What to Read in Spanish: Contemporary Peninsular Fiction

I receive many emails asking me this question, so I decided to post a list of the best Spanish novels I have read recently. In Spain, there is a veritable boom of amazing novels that get published every year. This is a relatively new phenomenon since in the late nineties and early 2000s, there was a lull in good fiction written in Spain. Today, I walk into a bookstore, and I’m overwhelmed with the range of amazing new novels. I can only imagine what will happen to me when I travel to Spain in March.

So here is recent novels from Spain that I highly recommend:

1. Javier Cercas, Las leyes de la frontera (2012). This novel is a fascinating study of male homoeroticism masked as a discussion of juvenile delinquency of Spain’s Transition era. Cercas has redeemed himself in my eyes after years of not being able to publish anything worthwhile. Ideologically, he is still and would always be un facha de mierda but he is a very skillful writer. There is a lot of 1980s juvenile slang in the novel, so I’m not recommending it to people whose language skills are not very good.

2. Almudena Grandes, Inés y la alegría (2010) and El lector de Julio Verne (2012). The more recent of these novels is highly recommended for people with intermediate Spanish language skills. I gave excerpts to my students and they devoured them. Even the weakest Spanish speakers did not have a problem with reading this novel. In this series of novels about the struggle of the Republican guerrillas after the Spanish Civil War, Almudena Grandes offers a very curious approach to rewriting history. I will have more to say in my scholarly articles on the subject.

3. Benjamín Prado, Mala gente que camina (2006). The reason why I only discovered this novel this year was that I always dismissed Prado as the author of whiny male Bildungsromane about rich boys who complain about their Papas and listen to boring American punk rock music as if it were some sort of a subversive act. Somehow, I missed the moment when Prado abandoned all that silly Generation X crap and became a good writer. This is a novel about a high school professor of literature who is investigating the Civil War. Completely unlike Prado’s 1990s stuff.

4. Alicia Giménez Bartlett, Donde nadie te encuentre (2011). This is a really good, multi-layered novel about an intersex guerrilla fighter in the Franco Spain. Again, you don’t need a super-sophisticated Spanish to read it.

5. Teresa Solano, Atajo al paraíso (2008). This is a highly entertaining mystery novel from a gifted Catalonian writer. When I delivered a talk on this novel at a conference, the audience rocked with laughter whenever I read excerpts from the text. And you’ll know that this means a lot if you ever tried getting a conference audience to smile.

6. Manuel Vilas, España (2008). Give the post-modern a chance and read this amazing collection of stories by the incredibly brilliant Manuel Vila. If even I, a reader who prefers a good, solid Realist piece of fiction, to any other form of reading, loved this book to the point of moaning with joy and scaring my husband while I read it, then I don’t know how you can fail to love it.

7. If your Spanish has gotten really rusty and you want to start easing your way back into it, I recommend La guerra de mi abuelo (2011) by Leonardo Cervera.  It’s a very easy-to-read, short novel about a boy who is discovering Spanish Civil War through talks with his grandfather. If you are high school teacher of Spanish and are looking for a nice book for your intermediate-level students to read, get this one.

8. Dime quien soy (2010) by Julia Navarro is a very accessible, engrossing novel. An unsuccessful journalist tries to make ends meet by investigating the fascinating life of Amelia Garayoa, a long-lost relative. The Spanish Civil War, World War II, Spain, South America, England, Poland, the novel is long and packed with events and characters. If you like endless novels with a plot twist on every page, you will enjoy this book.

9. El tiempo entre costuras (2011) by María Dueñas is anotehr very long and very entertaining novel about a young woman who realizes that living her life as an appendage to a man is not a good idea and learns to take responsibility for herself during the years of the Spanish Civil War. Yes, everybody is writing about the Civil War in Spain today.

I have no idea which of these books are available in English translation but I believe that many of them will end up being translated, so do follow them to see when translations get published.

I will continue this list after I come back from Spain.

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7 comments on “What to Read in Spanish: Contemporary Peninsular Fiction

  1. “listen to boring American punk rock music as if it were some sort of a subversive act”

    While I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for punk rock (esp early 80s US) I hate, hate, HATE novels where the non-English speaking European protagonist makes a big thing about listening to banal Anglo-American rock as if it were some sign of superior taste.
    At least two otherwise okay crime/detective stories I’ve read in the last year or so were ruined by that. Yeah, you like Dire Straits and Neil Young, good for yooooooouuuuuuuuu! Go write a piece of musical criticism I can ignore instead of projecting your taste onto the reader as a subsitute for characterization.

    • “While I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for punk rock (esp early 80s US) I hate, hate, HATE novels where the non-English speaking European protagonist makes a big thing about listening to banal Anglo-American rock as if it were some sign of superior taste.”

      - I KNOW!! Many of the Spanish and LatAm novels of the 1990s are unreadable because of that. And this is such a trite way of describing characters. It has been done so often!

  2. I’ve been thinking recently about easy novels in Spanish to help my son (16) improve his language skills, so your post is very well timed. His level is definitely around intermediate so he should be able to cope.

  3. Pingback: What to Read in Spanish: Contemporary Peninsula...

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