Spain


Barcelona Graffiti
Photo of Barcelona by Aeioux used under a Creative Commons license.

Javier Calvo, Wonderful World (Harper, 2009).
A novel set in Barcelona involving antique dealing, criminal gangs, nightclubs, medieval Irish paintings, Russian emigres, a precocious and disturbed teenaged girl at an Italian school, and the release of an eponymous Stephen King novel. The novel is full of unpleasant people treating each other poorly, with few exceptions, and those not put off by such things are likelier to enjoy it.

Here is Calvo’s Wikipedia entry. This is his blog. The publisher lets you take a look. Edward Nawotka (Dallas Morning News) calls it a peculiar amalgam of crime caper, literary homage and Eurotrash sideshow. Janelle Martin likens Calvo to David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino. Ryan Williams says Calvo is a satirist who sides with the villains. Sarah Weinman calls it a magical ride. Lianne Habinek was weirded out and disappointed. Shaman Drum says think of it as a midnight movie in book form. Matt McGregor thinks genre play gets the better of Calvo. Barbara Fister calls it a mashup of crime fiction, caper, dystopia, and family drama. D Reading Room took on the book. Listen to Calvo and the translator, Mara Faye Lethem, on the Ed Segundo show. Shaun Manning interviewed Lethem.

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Gaudi
Photo of La Pedrera – Casa Milà by Paco CT used under a Creative Commons license.

Robert Hughes, Barcelona: The Great Enchantress (National Geographic, 2004).
Hughes, an Australian expat who was Time‘s art critic for years, has long made Barcelona his home away from home, and wrote a longer and more celebrated book (confusingly titled Barcelona) on the city seventeen years ago. National Geographic must have decided that this made him the right person to write about the city for their Directions series, for which well-known authors write short books about places. The result sometimes feels like a writing assignment rather than an organic book, but it works as a handy introduction to the city. Hughes follows a chronological approach in describing how the built environment of Barcelona came to be, and what is unique about Barcelona’s culture pours out around the edges.

Here’s Wikipedia’s page on Hughes. Hughes wrote an homage to Barcelona in Time in 1992. Here are two paragraphs from the book on Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Batlló (with a picture of the facade). Miquel O’Dochartaigh posts some favorite passages. Ian or Linda Kaplan calls it a readable overview of Barcelona, its architecture and Catalan culture; he likes it more than Hughes’ other book, but not as much as Colm Tóibín’s Homage to Barcelona. Sarah says it brings the city alive like no other, and she lived there. George V. Reilly gave it 3.5 stars (out of 5) and calls it well-written and opinionated, if overly selective. John Novick found it helpful. Paul Symonds says it’s at once a personal account and a travel documentary; he recommends nine other Barcelona books, too. Nancy Todd calls it a fascinating painting of the Catalan capital; she, too, has other recommendations. Natalie Perrin calls it schizophrenic. Adam D. Roberts used Hughes as a guide. Reuben is inspired by Barcelona’s architecture. Tyson Williams picked it up before he went to Barcelona, where he took photos.And Jennifer Schuessler reports on Barcelona bookstores.

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opera madrid
Photo by *alfoto used under a Creative Commons license.

Javier Marías, The Man of Feeling (Vintage, 2005).
The narrator of this short novel is an opera singer, a tenor, a native of Madrid, who recounts his dream of the events four years earlier, upon his return to the city to perform. He encounters an odd trio: a Belgian banker, his Spanish wife, herself a native of Madrid, and their paid companion, Dato, and each of the four is a tragic, lonely figure. To describe much of the plot risks evoking melodrama, but Marías, himself a native of Madrid, is too strong and interesting a writer for that. Published in Spain in 1986 as El hombre sentimental, and translated by Margaret Jull Costa.

Google BookSearch gives a preview, and here is another long excerpt. Here is the author’s site, and here is Wikipedia’s page about him. Aida Edemariam (The Guardian) profiles Marías. So do Wyatt Mason (The New Yorker), Christina Patterson (The Independent) and Ilan Stavans (The Nation).  The Complete Review calls it an impressive little work, and provides some excellent links. Penny Hueston (The Age) says Marías has the gift of making what could seem like a banal albeit tragic love triangle read as a gripping tale of the heart. Matthew Kirkpatrick (Bookslut) says this quiet book is remarkable and surprising. Josh Lacey (The Guardian) sees a novel of unusual beauty, insight and imaginative power. Lawrence Venuti (The New York Times Book Review) says Marías is preoccupied with the erotic imagination. Zoe Green (The Observer) calls it a book of contradictions, an unusual mixture of the melancholy with the comic; of tender description with pitiless detail; of lightheaded dreamscape with squalid reality. Steven G. Kellman (Review of Contemporary Fiction) calls it perverse and powerful. Joy Press (Village Voice) says it has a gothic heart. The Washington Times‘ reviewer calls it breathtaking.  Craig Morgan Teicher gobbled it. Essan Dragone sees loves of selfishness. Vendela Vida nominates Marías to be literary ambassador from Spain, but says that this is not one of his best books.  Lawrence Venuti considers the translationThis blog is dedicated to Marias. Paul Ingendaay interviewed him for Bombsite in 2000.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

The Flourish
Photo by pmorgan used under a Creative Commons license.

A.L. Kennedy, On Bullfighting (Anchor, 2001).
Struggling with writer’s block and depression, Kennedy, a Scottish novelist, took a commission to write on bullfighting, eventually resulting in this book.  Kennedy did some research and traveled to Spain, where she saw several bullfights in 1998 and 1999.  The result is a short and personal account with an expansive treatment of the cultural meaning of the sport and ritual.  Perhaps because of her own distress, Kennedy is particularly attuned to the spectacle of death in the corrida — the bull’s and often the bullfighters — and while not an expert, at least at the outset, she wrote a terrific book on the subject.

Here is Kennedy’s site, and here is Wikipedia’s bio. Stanley Conrad reviews it at Mundo Taurino, a site devoted to bullfighting — he calls On Bullfighting a valuable grounding for anyone new to the bullfights. Dea Birkett (The Independent) calls it informative, minutely observed and beautifully written, but also surprisingly cold. The book caught hold of Marla M. Mitchell’s imagination. The New Yorker appreciated brilliant descriptions of the action in the ring. Troy Patterson (EW) says Kennedy charges in with curiosity and a flinty wit. Monica Drake (The Portland Mercury) is put off by Kennedy’s writing about herself. Briar Grace-Smith (The Turbine) enjoyed it immensely (scroll down).Gavin J. Grant’s interview with Kennedy focused on the book. So did Julia Livshin’s interview with her for The Atlantic. Maud Newton interviewed her too. Kennedy wrote about an eleven-year-old matador for The Guardian about a month ago.

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sevilla
Photo of Seville by sjaces used under a Creative Commons license.

Robert Wilson, The Blind Man of Seville (Harvest, 2004).
At 8:15 in the Thursday morning of Semana Santa, Holy Week, Inspector Javier Falcón is called to investigate a heinous murder in Seville. A lead prompts him to read his father’s journals, which he comes to realize bear on the case. The investigation takes him deeper into his family’s secrets and closer to the killer. As mysteries go, this is more literary than most. Wilson has written more mysteries featuring Falcón (though I haven’t read them yet).

Here are reviews from Ava Dianne Day (BookReporter), Mark Thomas (The Age), J. Kingston Pierce (January Magazine) (scroll down), Bob Hoover (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), Jana L. Perskie (Mostly Fiction), Eurico Matos, Erica Hanson, and Martin Radcliffe. This reviewer did not like it at all. Photographer Alex Waterhouse-Hayward appreciates Wilson’s Seville. Georgina Burns interviewed Wilson about the book. Luan Gaines interviewed him too. And here is another interview. Also, here are pictures from a reception for the book’s publication.

Buy this book at Amazon.com.