Help me discover Spain through literature
January 4, 2020 2:25 PM   Subscribe

I have somehow never got around to reading literature from Spain. I do have Don Quixote and Benito Pérez Galdós' Fortunata and Jacinta on my reading list, but they are long and I'd like something shorter to start with -- and preferably (but not necessarily) something written in the 20th and 21st century. If it is set in Andalucia, I am happy to read novels set in ANY period. PS: I can't read Spanish so English translations would be appreciated!
posted by bigyellowtaxi to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

What translation of Don Quixote do you have? If it's a good one, it will move right along. I have a paperback copy of Lathrop's and it was excellent and unexpectedly flew by.
posted by Fukiyama at 3:46 PM on January 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

Federico García Lorca was a poet who also wrote great plays in the 20s and 30s. I think Blood Wedding is probably the most famous. Reading him also opens up a bunch of pathways into surrealist art and film, and learning more about the Spanish Civil War.
posted by snaw at 5:31 PM on January 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

“As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning,” a memoir by British poet Laurie Lee, is largely about his adventures walking through Spain in the 1930s. Really gives you a sense of what the country was like then.
posted by Clustercuss at 6:36 PM on January 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Would Hemingway count here? He’s obviously not Spanish, and he’s not for everyone anyway (including me), but The Sun Also Rises and For Whom The Bell Tolls are both set in Spain.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:22 PM on January 4, 2020

Unfortunately lot of popular Spanish novels dont get translated becuase there is such a large worldwide market of spanish speakers. Same reason many popular authors in spain are actually south american like Roberto Bolano who is, I think, Chilean.

Having said that you should be able to get translations of Javiar Marias books in english anywhere and that's as good a place to start exploring Spanish literature as any.
posted by fshgrl at 7:53 PM on January 4, 2020

If you're reading For Whom the Bell Tolls you might want to also read A Moment of War, a memoir by Laurie Lee. The combination of the two gives a more accurate view of the Spanish Civil War.
posted by mulcahy at 6:52 AM on January 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

I just started The Shadow of the Wind and it's good! Set in 1930s-1950s Barcelona, it's about a boy's quest to learn more about a mysterious author. Gothic overtones. The English translation (by Lucia Graves) feels a little clunky at times, especially with slang in dialogue, but otherwise it's excellent. First in a series, so there's plenty to keep reading there.

I also started but abandoned The Fountains of Silence (Ruta Sepetys), which is a YA doorstop (500+ pages!) about 1950s Madrid. It got great reviews, but the characters seemed flat to me. It's also technically not "from Spain" as the author is a Lithuanian-American from Nashville. But it does seem very carefully researched as a historical novel, if that time period appeals to you.
posted by basalganglia at 8:20 AM on January 5, 2020

There's the problem that most of the really famous books are total downers (The Family of Pascual Duarte, The Hive) or very very long (say, Los Gozos y Las Sombras). You'll also find that Catalonia/ Barcelona as well as Madrid are overrepresented in Spanish fiction -- that's where the publishing houses are.

I'd add The Time of the Doves (La Plaça del Diamant) by Mercè Rodoreda, for example.

And for the minigenre of writers talking about beloved farm animals that end up dying (sorry to spoil, but as I said: downers most of them), Platero and I (Platero y Yo) by Juan Ramón Jiménez.
posted by sukeban at 9:16 AM on January 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Are travel books considered literature? If so, Iberia by James Michener. From the Wikipedia stub:
a detailed and illustrated exploration of Spain as it was during the mid-1960s.
The illustrations are photographs by Robert Vavra. Michener moves around the country, explaining all kinds of subjects, historical, political, cultural, etc. He loves Spain and tries to describe it more than one way. For example, he picks some words and tries to explain their meaning beyond the dictionary. His discussion of duende is wonderful.

The Age of Disenchantments by Aaron Shulman explores the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War through the story of the Paneros, a distinguished Spanish literary family. Despite Leopoldo and Felicidad being on opposite sides of the conflict, they bonded via shared loss—each lost a brother in the conflict.

The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura is about Trotsky and his Spanish assassin, Ramón Mercader. I mention it because the chunks about Mercader's background are set in Spain. (Currently, the local art museum has an exhibit about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and there's a photo of Kahlo welcoming Trotsky and his wife (Natalia Sedova) to Mexico.)

I am certainly going to pursue some of the other recommendations I see here. Thanks to everyone.
posted by kingless at 11:33 AM on January 5, 2020

One more recent travelogue is Ghosts of Spain by Giles Tremlett. We've changed quite a bit since Franco died.
posted by sukeban at 12:16 PM on January 5, 2020

Nada by Carmen Laforet.
posted by gudrun at 3:46 PM on January 5, 2020

Ghosts of Spain

Thanks, looks great!
posted by kingless at 8:13 AM on January 6, 2020

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