Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Put Down Orwell and Pick Up Contemporary Spanish Literature

Por: | 01 de diciembre de 2014

A small publishing house in Madrid is hard at work changing perceptions of Spain abroad. Hispabooks, set up by two English-speaking Spanish editors, published seven contemporary works of translated Spanish literary fiction last year.  These works, diverse in their style and content, are challenging the stereotype of modern Spain.  The Anglocentric reading of Spain as an exotic, balmy, bull-fighting, jamon-eating land is shifting, as topical books by innovative Spanish writers are made available.Antón-Mallick

Only 3% of books in the global English publishing market are works of translation, leaving little room for Spanish authors to tell their story of modern Spain.  The millions of English-speakers that travel through the country ever year, and the thousands that are not quite there yet with Castellano, but live somewhere on the Iberian Peninsula would find this publisher a useful and eye-opening resource.  Spanish speakers are presented with a much bigger opportunity to read contemporary English fiction however, with 30% of the Spanish book market featuring translated works.

Historical English texts that tell a dated story of Spain, like Orwell and Hemingway, remain extremely popular with English-speakers, and works in Spanish that have been translated are by no means unpopular: Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zufón is an international bestseller, and the archetypal Spanish text of Don Quixote continues to be printed.  While Orwell and Hemingway still sell, the question is raised, how much of an insight will they give a reader of contemporary Spain, and will a mystery novel, like Shadow of the Wind, a work of genre, be any more revealing for the reader?

Contemporary Spanish art is popular:  The Guggenheim in Bilbao, the MACBA in Barcelona, the IVAM in Valencia.  Contemporary Spanish film too:  Almodóvar is screened all across Europe; but how much contemporary Spanish literature is read?

Established just three years ago in 2011, Hispabooks is aiming to beat its previous output and publish eight works of literary fiction next year. “The books we publish reflect the present society right now,” director Ana Perez tells me.  “Both in the style of language – even if it’s a translation – and the situations.  They include normal people with personal issues that I think indeed give you an insight into the way Spanish society is nowadays.”

And why wouldn’t they?  After all, Hispabooks have published the Stein Report by Jose Carlos Llop, a short novel set in on the island of Majorca in the 1960s, about a newcomer throwing a small community off balance as he unveils unanswered questions of their own past – a particularly modern Spanish story.   There is also the refreshing and sharp Anton Mallick Wants to be Happy, by Nicolas Casariego, a tragic comedy with poignant humour that weaves different narrative forms – journal, narrative reflection, and witty comments from self-help books; a fragmented narrative for an increasingly fragmented Spain.


Regardless to say, the novels have done well domestically.   Hispabooks published Marcos Giralt Torrente’s Paris this year.  Torrente is a well-decorated Spanish writer - he won Spain’s national fiction award in 2011 for his book Tiempo de VidaParis is about a man’s journey through his memories.   A narrative that again delves back in time and uncovers old family secrets that turns his world upside down.

Apart from forgotten pasts and repressed memories, what marks many of these contemporary works of Spanish fiction is humour; so much so that last week the prestigious London Review of Books in Bloomsbury, hosted the event “Humour in Spanish Fiction” with Hispabooks authors Nicolás Casariego and Pedro Zarraluki with their translators Nick Caistor, Lorenza García and Thomas Bunstead.

Literature post-Franco in Spain has blossomed. “Creativity and high-literary writing,” Ana tells me, mark this growth.  “The generation before them – Mendoza and so on – they still have a very strong Spanish feeling, but I now think contemporary writers are out of this period.  They are very creative and their references are really very global.”

TheFaintHeartedBolshevikCoverHispabooks also publish the modern classic, The Faint-hearted Bolshevik by Lorenzo Silva, a short novel about a driver in a traffic jam on his way to work who, when distracted, slams into the car in front.  “When the woman driving the other car reacts with a torrent of abuse out of all proportion to the incident,” so reads the blurb, “the driver cracks and decides to teach her a lesson, by dedicating his whole summer to ruining this foul woman’s life.” It is when he meets her daughter and his plans begin to alter.

These contemporary works of fictions get you closer to a nation that has changed so much so recently than older historical Anglocentric texts or genre fiction translated from Spanish.  To hark back to admittedly some of the greatest English-speaking writers, is to miss out on understanding the vast changes Spain has undergone – the end of self-censorship, the transition to democracy, the forgotten recent past.  Hispabooks are giving a voice to award-winning, innovative and pioneering Spanish writers, allowing them to construct their own identity in the English-reading world. These works let you get a little bit closer, as a non-native, to what really is going on in Spain, what the country is really thinking.


Hay 3 Comentarios


It's a genuinely encouraging development to see that there is a new publisher for works from Spanish authors because the English-language world benefits from this.

I dislike the title of the article though. To put down Orwell is a mistake. Yes, his book "Homage to Catalonia" is now dated (in a few parts) but his other writing, especially his non-fiction essays are still insightful and highly relevant. I do agree that it's absurd to build up a picture of Spain only from people like Hemingway.

Chris Finnigan mentions a number of books I'd like to read. He could just as easily have also mentioned two fine authors originally from Barcelona - Eduardo Mendoza and Juan Goytisolo, whose autobiography I finished reading recently and highly recommend on a number of levels.

Some of these are available in Australia, and I've ordered three from Hisperia including The Happy City by Elvira Navarro because you seem to have overlooked women writers in this otherwise very interesting article and I thought that Ana Perez would like to see one of her women authors reviewed on a literary blog!

Publicar un comentario

Si tienes una cuenta en TypePad o TypeKey, por favor Inicia sesión.

Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

El País

EDICIONES EL PAIS, S.L. - Miguel Yuste 40 – 28037 – Madrid [España] | Aviso Legal