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Jessa CrispinBack to OpinionJessa Crispin

Spanish language literature beyond the Nobel prize

One of my favorite things about the Nobel Prize is the general obscurity of their choices. Suddenly a nation’s literature comes into focus, and for the first time we get to hear about authors in Romania or Hungary or Iceland.

This time, however, with the award going to Mario Vargas Llosa, an author with a relatively well established name and reputation, even in the United States, the award has not drawn many other writers into the spotlight. I asked Anne McLean, who has translated some of my favorite Spanish language authors into English, for a list of suitable recommendations, of what to read after you’ve caught up on your Llosa.

by Horacio Castellanos Moya

“The Art of Political Murder”
by Francisco Goldman

Both books are about the same crime: the murder of Guatemalan human rights advocate Bishop Juan Gerardi, who was assassinated after releasing a report on the disappearances and deaths of more than 200,000 men, women, and children during the Civil War. They each take a different approach — Moya has written a darkly (and I mean dark) funny novel about the writing of the report, while Goldman has written a nonfiction account of the Bishop’s life, murder, and the trial of his assailants.

“Anatomy of a Moment”
by Javier Cercas
(will be released February 2011 by Bloomsbury)

“Three of the writers I translate are actually favorites of Vargas Llosa’s,” McLean wrote me, including Javier Cercas. McLean has translated Cercas before, and this latest is “about the 1981 attempted coup in Spain, which won the National Prize for Narrative the day after the Nobel was arrived.”

“The Informers and Secret History of Costaguana”
by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

Vasquez is another one of Llosa’s favorites, and he “uses a quite Vargas Llosaesque approach of employing fiction to interrogate reality, history, emotions…” Vasquez’s previous book “The Informers” involved a writer investigating his own father after his mysterious death in a car crash. Early next year “Secret History of Costaguana” will be released, is a fictional encounter between Joseph Conrad and the Colombian man who tells him the story that becomes his next book.

“Oblivion: A Memoir”
by Hector Abad

McLean writes: “And finally Hector Abad, whose memoir is just out here in the U.K. tells the life story of the author’s doctor father who was murdered by paramilitaries in Medellin in 1987 and which MVL described as being ‘like all masterpieces, many things at once’.”


  • Colin Fitzpatrick

    Why did you leave The Savage Detectives or any other Bolano off this list? I can’t think of another recent Spanish translation that might qualify as highly as a ‘must read.’

  • Richard R Shea

    Why does Javier Marías not make the list? I can think of few novelists in any language who are better

  • Datsun

    The list was meant to be incomplete – didn’t the author say to add to it? So thanks for the Bolano and Javier Marias tips.

  • Mspablo2u

    Isabel Allende’s Paula.
    Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist.

  • L B-G

    How about some oldies but goodies like Miguel de Unamuno and José Ortega y Gasset? Ana María Matute is still alive and she is a prime example of fiction in post-Civil War Spanish literature…

  • Victoria Bañales Atxirika

    “Spanish literature” is not the same as “Literature in Spanish.” When I read “Spanish literature” it means “literature from Spain” (not Guatemala, Colombia, Mexico, etc.).

  • Mariluz25us

    Coelho is Brazilian. He writes in Portuguese

  • Beatriz

    Isabel Allende’s Inés of my Soul
    Marcela Serrano’s Antigua vida mia

  • Lfire25

    The writer does say “Spanish language authors”–but you make a good distinction.

  • Aldo

    Jorge Luis Borges that is PURE literature, in spanish.

  • goober

    Thanks for the recommendations. I’m going to read Senselessness and Oblivion: A Memoir.