The View from Here: Books from Spain
Welcome to the next country in The View from Here series on literature from around the world. Today we get to visit Spain. Our guide is Isi who loves blogging so much she has two sites: FromIsi in English is available via this link. The Spanish site is here.
Isi describes herself as “one of those persons who enjoys winding down by grabbing a hot tea and a book and finishing the day immersed in a good story.”
Given that, she says it was a natural step, once the technology was available, to create a blog to talk about books. Her first blog was in Spanish. How did the English language version happen? “At the age of 30,” says Isi, “I decided to resume my long abandoned English lessons I started at school and my teacher, knowing my love for books, suggested to start a book blog in English, so I could practice my writing skills by writing reviews – a book lover always has something to write about, hasn’t she? That was the best idea ever, because not only did I practice every week, improving fast and enjoying the process, but I also found a great community of book bloggers from all around the world; people who have become my friends.”
Q. What books and authors from Spain were required reading in school? Books/authors that wereconsidered classic in other words and that every child was expected to know about?
There are many of classic books you had to know at school, including all genres (poetry, drama, etc.), which, of course, at such ages you can’t enjoy or even get to know the subtle message hidden in them that seemed to provoke that awe to Literature teachers. It didn’t help that they are still written in old Spanish, which makes the reading even harder for young lads. I also remember learning lists of authors and their books by heart, an activity that I now see as useless as reading all those classics at such ages. I guess Literature lessons are the same in schools all over the world, but in my opinion, this approach only makes students hate books.
However, there is one exception: Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, the poet. I believe all teenagers have a “Bécquer period” in their lives; you fall in love for the first time, and Bécquer’s love poems begin to make sense…
To mention some other author and titles that have been translated into English, we all have read “The Celestina” by Fernando de Rojas, “The Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes, “Lazarillo de Tormes”, whose author remains unknown, or “The grifter” by Francisco de Quevedo.
Q. It’s likely that anyone asked to name a Spanish author would come up with Cervantes. Or looking more to contemporary authors, they might name Javier Marías. Who are some authors we could be missing out on?
Well, let’s start with some authors who have been popular in recent years. Luz Gabás has been a best-selling author, whose first novel (Palm trees in the snow) has made it into a film, and it’s a great romance novel set in the last years of the Spanish colonialism in Africa. I particularly liked this book because I read and commented it with my grandmother, who also enjoyed it, and then we went together to watch the film. Almudena Grandes is another example of great literature I always recommend because her characters are too real, with complex stories that make you be part of them. Arturo Pérez-Reverte can be also considered a modern classic (like Javier Marías); his articles, short-stories and long novels are all well written and hooking – I particularly like his books about Captain Alatriste, but I’ve enjoyed every other piece he’s written. I’ll finish with Dolores Redondo, whose crime novels, The Baztán trilogy, have been also best-sellers and made it into films everybody talks about nowadays.
Q. Which classical author from the past is your particular favourite — and of course, why?
I couldn’t tell another than Benito Pérez-Galdós. I knew the titles of his books (because I had learned them by heart in school), but I only read one of his novels for the first time a few years ago, thanks to a fellow blogger. He wrote 46 books called “National episodes”, which are actually fictional, but include real events from our recent history, beginning with the title “Trafalgar”, that relates one of our endless conflicts with the British (I had to mention this, haha!).
Q. What can you tell us about the themes and traditions of literature in Spain? Are there particular styles of writing or themes that are prevalent?
The most influential theme in our literature is the Spanish civil war. Like the books set in both world wars, our books set in the civil war always have something new for you to learn, and it is an issue that still divides Spanish society. To mention some of my favourite novels on the subject, I recommend “The frozen heart” by Almudena Grandes, who I mentioned above, and “In the night of time” by Antonio Muñoz Molina. However, I must warn future readers because I think you must do some research on the subject before reading these books to really benefit from them; you might get lost otherwise (after all, Spanish readers have being told about about the war by their relatives and studied it at school).
Recently there was a kind of “breakthrough” in Spanish literature with the publishing of a novel set in the Basque Country talking about ETA terrorism. The author is called Fernando Aramburu, and the title is “Patria”. It has been translated into several languages, so I guess it will be available in English soon.
Q. Who are some of the up and coming authors in Spain to whom you think we should pay more attention?
Apart from Aramburu, you absolutely have to read Víctor del Árbol. His books will be published in English this year, and you will find deeply emotional and though-provoking -but very hard- stories. Add “A million drops” to your reading list, please.
Alejandro Palomas is one of those rare cases in which I have to recommend an author I still haven’t read, but everybody is talking about him now and I have many reasons to believe I need to read his novels: he just won a literary prize and all my fellow bloggers are in love with his work, so take him into account as well.
Q. Are there any literary prizes that help to promote Spanish writing?
Many (too many?). There are several prizes awarded by some of the most important Spanish publishing houses but we, the readers, don’t pay much attention to them because they always seem to go to very famous authors, in order to increase sells for the publishing houses. An unknown author wouldn’t sell as much, right?
Nevertheless, there are other prizes that promise a good read. One of them is the Nadal Prize (nothing related to the tennis player, lol), the one Alejandro Palomas won this year, and there is another I always consider reading, which is an award from the booksellers association.
15 thoughts on “The View from Here: Books from Spain”
Spain had the Gold century with writers as Cervantes, Calderon de la Barca, Tirso, de Molina, Lope de Vega, Quevedo, Luis de Gongora, Mateo Aleman, Fernando de Rojas and others.
Less know are the Silver period writers in Spain of Nineteen century and the beginning of the twenty century, Perez Galdos, Becquer And Pardo Bazan a woman, mentioned are some of them but also some less well known, Leopoldo Alas, (Clarin) Armando Palacios, Menéndez Pelayo , Ramon Valle Inclan, Ortega y Gasset , Eugenio D’Ors, Juan Ramón Jiménez , Ramón Gómez de la Serna , Manuel Azaña, Pedro Salinas, Jorge Guillen , Vicente Aleixandre , Rafael Alberti , Antonio Machado, Federico García Lorca , Juan Larrea , Gerardo Diego , Dámaso Alonso , Jos é Martínez Ruiz (Azorín), Pío Baroja, Ramiro de Maeztu. even the most famous Spanish writer in America who made a fortune in Hollywood, after WWI, and now forgotten Vicente Blasco Ibanez, etc. 🙂
I don’t remember seeing anything like this from your blog before, but it’s really cool. My silly little brain assumes we all read and hated Shakespeare and then a couple of poets who are dead but lived in Europe.
In that case you have missed some great insights – there is a whole series of these posts on this page https://bookertalk.com/world-literature/the-view-from-here/
Great post – even if it has added multiple entries to my wish list! 🙂
That was my ultimate purpose *demon face* haha
Thank you very much for the interview, I’ve enjoyed so much talking about books in the hope more people get to know new authors from muy country 🙂
Judy: thank you for your kind words. Writing in English is not so easy for me and your comment has made me think I’ve communicated exactly what I intended to 🙂
Debbie: I hope you enjoy these new-to-you authors. I’m sure you will! I’ll be glad if you want to talk about those books when you read them.
Words and peace: ohhh I hope you like Bécquer – it’s the kind of poet you love since you are a teenager. It’s worth reading about his life as well (meaning wikipedia, just to know a little more). Regarding fat books, yes, I’m guilty: I love big novels, the ones that make you feel depressed when you finish them because you spent so much time on that particular story that your mind can’t understand it’s over… But Pérez Reverte, for example, has short novels that I’m sure you’ll love! (PS: thanks for your comment on my blog as well!).
Lisa: Oh, I don’t know many people who has read that particular book by Muñoz Molina!
Regarding the civil war, I didn’t mean a deep research, just spending five minutes on wikipedia can offer an idea of the conflict and how society is affected by it to this day. I mean, many people don’t know *anything* about the Spanish civil war, so it was a recommendation just in case.
And you are right about knowing a theme through novels – I have also broadened my knowledge about so many subjects this way!
I see you have read many Spanish authors, and I guess you have enjoyed them.
Thank you all.
I feel flattered 🙂
Thanks Isi for such good responses to the people who left comments. it’s the dialogue aspect of blogging that I love the most – the fact that people can be so far apart in geographical terms and yet can come together with a shared love of literature through a blog
Delightful! Really. I love the way this blogger writes about books. I will be checking out these authors.
Isi put a lot of thought into this so I’m sure she will be delighted to see your comment Judy
Oh, Karen – thanks for introducing me to Isi and her blog (in English). I must admit that I’ve heard of none of these authors except Cervantes, so I have a lot of catching up to do. I’m very excited to get a list of suggestions from a knowledgeable ‘native’ blogger!
Wonderful to know this has been so helpful Debbie. I love these ‘View from” pieces because they introduce me to people I would never have thought of myself
I can’t believe I had not heard of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. Just requested a book of poems form him. And I love poetry in Spanish. My favorite in that language, though not from Spain is without hesitation Pablo Neruda.
I don’t know any more modern authors. I looked at several books mentioned here and noticed there are all big fat books!
My knowledge of Spanish lit is pitiful. I did try to remedy this a few years ago but didn’t get on at all with what I read
I’ll second the recommendation about In the Night of Time, it’s a wonderful book.
But I’m not sure that I agree about researching the civil war first. Of course, it would mean that you would understand more about the books you are reading, but speaking for myself, I learned about the Spanish Civil War from reading novels – starting with George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and then moving on to books by Spanish authors such as Javier Cercas and Merce Rodoreda, who only writes about it indirectly, but from a woman’s point-of-view, depicting an ordinary wife and mother trying to feed her children while her husband is away with the fighting (against her wishes).
This does raise an interesting question – do you read about a subject first, then read the novel OR read the novel first and then read the background. My approach is to begin reading the novel and then if I find I need more context, to do some basic web research. Only if after I finish the novel thinking I want to know more about xxxx, would I go and find a non fiction book