Nobody like Almudena Grandes, the Madrid writer who died this Saturday at the age of 61 due to cancer, has had the strength and perseverance to give the defeated Spanish twentieth century the literary epic that they lacked. As of 2007, when he published The frozen heart, Grandes’ career found a meaning that transcended the literary. She was already a successful author and solid prose (some of her earlier novels like Rough Winds O Atlas of human geography were especially celebrated by critics), but when it was over The frozen heart where for the first time he looked at the lives of those republican exiles and their subsequent generations of misfits, he saw the black hole through which a good part of the twentieth century Spaniards were lost.
Sensitized and connected to the historical memory movement, Grandes began in 2010 one of the most far-reaching literary projects of contemporary Spanish narrative: los Episodes of an endless war, a saga of six novels that traversed the worst in 20th century history. Before taking the first title to the street, Agnes and joy, Grandes already knew what he was going to count in the next five. He was the type of writer who sets up scaffolding and outlines plans before starting the building. His objective was to achieve a historical fresco, in the style of Galdós with the XIX century, that would allow portraying the micro and the macro, the atmosphere of a country cracked by a war and the real stories that had been hidden. If, thanks to the first title, readers discovered that unsuccessful attempt by the communists exiled in France, who invaded the Aran Valley in the Lleida Pyrenees in October 1944, with which they won the National Narrative prize, Dr. García’s patients (2017) brings to light the network set up by Clara Stauffer in Madrid to shelter Nazis in a dictatorship that had shown so much sympathy for Hitler.
In the last posted so far, Frankenstein’s mother, investigated the biography of Aurora Rodríguez Carballeira, perhaps the most famous parricide of the Spanish twentieth century, who shot her daughter Hildegart Rodríguez Carballeira in order not to lose her control over her, after having molded her for years to make her a model of an ideal woman . Aurora, who would end up being admitted to the Ciempozuelos (Madrid) asylum, caught the writer, who chose her to make a novel with her in the rough fifties. “I understand that you have to hate it, that it is easy for people to find it hateful, but I find it more fascinating than hateful,” explained the novelist to EL PAÍS in January 2020, during a visit to the Ciempozuelos facilities where the play was going on.
Grandes had the curiosity of the historian and the power of the novelist. Both qualities allowed him to build round artifacts, where scientific rigor and documentation were at the service of a plot designed to move and stir. Literature was born for that, to live other lives and cry other sorrows. History did it to prove that other lives and other penalties existed. Almudena Grandes, of course, did not invent the historical novel, but she did invent a way of making a singular historical novel, marked by her own training as a historian, which pushed her to prove every real detail (you just have to see the final notes of her books , where he exposes which were the facts and which were the literary musings), without any of this tarnishing his narrative pulse.
The pulse has always been there, since he starred in one of the most successful premieres of the young literature of the young democracy. With The ages of Lulu (1990), his first book, became a phenomenon. Eroticism, narrated from a female perspective, swept sales. But it was one of those books that not only measured its impact in numbers, it somehow connected and portrayed the spirit of a time where women’s desire and sexuality were in full transformation.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.