The Best of Young Spanish Novelists...All in One Lit Mag
US and UK readers unfasten your seatbelts. Granta is expanding its “Best of” girth to include twenty-two writers from Spanish speaking countries. Published almost simultaneously in English and Spanish, this collection represents the culmination of a dialogue that began along with Granta en espanol in 2003. A six-judge panel including Valerie Miles and Aurelio Major (Editors of Granta en espanol) hand-picked this crop of “literary stars of the future”, only a handful of which had previously been published in English. The standing requirements were that each writer have at least one novel or story collection to their name and be born on or before January 1, 1975.
Eight of the writers hail from Argentina, six from Spain, two each from Chile and Peru, and one writer from Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia, and Uruguay. While seventeen male writers dominate the selection, the editors assure us in the foreword that “Many of the male writers represent women in a less passive and traditional role than have previous generations, or write in the first person as female narrators.” While certainly encouraging, this seemed more excuse than explanation for the underrepresentation of female writers.
Before reading this collection I’ll admit that I could likely count all of the Spanish-speaking writers I’d read on one hand – Garcia Marquez, Borges, Isabel Allende; my expectations for “Spanish Writing” being thick, musky forests of magical realism, twisting stairs of allegory, and narrative inextricably linked with the political. While several of the stories in this edition contain elements and references to earlier literary masters, this swab of modern talent is largely individual and unpredictable. Their difficulties and fears seem to come from an abundance of choice rather than lack of it, evidenced by stories filled with irony and skepticism.
Nineteen seventy-five was the year that marked the end of dictatorship in Spain. At that time the tradition of exiled South American writers in Paris also came to an end, as young émigrés began to publish in post-Franco Spain. For these ‘young’ writers, censorship, blacklists, exile, and persecution are historical facts rather than lived experiences. Does this make what they have to say any less important? The editors offer this predilection in the foreword: “We had to also take into account here the readers who are not versed in the literary traditions, evolutions, tyrannies, excommunications, revolutions, and betrayals of this language.” As an American reader should I be reassured that they are looking out for the lowest common denominator (may it be accessible to all!) or slightly offended by the indication that this is a diluted selection catered to modern taste?
It feels a little bit like a set-up, with the opening scene of the first story “Cohiba," by Lúcia Puenzo, giving us a man jacking off in a movie theater to the widely-known American feature Fast Food Nation, and a reference to Garcia-Marquez (a Spanish-speaking writer whose name most English readers will recognize). I couldn’t help but think that this had been a strategic placement for those who would pick up the issue and read only the first page when deciding whether or not to make the purchase. I mean, to the puritans of America and stiff upper lips of England, Spanish means steamy, uncensored passages filled with images that make us furtively look around to make sure no one is watching us, right?