican resistance during the war. The Mena and Cercas families held some degree of status in Ibahernando, although they were far from prosperous, but they were anonymous strangers in Girona, and Blanca could not talk about her beloved uncle Manolo to any of her neighbors, as he was on the "wrong side" of the war.

After resisting repeated requests by his mother and other relatives to investigate Manolo's life and write a book about him, the narrator Javier Cercas ultimately and reluctantly decides to do so, by speaking with his family, visiting Ibahernando, where his mother still had a house, talking with people there who knew his great uncle, and exploring the battle sites where Mena was wounded, along with the former hospital where he died. During his travels Cercas re-reads translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey as a diversion, and in doing so he realizes that his uncle is viewed as a tragic hero by his mother and many older people in Ibahernando, as he was an idealistic young man who was studious and hoped to study law, but chose to postpone his plans to fight with the Falangists against the Second Spanish Republic, in the cause of national unity, order and equality for all Spaniards.

As Cercas slowly uncovers more about Mena from those who knew him best, he learns that, toward the end of his life, Manolo became more disillusioned about the Falangist cause and the great toll that the war was taking on the country. However, he returned to the battlefield one last time, in an act of familial obligation, and was killed shortly afterward in one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

Cercas uses Manolo's death to demonstrate the futility of the Spanish Civil War and most other wars, which have been fought by untold millions of young men and women who gave their lives not for freedom or better lives for themselves, their families and their neighbors, but rather for the wealthy and powerful, whose massive egos on both sides of this war led to hundreds of thousands of deaths that ultimately benefitted no one save for Franco, the fascist leadership, and the Generalíssimo's most loyal supporters.

The ultimate question that Cercas struggles to answer is: "What is a hero?" Did Manolo act heroically in fighting alongside the Falangists? Was his death in vain? Did his family or community benefit from his sacrifice? Is it better to be Achilles, the lord of all the dead, who is celebrated by many but whose life is cut short before he can fully enjoy it, or Odysseus, who returns from battle to lead a long but mediocre life?

I found Lord of All the Dead to be a thought provoking novel, which was a bit of a slog at times in the overly detailed descriptions of battles that Manuel Mena fought in, but the analysis of his life at the end was very well done, as were the descriptions of Cercas's mother, his family, the few remaining residents of Ibahernando, and himself. The book isn't as much of a page turner as his two most recent novels, Outlaws and The Impostor, were, but it was ultimately very rewarding and did provide much food for thought, about the Spanish Civil War, postwar and post-Franco Spain, war in general, and the present political climate in the western world.

Jun 17, 2019, 11:12am

Seeing this thread pop up and reading kidzdoc's review of Lord of All the Dead inspired me to go back and find my review of Sepharad by Antonio Muñoz Molina which I wrote back in, holy cats!, 2012:

Sepharad is a wonderful book, short on plot, long on insight. Beautiful, tragic, saddening and uplifting all at the same time.

The title is a reference to the diaspora of the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 who ended up spread all over Eastern Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East. Sepharad concerns itself with the mid-20th Century consequences of this expulsion, specifically the terrible ends many Sephardic communities came to at the hands of the Nazis in places like Rhodes, Hungary and Romania. But while that subject may be the touchstone around which the narrative revolves, this is, overall, a book about repression, fear, tyranny (especially in the guise of Nazism, Stalinism and Francoism), loss,and the merciless enforcement of "otherness" onto entire groups, and yet with healthy components of laughter, love and hope worked throughout.

Rather than telling a single tale, or even multiple tales, Sepharad instead presents an interweaving of stories and meditations. The stories jump around in time and place, moving effortlessly (at least for this reader) between first and third person, sometimes even moving into second person. The reader is thereby encouraged and skillfully enabled to enter the minds and hearts of the storytellers and their subjects:

A Spanish solder fighting with the German Army on the Russian Front lies in a barn at night, awakened from a restless slumber to the hushed sounds of Russian partisans who have come to slit his throat; a Jewish mother and daughter return to their small town in France to try to learn the fate of their husband/father, only to walk into a den of fear and resentment; a German Communist, one of the leading lights of his party when the Nazi's take power, is marked for execution post-war by the very Stalinists he has served all his life; a Hungarian Jew who might have received a Spanish passport and been saved from the Nazis is instead lost when her name cannot be found by her husband on any of the deportation lists for the simple reason that she has been sent to a relatively obscure death camp that nobody has ever heard of; a father relates the idyllic summer in a Spanish seaside resort with his wife and young son, then tells again of the emptiness of the return trip two years later when his loving son has turned, quite naturally, into a sullen teen. That's just a small sampling of the interwoven stories. Once you get used to the form and the pace, it becomes easy to go with the flow because one quickly sees that the whole is adding up to something entirely coherent and immensely moving.

If you enjoy your novels more plot driven or even, really, character driven, this might be a hard go in some ways. I guess I would say this book is idea-driven. And humanity-driven.

Jun 17, 2019, 11:38am

I'm glad that my review of Lord of All the Dead prompted you to post your excellent review of Sepharad, Jerry. I've owned a copy for quite awhile but I haven't read it yet, but it will be much more meaningful after my recent visits to and readings about Spanish and Portuguese history.

Edited: Jun 17, 2019, 2:10pm

#109--The Spanish Falange was founded by Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera--he was the son of Miguel a Spanish military general who had overthrown the government in the 1920's and established a military dictatorship. After Miguel's fall a leftist civilian govt. eventually came to power and that govt. is what the Falange along with the Catholic Church, business leaders, the aristocracy, the military and most of the civil police entities were dead set against. The major bulk of the Falange were mainly constituted of traditionalist, very religious working class people with conservative to very conservative values. Personally I see parallels between them and many of those who joined the tea party or voted for Trump in the 2016 election. What happened to those Falange survivors of the Spanish Civil War is they just returned to the kinds of lives they lived before--they did not really share in the gains--the particular political aspirations of the Falange were buried and power was split up between those closest to Franco and his regime--namely the church, the plutocrats, the military--the Falange essentially were just their disposable worker bees (killed and maimed in great numbers in the war and then sent back to their farms and factories afterwards to live out their lives however obscurely)....that's why there was so much bitterness from the likes of people like Manolo. They thought they'd been on some great mission and instead ended up with the same shit only worse.

Jun 20, 2019, 11:57am

I am reminded of this passage in Cercas' Soldiers of Salamis

Miralles says “there aren’t any heroes in peacetime…Heroes are only heroes when they die or get killed. The real heroes are born out of war and die in war. There are no living heroes…they’re all dead. Dead, dead, dead.”

Jun 24, 2019, 9:27am

>112 lriley: Thanks for that explanation of the Spanish Falange, Larry; that's helpful. In the last sentence of my review I obliquely referred to the "present political climate in the western world", and your comment explained far better than I did what I meant.

>113 berthirsch: Yes, indeed. I'm due for a second go at Soldiers of Salamis soon, as I've read all of Cercas's fiction that has been translated into English and that novel is the first one of his that I tried.

Edited: Jun 25, 2019, 8:53am

#114--the historian Hugh Thomas kind of laid it out like that. The Falange had never really been able to replace its leader Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera who had been taken prisoner and later executed. As the war was concluding Franco was consolidating power and marginalizing rivals like the new Falange leadership--like Queipo de Llano--one of the more bloodthirsty of his generals. Anyway Thomas is considered by a lot of people to be the go to historian on the Spanish Civil war and it's a massive book.

The Spanish Civil War for me is fascinating to read about. It's a prelude to the second world war which my father fought in--though in the Asian theatre as he was in the Marine Corps. The atrocities committed during the Civil War are absolutely on a level equal to the worst that happened in the WWII. People were routinely murdered for being on the wrong side--when the Nationalist forces captured a city or town more often than not they let their troops loose on the populace to do as they would--rape, looting, murder, mutilation were routine and as the front closed in on these towns the terror felt by those populations increased--those considered loyal would point out their enemies.

Then there were long decades of repression after the war.

Jun 25, 2019, 2:00pm

>115 lriley: I don't recall if we've ever discussed this before, but have you ever read Antony Beevor's book on the Spanish Civil War, The Battle for Spain? I read it some years ago and thought it was well written. I've never read the Thomas book.

"The atrocities committed during the Civil War are absolutely on a level equal to the worst that happened in the WWII." Am I remembering right that Franco said something about being willing to execute a third of the population?

Jun 25, 2019, 4:45pm

Yeah--I have. It's very very good.

As for Franco he might have said something like that. The Nationalists imprisoned hundreds of thousands after the war and basically used them as free (slave) labor for work projects. Not actually all that different from Stalin's Gulags. Lots of them died and lots of republican soldiers ended up in the hills making for the French border or staying behind to fight a guerrilla style war. Families of republicans particularly those who were soldiers were targets too. There wasn't anything like an amnesty.

Edited: Jun 25, 2019, 6:26pm

>117 lriley: "lots of republican soldiers ended up in the hills making for the French border."

I've been reading a fascinating, in-depth book about World War Two called The Secret History of the War, Volume 1 by Waverly Root (the same fellow who later became well known as a food writer). (I also have Volume 2 waiting to read.) The book was written during the war by Root, who'd been a correspondent in France right up to the German invasion, in collaboration with a French journalist. They cover many topics, but at greatest detail is the situation in France during the time leading up to the war, the short period of fighting and, in particular, the conditions in and German policies toward Vichy. I bring this up because evidently many of the republican Spanish soldiers who did make it to France ended up in forced labor camps there, as Vichy (whose leaders had fascist tendencies anyway, according to this book) was straining to provide the Germans with the number of workers for their factories the Germans were demanding.

Jun 25, 2019, 5:52pm

"As for Franco he might have said something like that."

Here's the quote I was thinking of, although it's more an indirect statement than I was remembering. I ran an online search and found this in the online version of The Spanish Civil War: A Very Short Introduction by Helen Graham:

On 27 July, Franco was interviewed by the North American journalist Jay Allen {of the Chicago Tribune}, whose report three weeks later on the massacre of Republican defenders in the southern town of Badajoz would catapult the Spanish war into newspaper headlines throughout Europe and American. In the July interview Franco brushed aside the reporter’s questions about the high level of resistance the rebels had encountered, declaring, “I will save Spain from Marxism whatever the cost.” To Allen’s quizzical, “And if that means shooting half of Spain?” Franco replied, “As I said, whatever the cost.”

Jun 25, 2019, 8:38pm

Most of the Army and the Navy were controlled by the Nationalist forces--Franco also got a lot of help from both Hitler and Mussolini--Hitler in terms of military advisers and aircraft including the Condor Legion and Mussolini in terms of ground forces. Franco also negotiated with Moroccan tribal leaders and got lots of recruits from them. The Civil Guard tended to support Franco more than the Republicans--the Assault Guards more the other way around but there were a lot more Civil Guards. The British and French at first sided with the Republicans but then negotiated with Hitler and Mussolini to all stay out--Hitler and Mussolini never kept their part of the bargain--the French for a short while continued to send logistical support to the Republican govt. but their partner in crime the British--Neville Chamberlain got them to stop. Go figure. At that point the Republican govt. without any other real allies turned to Stalin who basically took all Spain's gold reserves and afterwards was able to put his thumb on the scale as far as who of the different factions of Republicans got weapons and who didn't. Basically the POUM (Trotskyists) and the Anarchists got little help. The anarchists in particular made up a sizable % of their army. Anyway regarding Franco's remarks to the reporter consider who Franco's friends were. He wasn't really different.

So when cities and towns were 'liberated' by Nationalist Forces people were slaughtered left and right. There was particular fear of the Moorish troops--well the French and Spanish had for a long time been fighting wars of attrition in North Africa whether in Algeria, French Morocco or Spanish Morocco. These were no holds barred affairs--one atrocity after another whether it was the Europeans or the North Africans. When Franco's officers like Queipo de Llano or Yague turned their Moorish troops loose on civilian populations there was no mercy.

Jun 26, 2019, 12:52pm

>120 lriley: Yep, that history is all familiar to me from my reading of the Beevor history and other sources. (You may not recall, but I'm the fellow who sent you the copy of Another Hill by Milton Wolff.) I've always also gotten a rather grim smile from the fact that the Red baiters in the U.S. government later referred to the Americans who went to fight in the Loyalist cause as "premature anti-Facists."

Edited: Jun 26, 2019, 7:37pm

#121--yes--I read that--the Abraham Lincoln brigade. It was really good as well and I really liked Javier Cercas's Soldiers of Salamis by the way and today Lord of all the dead reviewed by kidzdoc in #109 showed up in my mailbox.

I might mention as well that I was waiting for Julio Llamazares Wolf Moon at the time that kidzdoc posted his review. 'Defeated by Franco's Nationalists, four republican fugitives flee into the Cantabrian mountains at the end of the Spanish Civil War. They are on the run, skirmishing with the Guardia Civil, knowing that surrender means death.
First 'Published in 1985, Wolf Moon was the first novel that centered on the Spanish Maquis to be published in Spain after Franco's death in 1975.

Llamazares in a post script writes how the book was based on one Casimiro Fernandez Arias who died in exile in France. He was the last survivor of the resistance fighters from the central mountain region of Leon after the Civil War. He had never returned to live in Spain.

Some years ago I read Llamazares The Yellow Rain. I liked Wolf Moon a lot better.

Dec 21, 2019, 3:26pm

Cross posted from my Club Read 2019 thread

Like a Fading Shadow by Antonio Munoz Molina translated from the Spanish by Camilo Ramirez (2017)
first published as Como la sombra que se va 2014

The unnamed narrator, a sort of shadow himself, first went to Lisbon in 1987, at the age of thirty. He was leading a fragmented double or even triple life: the life of a young husband and father in Spain, the life of a man bent on escaping these roles, and the life of the novel he had travelled to Lisbon to write.

A man evading his present, like the man in the novel he was writing years later, in Lisbon once more.
Perhaps it is the same capacity for evasion that characterizes children's games, a withdrawal from the world but not from perception, reality temporarily suspended while the mind explores other possibilities, sometimes more promising, sometimes threatening

The narrator overlaps lives, time, and stories. Sometimes he tells of his 1987 trip, sometimes his current 2013 trip, sometimes the trip to Lisbon of another man in 1968. This man too is nameless, at least at first, then his pseudonym Ramon George Sneyd is revealed. The reader now realizes this is none other than James Earl Ray, the fugitive assassin of Martin Luther King.

As Munoz Molina interweaves his stories, the reader is drawn into Ray's life by facts and details, for Ray was a man who survived by noticing the details of everything and everyone around him. His life emerges from these revelations as the narrator becomes more and more obsessed with trying to grasp something tangible from this shadow life into which he has fallen. "I have learned so much about him that sometimes I feel I am recalling his own memories."

In fact, Munoz Molina writes so convincingly it seems as if James Earl Ray himself wrote down his thoughts. The reader is immersed in them: his frustrations with a foreign language, his plans for the future, his fears. Eventually there is a resignation and possible acquiescence to his inevitable capture. James Earl Ray had been on the run for "... thirteen months and three weeks, five countries, fifteen cities, two continents."

As the psalm says "My days are like a fading shadow: and I am withered like grass." (102:11)

Underlying it all is a rhythm, sometimes a dissonance, the sense of the great jazz musicians whom the narrator reveres. Then there are the unspoken cadences of that great orator offstage, Martin Luther King himself, a man who would have recognized the truth of that psalm all too well.