Spanish Writers

A few years ago, I discovered translations of the Hungarian author Sandor Marai and have been transported to another culture and to different epochs in history. Last year, while perusing the Writer’s Almanac on this date, I discovered several new books (and an author) that I simply had to read, and now share
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On May 11, three famous 20th-century Spanish intellectuals were born: Painter Salvador Dalí in 1904 in Figueras, Spain. Nobel Prize-winning novelist Camilo José Cela in 1916 in Padrón, Spain. And Francisco Umbral — a who was Spain’s best-known writer — in 1935 in Madrid.

Salvador Dalí’s ambitions included cultivating a reputation for eccentricity, and he once said, “The one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous.” You might remember his perfectly waxed, upturned mustache that’s been alternately described as “flamboyant,” “grotesque,” and “hilarious.” He often sported clothes like Oscar Wilde’s. He himself said he had a “love of everything that is gilded and excessive.” On of his most famous painting is “The Persistence of Memory” (1931); it’s the one of melted pocket watches hanging from trees and other objects, now in the NYC Museum of Modern Art. Dalí died in 1989, the year that Camilo José Cela won the Nobel Prize in literature. His best-known works include The Family of Pascual Duarte (1942), which the Nobel committee said was “probably the most read novel in Spanish literature … after Don Quixote.”

Francisco “Paco” Umbral was incredibly prolific, writing 80 books in addition to his regular newspaper column for El País. He received critical acclaim in Spain, including the country’s top literary prize in 2000. He was unpopular with the international intellectual community, because he was contemptuous of left-leaning intellectuals, belittling the ideas and insulting the characters of those who served on international literary prize judging committees. Camilo José Cela was close friends with Paco. Among his 80 books are a number of biographies including Lorca and Lord Byron. His more recent books include The Capital of Sorrow (1996), A Thief’s Forge (1997), Stories of Love and Viagra (1998), and Beloved Twentieth Century (2007). He died in 2007. I had read Umbral in my Spanish classes, all those years ago, but having just finished a biography of Byron by O’Brien, was intrigued to get a different opinion, perspective. Not easy to find translations, but worth the time. Another reason for internet access!

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