Sunday, March 20, 2011

Contemporary Spanish Literature: What To Read?, Part I

People often come to this blog looking for advice on which contemporary writers from Spain are worth reading and following. It's getting a little too time-consuming to respond to each email asking this question individually, so I'll just dedicate a separate series of posts to it. Of course, these will be just my own personal preferences. If there are other writers from Spain writing today whose work you enjoy, do share their names in the comments.

Before you begin your journey towards a better understanding of contemporary Spanish literature, make sure that you read at least something by the two greatest Spanish writers of the twentieth century*: Juan Goytisolo and Juan Marsé. These writers are obviously past their prime right now, having created their greatest works in the seventies and early eighties. Still, Goytisolo's Reivindicacion Del Conde Don Julian (or Count Julian in the English translation) is, I believe, the best novel of the twentieth century. And not just in Spain. It's the best novel of the century in the entire Western Civilization. If you know of a better one that I might have missed, do tell me but be forewarned that on this subject "Hier stehe ich und kannst nicht anders."** Juan Marsé has written a lot but it's his early novel Últimas tardes con Teresa (Spanish Edition) that I love the most. Whatever you do, though, don't watch any movies based on Marsé's work. They are horrible.

Now, as for the writers who are doing some of their best work today, I'd recommend (in no particular order):

Antonio Muñoz Molina and especially his novel Sefarad (or Sepharad in the English translation.) We all know that the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. Over five hundred years later, Muñoz Molina wrote this tribute to every exile - Jewish or not - which offers a profound insight into the nature of otherness. 

- Espido Freire wrote a really curious novel titled Irlanda a while ago. This was her first novel and even though her later work Melocotones helados (Spanish Edition) received Premio Planeta, Freire hasn't been able to create anything better than Irlanda. I'm still waiting, though.

- People often ask me about the fantasy genre in Spanish literature. I don't normally read fantasy so my only suggestion is Rosa Montero's Temblor (Spanish Edition). I read it because it's a female Bildungsroman but it's a fantasy novel as well.

- Almudena Grandes keeps growing as a writer. Her recent El corazón helado is vastly better than anything she wrote before. If, however, you are not into extremely long novels (this one has over 1,000 pages), check out her "pornographic masterpiece" The Ages of Lulu or her novel about female insecurity that devour the protagonist's life Malena es un nombre de tango (Andanzas) (Spanish Edition).

- Many people really enjoy the work of Javier Marías. I find him way too sentimental and cheesy but there are people who see him as a serious writer. Corazón tan blanco (A Heart So White in the English translation) is considered to be his most important novel.

- Lucia Etxebarria writes the kind of novels that make everybody in Women's Studies extremely happy. I find them too theoretical, formulaic and repetitive but if you are writing a doctoral dissertation and your thesis advisor came of age as a 70ies feminist, Etxebarria might be just the writer for you.

* If it's OK, I will not repeat "in my opinion" every time I make a similar claim in this post. Obviously these are my opinions that I'm offering here.

** Here I stand and can do nothing other.


Shedding Khawatir said...

Thanks! I'll have to check out the translated ones.

M.J. said...

Are you familiar with any queer lit from Spain? Additionally, do you know of anything good fiction or nonfiction about the Spanish Civil War, or Franco's death, etc., that is written in Spanish? Much thanks!

Clarissa said...

Oh, where do I begin? :-)

For queer lit, Juan Goytisolo is, of course, the best. The novels he wrote after 1970 are what you should look at (Conde Julian, Makbara, Juan sin Tierra). Also, Eduardo Mendicutti is amazing. Esther Tusquets is very famous, even though I don't like her much. Her most important novel is El mismo mar de todos los veranos.

As for the Civil War and Franco's death, there is a lot.

1. La caida de Madrid by Rafael Chirbes describes the moment when everybody in Spain sits there waiting for Franco's death to be announced.

2. Almudena Grandes's El corazon helado came out very recently and is one of the best recent books on Civil War and its aftermath.

3. Antonio Munoz Molina just released La noche de los tiempos about the Civil War. His Beatus Ille is a classic that everybody interested in the Civil war and Spanish Literature should read.

Feel free to tell me if you need more.

M.J. said...

Thanks! Will do. Is it possible to appreciate "Reivindicación del conde don Julián " without having first read "Señas de identidad" - or, rather, where's the best place to start with Goytisolo? "Makbara"?

M.J. said...

(Sorry: also, ditto for Eduardo Mendicutti. I think I've heard of a movie, "The Bulgarian Lovers," that's based on his book - bu is there a best place for him as well? Also: I should admit that I'm not very easily intimidated by books, so really, fire at will - if "Count Julian" will rock my socks off better than any other intro to Goytisolo, then I'll sink my teeth into it.)

Clarissa said...

"Señas de identidad" isn't necessary for understanding of Count Julian but Makbara requires a prior reading of Count Julian.