Here’s the second part of the unedited version of Aurelio Major and Valerie Miles’s introduction to the special issue of Granta dedicated to “Young Spanish Novelists.” Part I is available here and you can download a Word doc of the entire piece by clicking here.
To select the young writers within the last named context we invited four writers, who exercise the trade in diverse ways from a variety of origins to serve as jurors, each offering a somewhat detached vision of the spirit of what is being written in this language: the Argentine writer and filmmaker Edgardo Cozarinsky, who has lived between Paris and Buenos Aires for many decades; the British journalist Isabel Hilton, previously a correspondent in South America who currently divides her time between England and China and the jury member who is the most involved in public affairs, together with the novelist Francisco Goldman, American of Guatemalan descent (whose influence has also been decisive in the publication of many Hispanic American writers in the US, among them Bolaño), and who lives between New York and Mexico City; and the Catalan writer and literary critic, Mercedes Monmany, who lives in Madrid. Those who write these lines make up the last two members of the jury, writers and editors, one an American and the other a Canadian-Mexican who have both lived in Barcelona for a very long time. So, endowed with our inevitable prejudices and carefully cultivated arbitrariness, we chose twenty-two authors. We reiterate the fact that this verdict does not constitute any kind of manifesto, nor is it the fruit of a marketing scheme between an editor and a literary agent. Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists aims to offer a true-to-life portrait of the vitality, the diversity—it deals with individual talents—that thrive in the contemporary literature (literatures?) of the Spanish language.
It has been an ambitious endeavor, covering the entire area of the second most widely spoken language in the world, in more than twenty countries. We were as meticulous as possible. The flood of mediocre work, along with the depleted state of literary criticism outside of the academic world spurred our anxiety. We believe that we couldn’t have come up with another list with the same merit as this one with 22 other authors, as one juror had commented to Ian Jack, then editor of Granta, regarding the first issue dedicated to the best young American authors. We searched publicly and privately in the most diverse ways for recommendations and discoveries, from telephone calls to internet blogs and cultural section,s and, of course, to books. Duomo ediciones, the publishing house that sponsors Granta en español in Barcelona, received the work of more than three hundred Spanish language writers from all over the world. We read through everything and came up with a list that included suggestions from members of the jury throughout the course of voting. Early on, we renounced the possibility of a unanimous vote, establishing a system of four rounds in which authors received at least a majority vote. It almost goes without saying that we didn’t take into account the nationality or sex of the candidate, only the certainty, at times more enthusiastic and others less so, that what we read corresponded with our intentions: our reading as vice impuni, to recognize talent that was either already consolidated or that would, in our opinion, strengthen in the passage from objective to accomplishment, as narrative writing with artistic intention (what heresy . . .) and the pretense of perdurability. Members of the jury opposed the inclusion or exclusion of this writer or that one, but in the end the majority ruled. There were laments over writers who were not included. Such a diverse jury found, then, the diversity that the reader is about to discover, which has little to do with creative writing workshops or a pedestrian idea of exoticism: profoundly ironic and demanding female writers on the one hand, but also male writers who represent women in a much less passive and traditional role than earlier generations; there are parodies and formal innovations: revision and even exacerbation, as could be expected, of diverse sentimental customs and literary traditions more or less regional and even local, although not necessarily belonging to the author, since many have chosen to live in foreign countries and are more open, thanks to their own backgrounds, to the inventions of other places.
A necessary digression: the preface to one of the previous Granta selections mentions that already in the eighties attention was being called to the way writers were presenting themselves to the public instigated by agents or editors as personalities who give interviews to the media; not as engaged intellectuals but as celebrities whose physical appearance was also relevant for widespread coverage since it was no longer the work itself, but the writer who spoke to the reader. This type of publicity became routine in Spain since the early nineties, thanks to the fact that the publishing sector is subjected to the same circumstances that have prevailed in the English language for many years. Yet in Latin America it is still not the case, authors tend to be much more reserved since the figure of the celebrity writer who directs their work exclusively to the widest possible audience has not yet been imposed. The changes commented on a quarter of a century ago in this magazine have now given way to the current explosion, unimaginable in those days, of blogs, videos, social networks and all the thousands of new means of promotion, that distract us like fireworks from keeping that minimum amount of concentration needed for considered reading. Most of the writers selected here have had their own blog at some point and some of them have explored the narrative possibilities of this media explosion. Nothing new. But the talent we are searching out could not be evaluated through these accessorial phenomena, as they have not yet encompass the present in full. It’s possible that the reader might expect some sort of a defense of the Internet and the currents of its parallel world in this forward or in our selection, but in light of the enthusiasms of last century’s Futurism, we need not give them any greater literary importance.
Click here for Part III.
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .
Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .
For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .