By Dennis Abrams
At El Pais, Chris Finnigan took a look at Hispabooks, a small publishing house in Madrid started by two English-speaking editors, describing it as “hard at work changing perception of Spain abroad.” And with seven translated works of contemporary Spanish literary fiction published last year (and plans to publish eight next year), Finnigan sees these books, “diverse in their style and content,” as “challenging the stereotype of modern Spain.”
He pointed out that with only 3% of the books in the global English speaking market translations, there is little room left for “Spanish authors to tell their story of modern Spain.” (This is opposed of course to translated books in Spain, which make up 30% of the market.)
And while many English-language readers are happy with a concept of Spain born from reading Orwell, Hemingway, and Cervantes (among others), Hispabooks is attempting to change those perceptions:
“The books we publish reflect the present society right now,” director Ana Perez told El Pais. “Both in the style of language – even if it’s a translation — and the situations. They include normal people with personal issues that I think indeed give you an insight into the way Spanish society is nowadays.”
Among their insightful titles: Jose Carlos Llop’s The Stein Report, “a short novel set on the island of Majorca in the 1960s, about a newcomer throwing a small community off balance as he unveils unanswered questions of their own past – a particularly modern Spanish story.” There’s the tragi-comedy Anton Mallick Wants to Be Happy by Nicolas Casariego, as well as modern classic The Faint-Hearted Bolshevik by Lorenzo Silva, which tells the story of a driver in a traffic jam on his way to work who accidentally slams into the car in front. As the book’s blurb says, “When the woman driving the other car reacts with a torrent of abuse out of all proportion to the incident, the driver cracks and decides to teach her a lesson, by dedicating his whole summer to ruining this foul woman’s life.”
And then there’s Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente (the winner of Spain’s national fiction prize in 2011 for Tiempo de Vida.) Paris received rave reviews here in the U.S. — at The Quarterly Conversation, Alex McElroy wrote:
Paris reminds us that the stories we tell about others are always stories about ourselves. The attempt to understand another, through narrative, is like walking through a house of mirrors alone, hoping to catch, in one of those mirrors—the next one, perhaps, or the next one, the next one?—the image of another. Paris is an excellent first novel.
I read Paris myself, and thought it was an excellent novel, first or otherwise, and as Hispabooks hoped, it inspired me to search out other contemporary Spanish fiction, to discover a country I’d only glimpsed in older, “classic” works.
As Finnigan concluded:
These contemporary works of fictions get you closer to a nation that has changed so much so recently than older historical Anglocentric texts or genre fiction translated from Spanish. To hark back to admittedly some of the greatest English-speaking writers, is to miss out on understanding the vast changes Spain has undergone – the end of self-censorship, the transition to democracy, the forgotten recent past. Hispabooks are giving a voice to award-winning, innovative and pioneering Spanish writers, allowing them to construct their own identity in the English-reading world. These works let you get a little bit closer, as a non-native, to what really is going on in Spain, what the country is really thinking.
And really, what more could one want?