Spanish Lit Month – some reading recommendations for July

As some of you may know, July is Spanish Lit Month (#SpanishLitMonth), hosted by Stu at the Winstonsdad’s blog. It’s a month-long celebration of literature first published in the Spanish language – you can find out more about it here. In recent years, Stu and his sometimes co-host, Richard, have also included Portuguese literature in the mix, and that’s very much the case for 2021 too.

I’ve reviewed quite a few books that fall into the category of Spanish lit over the lifespan of this blog (although not so many of the Portuguese front). If you’re thinking of joining in and are looking for some ideas on what to read, here are a few of my favourites.

The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazan (tr. Paul O’Prey and Lucia Graves)

This is a marvellous novel, a great discovery for me, courtesy of fellow Spanish Lit Month veteran, Grant from 1streading. The House of Ulloa tells a feisty tale of contrasting values as a virtuous Christian chaplain finds himself embroiled in the exploits of a rough and ready marquis and those of his equally lively companions. This classic of 19th-century Spanish literature is a joy from start to finish, packed full of incident to keep the reader entertained.

Who Among Us? by Mario Benedetti (tr. Nick Caistor)

This intriguing, elusive novella by the Uruguayan author and journalist, Mario Benedetti, uses various different forms to examine a timeless story of love and misunderstandings. We hear accounts from three different individuals embroiled in a love triangle. Assumptions are made; doubts are cast; and misunderstandings prevail – and we are never quite sure which of the three accounts is the most representative of the true situation, if indeed such a thing exists. Who among us can make that judgement when presented with these individuals’ perceptions of their relationships with others? This is a thoughtful, mercurial novella to capture the soul.

Sidewalks by Valeria Luiselli (tr. Christina McSweeney)

A beautiful collection of illuminating essays, several of which focus on locations, spaces and cities, and how these have evolved over time. Luiselli, a keen observer, is a little like a modern-day flâneur (or in one essay, a ‘cycleur’, a flâneur on a bicycle) as we follow her through the city streets and sidewalks, seeing the surroundings through her eyes and gaining access to her thoughts. A gorgeous selection of pieces, shot through with a melancholy, philosophical tone.

Things Look Different in the Light by Medardo Fraile (tr. Margaret Jull Costa)

Another wonderful collection of short pieces – fiction this time – many of which focus on the everyday. Minor occurrences take on a greater level of significance; fleeting moments have the power to resonate and live long in the memory. These pieces are subtle, nuanced and beautifully observed, highlighting situations or moods that turn on the tiniest of moments. While Fraile’s focus is on the minutiae of everyday life, the stories themselves are far from ordinary – they sparkle, refracting the light like the crystal chandelier in Child’s Play, one of my favourite pieces from this selection.

Nada by Carmen Laforet (tr. Edith Grossman)

Carmen Laforet was just twenty-three when her debut novel, Nada, was published. It’s an excellent book, dark and twisted with a distinctive first-person narrative. Here we see the portrayal of a family bruised by bitterness and suspicion, struggling to survive in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. This is a wonderfully evocative novel, a mood piece that captures the passion and intensity of its time and setting. Truly deserving of its status as a Spanish classic.

The Infatuations by Javier Marías (tr. Margaret Jull Costa)

My first Marías, and it remains a firm favourite. A man is stabbed to death in a shocking incident in the street, but this novel offers much more than a conventional murder mystery. In Marías’s hands, the story becomes an immersive meditation, touching on questions of truth, chance, love and mortality. The writing is wonderful – philosophical, reflective, almost hypnotic in style. Those long, looping sentences are beguiling, pulling the reader into a shadowy world, where things are not quite what they seem on at first sight.

Thus Were Their Faces by Silvina Ocampo (tr. Daniel Balderston)

I love the pieces in this volume of forty-two stories, drawn from a lifetime of Ocampo’s writing – the way they often start in the realms of normality and then tip into darker, slightly surreal territory as they progress. Several of them point to a devilish sense of magic in the everyday, the sense of strangeness that lies hidden in the seemingly ordinary. Published by NYRB Classics, Thus Were Their Faces is an unusual, poetic collection of vignettes, many of which blur the margins between reality and the imaginary world. Best approached as a volume to dip into whenever you’re in the mood for something different and beguiling.

Never Any End to Paris by Enrique Vila-Matas (tr. Anne McLean)

Vila-Matas travels to Paris where he spends a month recalling the time he previously spent in this city, trying to live the life of an aspiring writer – just like the one Ernest Hemingway recounts in his memoir, A Moveable FeastVila-Matas’ notes on this rather ironic revisitation are to form the core of an extended lecture on the theme of irony entitled ‘Never Any End to Paris’; and it is in this form that the story is presented to the reader. This is a smart, playful and utterly engaging novel, full of self-deprecating humour and charm.

Do let me know what you think of these books if you’ve read some of them. Hopefully, I’ll be able to fit in another couple of titles during the month, possibly more if the event is extended into August, as in recent years.

Maybe you have plans of your own for Spanish Lit Month – if so, what do you have in mind? Or perhaps you have a favourite book, first published in Spanish or Portuguese? Feel free to mention it alongside any other comments below.

33 thoughts on “Spanish Lit Month – some reading recommendations for July

  1. Rick

    Thanks for the recommendations; I own three of them (Luiselli, Vilas-Matas, Laforet), so will definitely take at least one of them up. And thanks for all your excellent blog posts – I’ve followed for a while but not commented before.

    Re: Portuguese language literature, obviously Saramago is an all-time great. If you’ve not enjoyed ‘Seeing’ or ‘The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis’ yet, you’ve got a treat in store. Less well known is Lima Barreto, but ‘The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma’ is excellent – a funny, moving novel about patriotism, belonging and self-delusion. Happy reading!

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      You’re very welcome, Rick, and many thanks for your generous comments – they’re really lovely to hear! The three books you own are all excellent, so whichever you decide to read, you’re bound to be in for a treat. They are quite different from one another in terms of tone, though, so it might depend on your mood at the time. The Laforet is much darker than the Vila-Matas, for example, while the Luiselli is elegant and thoughtful throughout.

      And thanks for the shout-out for Saramago – an excellent writer, for sure. I’ve read and enjoyed a few of his, including The Double and All the Names, but not the two you’ve mentioned. Duly noted, thank you. The Barrato sounds excellent too – a completely new name to me, so I’m off to look him up!

      Reply
  2. madamebibilophile

    I’ve only read Nada and Thus Were Their Faces of these, but agree both are excellent. I don’t think I knew Laforet was only 23 when she wrote it – impressive! I’m pretty sure I have some Marías in the TBR somewhere so I shall go on a hunt…

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Yes, an incredible achievement when you think about it. I’m not sure how her career progressed after that, but for Nada alone she deserves to be remembered. Marias is one of my favourite contemporary writers, so I may well be heading his way myself. Happy hunting!

      Reply
  3. A Life in Books

    I’m woefully underread in Spanish Literature although Selva Almada’s The Wind That Lays Waste landed up on my books of 2019 list, As for Portuguese, I read an intriguing, excellent novel by Afonso Cruz earlier this year: Kokoshcka’s Doll. Highly recommended for those happy to read a non-linear narrative.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I’m pleased you’ve mentioned The Wind That Lays Waste, Susan, as it’s been recommended to me in the past. By Grant, I think, and possibly a couple of others – I’m struggling to recall now! Anyway, I shall make another note of it. The Cruz sounds intriguing too – thank you.

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Ha! You are an aficionado when it comes to this area, Grant. Can I persuade you to do your own list of recommendations? I’d be interested to see your selections…

      Reply
  4. Annie Cholewa

    I’m another who’s been following for some time but rarely comments. I have an eclectic list of mostly read and a few tbr translated from the Spanish, fiction and non-fiction, that might interest you … I particularly enjoyed the Dominguez, the Mairal and the Labutut …
    Carlos Maria Dominguez (Uruguay/Argentina) The Paper House, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor
    Luis Sagasti (Argentina) ‘Fireflies’, translated from the Spanish by Fionn Petch (Charco Press)
    Luis Sagasti (Argentina) ‘A Musical Offering’, translated from the Spanish by Fionn Petch (Charco Press)
    María Sonia Cristoff (Argentina) ‘False Calm: A Journey Through the Ghost Towns of Patagonia’, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver (Transit Books)
    Pedro Mairal (Argentina) ‘The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra’, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor (New Vessel Press)
    Daniel Moyano (Argentina) ‘The Devil’s Trill’, translated from the Spanish by Giovanni Pontiero (Serpents Tail)
    Selva Almada (Argentina) ‘The Wind that Lays Waste’, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews (Charco Press)
    Benjamín Labutut (Chile) ‘When We Cease to Understand the World’, translated from the Spanish by Adrian Nathan West (Pushkin Press)
    Alejandro Zambra (Chile) ‘Not to Read’, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (Fitzcarraldo)
    Dulce María Loynaz (Cuba) ‘Absolute Solitude: Selected Poems’, translated from the Spanish by James O’Connor (Archipelago Books/1953 & posthumously 1997/trans. 2015)
    Karla Suárez (Cuba) ‘Havana Year Zero’, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeny (Charco Press)
    Yuri Herrera (Mexico) ‘A Silent Fury: The El Bordo Mine Fire’, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman (And Other Stories)
    Renato Cisneros (Peru) ‘The Distance Between Us’, translated from the Spanish by Fionn Petch (Charco Press)
    José Luis de Juan (Spain) ‘Napoleon’s Beekeeper’, translated from the Spanish by Elizabeth Bryer (Giramondo Publishing)

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Gosh, thank you – that’s quite a list! I’ve heard of a few of them — the Herrara and the Almada — but many, many are new to me. Many thanks for taking the time to jot them all down – it’s great resource for future reference!
      (Also, apologies for the slightly slow response as your comment got trapped in the spam filter and I’ve only just come across it.)

      Reply
  5. kaggsysbookishramblings

    I love Spanish lit month, though more often than not I end up with Portuguese – and I presume Catalan counts, as I have a number of Catalonian books lurking! I will hopefully go for at least one Saramago, and I would like to finally get to Pessoa. Plus I have other titles deep in the TBR – time for a good dig about! Or I could invest in a copy of “Never Any End to Paris”…. ;D

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Yes, Catalan does count. I’m sure I’ve seen examples of Catalonian lit in previous years. Saramago is always a good bet, and there’s Lispector, too, of course (I know you are a fan). Never Any End to Paris is marvellous, and you may well find it of interest given the Hemingway connection. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

      Reply
  6. Julé Cunningham

    What a wonderful selection to peruse! The one author I’ve read is Javier Marías and I love your description of his writing. A book that especially jumps out at me is Nada, one for the TBR. There are two ‘Portuguese’ writers I’m really fond of – of course José Saramago and the Italian Antonio Tabucchi who has lived and written about Portugal for much of his life.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thank you! Marias is a perennial favourite, not least for that gorgeous, meditative prose style – it’s almost like being enveloped in a warm bath, a sort of immersion if you like. I think you’d like Nada a lot. It’s very evocative, almost Gothic in style, especially at first. I’d love to hear your take on it!

      Reply
  7. buriedinprint

    Nooo. I haven’t read a single one! But I have read something else by each of the translators! Does that count? LOL S’ok…I know it does not. There is a good interview with Javier Marias and Eleanor Wachtel on CBC’s Writers & Company and another good one with Valeria Luiselli with David Naimon on Between the Covers. Both long and detailed and enlightening.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Ha! Well, they’re all very highly regarded as translators, so it’s good to hear that you’ve experienced their work. And thank you for those tips about the interviews – I shall add them to my ever-expanding list of things to check out. :)

      Reply
  8. gertloveday

    I’ve read Marias and Vila-Matas but it isgood to be reminded of the variety of writing in Spanish and Portuguese. I’m sorry to say I have so far read nothing by Saramago. On the list.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Yes, I think I recall chatting to you about Marias in the past, a truly wonderful writer whose prose style I adore. (I keep hoping that he will be awarded the Nobel at some point, but there’s no sign of it yet!) Saramago is definitely worth checking out when very you have the time. Blindness (probably his best-known work) is excellent but extremely distressing to read; however the two I would particularly recommend to you are The Double and All the Names for their Kafkaesque tone and style.

      Reply
  9. Radz Pandit

    What a wonderful list Jacqui! I’ve only read one – Who Among Us? – and agree it was pretty impressive. Nada, Things Look Different in the Light, and Sidewalks are the ones that are calling out most to me. Luckily, I have them all.

    Some Spanish lit I have enjoyed are:
    Difficult Light by Tomas Gonzales
    The Wind That Lays Waste by Selva Almada
    Such Small Hands by Andres Barba
    Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
    Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez

    Reply
  10. Tredynas Days

    Marías is a favourite of mine, too, Jacqui. Food for thought in your list of suggestions, and in the comments above. If Catalan lit is ok, what about Basque? I still have a soft spot for the region after working there for a time some years ago. Not much was published under Franco, whose regime banned the language and suppressed the culture; the only one I’ve read in English translation is Bernardo Atxaga’s ‘Obabakoak’, a collection of linked stories set in a fictitious Basque village.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Yes, I recall your fondness for Marias, a truly mesmerising writer. Re the inclusion of lit from Basque, I don’t see why not, despite the differences in language. Stu is the guru, though, so he should probably have the definitive say! I suspect either Stu or Richard (possibly both?) will have read Atxaga at some point…

      Reply
  11. Jane

    Never Any End to Paris sounds excellent but I really like the sound of the challenge and will go over and take a look, thank you Jacqui!

    Reply
  12. Daphna Kedmi

    Thank you so much Jacqui for your recommendations, these and others in your blog. If you are including Portuguese literature, Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet is a masterpiece to be read and reread.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Daphna. I’m really glad you’ve found them interesting and useful. That’s a great recommendation for the Pessoa. It’s been on the periphery of my radar for quite a while, so it’s lovely to hear that you think so highly of it, Many thanks!

      Reply
  13. Pingback: Valdesil Montenovo Godello 2019 – a Spanish white wine for #SpanishLitMonth | JacquiWine's Journal

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