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Posts Tagged ‘Spain’

All Writers Have a Corpse in Their Closet: An Interview with Andrés Barba

November 3, 2015 | by

Andrés Barba. Photo © Andrés Barba

Andrés Barba’s August, October, now translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman, should bring him the wide Anglophone readership he’s long deserved. The novel follows the fourteen-year-old Tomás as he travels to the coast with his affluent family on their summer vacation. He’s at a point in his life when everything feels distant and strange: friendships, sex, the alluringly lawless behavior of the lower-class kids he meets. Tomás ends up becoming complicit in the sexual assault of a local girl, the central event from which the narrative unspools, and back in Madrid, assailed by guilt, he tries to plot a path toward atonement—one that shines at times with an uneasy air of self-interest. The reader becomes trapped in a story of immaturity and transgression that leaves no room for the usual reassuring tropes of coming-of-age novels. The prose moves on constant commas, swaying between arousal and revulsion, and in its subject matter August, October brings to mind the early work that earned Ian McEwan the nickname “Ian Macabre”: First Love, Last Rites; The Cement Garden.

Barba is the author of twelve books in Spanish. Besides literary fiction he has written essays, poems, books of photography, books for children, and translations of De Quincey and Melville. We discussed his obsession with aloneness, the difficulties of capturing Moby-Dick in Spanish, and why certain “pompous utterances” in literature are “only useful insomuch as Justin Bieber can get them tattooed across his ass.” Barba is fluent in English, but felt more natural discussing his craft in Spanish. Cecilia Ross kindly translated his answers. Read More »

The Forest of Letters: An Interview with Valerie Miles

April 9, 2015 | by


The Latin etymology of the word translate derives from trans (“across”) and lātiō (“carrying”), which makes the translator a sort of linguistic smuggler, carrying gems from one language, one culture into another. Valerie Miles has worked as a translator, in all senses of the word, for Spanish-language culture for more than twenty years: as a journalist, editor, writer, and professor—and, of course, as a literary translator. In the early nineties, she wrote about British and American writers for the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, and then entered the world of Spanish publishing, where she introduced English-language writers such as Lydia Davis, John Cheever, and Richard Yates to Spanish-speaking audiences. In 2003, together with Aurelio Major, she founded Granta en Español, which has served as a major platform for launching the careers of emerging writers. Most recently, she translated Milena Busquets’s novel This Too Shall Pass.

Last fall, Open Letter published A Thousand Forests in One Acorn, Miles’s anthology of twenty-eight Spanish-language writers from Central and South America and Spain. The name of the anthology comes from an Emerson essay about the whole of history folding into a single individual experience. The book features excerpts of each writer’s work, brief discussions of their literary influences, and explanations of why each writer chose a particular excerpt as being exemplary of their work as a whole.

Valerie spoke with me late last year from Spain, her adopted home (she grew up in Pennsylvania), and gave me a guided tour through the forest of Spanish letters.

Where did the idea for this anthology come from?

I came across an anthology from 1942 called This Is My Best. I was really taken with the literary value of the book as well as its historical significance. It had all these marvelous writers—Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Dorothy Parker, Pearl S. Buck, John Dewey, Lillian Hellman—talking about what they consider their best pages. Gertrude Stein and T. S. Eliot wanted to contribute, but it was 1942 and the breakout of war made communication very difficult. So the anthology becomes a multifaceted literary portrait of an era in American history and an incredibly vital way of fighting one of the most horrific moments of the twentieth century. In a time of such widespread destruction, the anthology serves as a testimony to the fact that humans also create things of beauty—they don’t simply wreak bloodthirsty havoc on one another. This book is like a shout for humanity in the midst of horror, and storytelling, poetry, and philosophy in the face of slaughter and genocide. As though saying, We are that, but we are this, too, and I want to remember that we are this. It was really an unusual way of being introduced to a moment in time.

When I saw the book, I wanted to do the same thing in Spanish. The twentieth century was a pretty busy time for the Spanish language—in the 1960s and seventies, for example, there was the Latin American Boom Generation, and there are only a few of those writers left to ask the question, What are your best pages? Beyond a reading list, I wanted to find an intimate history that only the writers themselves could tell.

Read More »

“Good hearted Naiveté”

January 14, 2015 | by



Ernest and I used to read the Bible to each other. He began it. We read separate little scenes. From Kings, Chronicles. We didn't make anything out of it—the reading—but Ernest at that time talked a lot about style. He was crazy about Stephen Crane's “The Blue Hotel.” It affected him very much. I was very much taken with him. He took me around to Gertrude Stein's. I wasn't quite at home there. A Buddha sitting up there, surveying us. Ernest was much less noisy then than he was in later life. He felt such people were instructive.


Was Hemingway as occupied with the four-letter word problem as he was later?


He was always concerned with four-letter words. It never bothered me particularly. Sex can be indicated with asterisks. I've always felt that was as good a way as any.


Do you think Hemingway's descriptions of those times were accurate in A Moveable Feast?


Well, it’s a little sour, that book. His treatment of people like Scott Fitzgerald—the great man talking down about his contemporaries. He was always competitive and critical, overly so, but in the early days you could kid him out of it. He had a bad heredity. His father was very overbearing apparently. His mother was a very odd woman. I remember once when we were in Key West Ernest received a large unwieldy package from her. It had a big, rather crushed cake in it. She had put in a number of things with it, including the pistol with which his father had killed himself. Ernest was terribly upset.

—John Dos Passos, the Art of Fiction No. 44, Spring 1969

When Hemingway and Dos Passos—who was born on this day in 1896—went to Spain during the civil war, they were close friends, though it was an odd, uneasy match. They’d met in Paris, but their personalities couldn’t have been more opposed: reticent Dos Passos didn’t go in for the Hemingway model of chest-thumping virility. Read More »


Laid Bare

June 19, 2014 | by

The fall of Spain; how Croatia got its groove back; four degrees of surprise from Australia.

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Croatia’s team relaxed in the buff, causing a scandal at home.

The same day that, in Chile, more than twenty previously unknown works by Pablo Neruda were discovered in the most unlikely of places—a drawer—Spain thought it was a good idea to continue their monarchy by changing the constitution so the prince could replace the abdicating king. I rejoiced at one and shrugged at the other. Fittingly, Chile beat Spain 2-0 yesterday.

Chile showed the extent to which Spain is past its sell-by date. Spain has become a product, a collection of starry names to sell to a depressed populace. The sales pitch used to work: they won the Euros in 2008, the World Cup in 2010, and the Euros again in 2012, an unprecedented streak. But what worked then never evolved into what will work now. Most of the players from 2008 were in Brazil in 2014: the goalkeeper Iker Casillas was benched by his club team for the majority of the past two seasons, yet started in this World Cup. His place was barely questioned. Of course he wanted to play: Spain has more than 50 percent unemployment for adults twenty-five and under; the players stood to win a bonus of 720,000 euros each if they won this World Cup. But yesterday their gaps on the field expanded like an opening wound. The players—and soon after them the ball itself—rolled around more and more slowly. They seemed to be playing uphill.

But there will be more than enough elegies and eulogies for Spain. Let me instead sing the praises of Chile, a team that’s been on the upswing for some time now. Their next and final match in the group stage will be against the Netherlands, with the two thus far undefeated teams vying for the top spot in the group. Coincidentally, both teams played Spain in the last World Cup, with Chile losing what was, like yesterday’s game, a must-win scenario, 2-0. Both Chile and the Netherlands have already qualified for the knockout rounds, so Monday’s game should be a formality—but one of them will likely end up playing Brazil in the next round. But given the way Brazil has been playing, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Read More »


Sketches of Spain; England Acquits Itself Well

June 16, 2014 | by

A still from video of Italy’s victory over England.

Rowan Ricardo Phillips, from New York:

Thursday has turned to Monday. The World Cup has blossomed. The opening game seemed intent on mocking any potential pleasure or faith you may have had in this tournament—but now it’s become so good, so quickly, that some people are already calling it the best World Cup they’ve ever seen. Eleven games thus far and not a single draw; the matches have been, for the most part, tightly contested. The Swiss threw in a last-gasp winner against an extremely naïve Ecuador; teams have sought to be positive, to attack, sometimes without thinking before rushing forward. But enough of that, Jonathan will no doubt be writing about England; his memoir is called Kick and Run, after all.

Almost all the big players have played up to their lofty status. Almost.

Spain, as you likely know by now, was atomized by the Netherlands to the tune of 5-1. The score flattered Spain: Holland could have, and really should have, scored a few more. To put into proper context, remember: Spain is the two-time defending European Champion and allowed a total of two goals (two!) in the last World Cup, which they also won, beating a Holland team so intimidated that instead of playing the osmotic football for which they’re famed, they played like the Steven Segal All-Stars, bastardizing themselves among the long line of great and balletic Dutch teams.

Four years later, the main actors were the same (including these two), but Holland was deadly and Spain soporific. What changed? Read More »


The Weather Men

March 25, 2014 | by

The life, times, and meteorological theories of Josep Pla.


Josep Pla at his house in Llofriu, 1975.

“I’ve attended the procession of my country with a match in hand. Not an altar candle, not a torch, not a candlestick, but a match.”

Josep Pla (1897–1981) is a controversial figure in Catalan letters, and a well-kept secret of twentieth century European literature. If Barça is more than just a football club, then Pla—a political and cultural journalist, travel writer, biographer, memoirist, essayist, novelist, and foodie, whose collected works clock in at more than thirty-thousand pages and thirty-eight volumes—was more than just a writer.

Now that his deceptively simple, earthy prose and mordant sense of humor are available to American readers, the best way to read Pla is to curl up with a crisp glass of cava and a few spears of white asparagus. It’s impossible to read Josep Pla and not fall in love with his Mediterranean landscape. His native Empordà, with its mushroom-laced winds and its hint of burnt cork, mesmerizes.

Pla’s most important work, The Gray Notebook, is out now in a graceful translation by Peter Bush; the Daily published an excerpt yesterday. In the spirit of a bildungsroman and the form of a diary, the narrative chronicles 1918 and 1919, two crucial years in young Pla’s life. It captures the raucous energy of a precocious country boy who falls on his feet in the city, full of the spit and vinegar of youth. These were ebullient years in turn-of-the-century Barcelona; the city saw the first roiling curls of the belligerence that would lead to the Spanish Civil War, giving The Gray Notebook a tang of dramatic irony. But Pla’s masterpiece wasn’t actually published until 1966, after he had rewritten and reworked the material from his earlier diaries—a process similar to that of Proust, who returned to material written during Swann’s Way to fashion Time Regained. Read More »