German in the Air

Rafael Chirbes only became popular in Spain after the Great Recession hit and his 2007 novel Crematorium turned out to be extremely prescient. (Not that you needed to be a genius to figure out that Spain’s corrupt construction industry was bad news and was on the verge of popping like a rotten papaya).

Before that, Chirbes was popular among two groups: literary critics and Germans. His books sold like hotcakes in Germany. I could never figure out why until I started reading Chirbes’s diaries. It turned out he was very much into German literature. Read every German writer in existence. And apparently somehow this Germanized his own writing in a way that German readers perceived and liked.

I’ve read a fair number of Germans but Chirbes’s diaries give a crash course in German literature of which I never even heard.

It’s fascinating how these things work. People feel these affinities without needing them to be named.

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