I live far away. Not far from myself, of course. I go down the street. There are bookstores. For a few years now, I miss the presence of Spanish authors in their shop windows. Inside, if you search the shelves, you will find something, not much. Perhaps, I tell myself, Spain is clumsy when it comes to promoting its myths abroad; Or is she, as usual, too busy with herself and her old neighborhood squabbles; perhaps he is simply going through a phase of creative decay, a contingency that can befall any human group, I am told.
The fact is that, since I inhaled Central European air, it was not always like that. Perhaps things will change (a little, momentarily) within a year, if Spain achieves the feat of hiding its internal fights outside the home and acts without complexes as guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Decades ago, the works of Spanish writers entered the bestseller lists of my country of residence from time to time, which implied reviews, media attention, readers. Javier Marías, Carlos Ruiz Zafón or Rafael Chirbes were novelists highly appreciated by these Nordic payments. Also the titles of Almudena Grandes, whom I have proposed to remember in this writing, deserved a notorious space in the bookstores of Central Europe and with them, of course, the accompanying speech of the author: her conviction that Spain is an anomalous country that owes an account of compensation to the defeated of the Civil War, his idea that the so-called Transition implied a pact for a partial memory and even for forgetfulness, his tenacious disbelief of a third Spain, the dream of a new republic, Galdós as model for the novelization of the history of Spain …
Years ago I attended the presentation of a novel by Almudena Grandes in a Hannover bookstore, with paid admission and full capacity. The translator read passages from the work, this rite, along with the aforementioned disbursement, which is not usually practiced in Spain. Almudena drags voice annoyances that afternoon that by then perhaps were already of a chronic nature. Hoarseness does not prevent her from being an excellent communicator. I have seen her repeatedly speak in public. Sometimes I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with her. I have no doubt that her ability to make an eloquent connection with those who would listen to her was one of her greatest abilities. He liked to repeat gestures. Often the hair was pushed away from the face. Other times he raised his eyes as if he wanted to read some notes posted on the ceiling. And when it came to refuting or disagreeing, which seemed to be in his genes, he used to shoot reasons through his smile.
I remember her, at the end of the aforementioned presentation, walking through the half-empty streets of Hannover, in the premature night, on the way to a restaurant with other people. He was looking forward, he said, to leaving the bookstore for a cigarette. In those days he had not yet switched to the electronic gadget. “Why do you smoke, Almudena?” “I know, I shouldn’t, but it just gives me a lot of pleasure.” And around the corner, puffs of smoke mixed (it was cold) with the mist of his breath, he took out his mobile to talk to his daughter. “It is that I have promised.”
We shared an editorial, which every year led to the occasional group meeting, often around a well-stocked table. Almudena was, on her own merits, the figurehead of Tusquets Editores. You can write as well as you want, but that does not guarantee that you will print stamp, personality, character, to your publishing house, if it has one. Tusquets is inconceivable without the name, the facial features, the cracked voice, the books by Almudena Grandes. I would say, at the risk of even incurring a beatifying trait, that she was the soul of the publishing house. The other tenants of the catalog were, we are, yes, authors of the house and with great honor and hopefully for many years; We contribute titles with greater or lesser fortune, which is not bad either; but the position of emblematic figure was held exclusively by Almudena Grandes.
Now another memory comes to me, this later one, from 2018. A taxi chartered by the organization of the Turin International Book Fair takes us both to the airport. They tell me in those moments that the woman full of vitality and projects that goes by my side has three years to live, and I refuse to believe it with all my might unless the possibility of a fatal accident is considered. A little while ago, amid the hubbub of the fair, I heard her speak fluent Italian. “And where did you learn the language?” “My first husband was Italian.” And then, a talkative, communicative and highly sociable woman, she tells me about her ability to learn languages.
The airport is far away and I continue my research, digging meticulously, as a novelist, in the lives of others. I ask Almudena the reason for her assiduous dedication to writing texts with political content, an activity that seems to me to be eroding and of little literary profit. He replies that he is very comfortable in the format of the article. She is attracted, as she says, by politics because she studied History, she is very tempted to participate in the general debate of ideas and aspires to contribute, from her fixed space in the newspaper, to the change in the state of things in our country.
Then, alone, I am left thinking about the admirable strategy of this woman who had the insight to draw a clear separation between properly literary creation and the inevitable constraints of conjunctural prose; Thus, he unloaded ideological ballast in his newspaper columns, in his radio appearances and before the public, and he could and in fact he allowed himself to favor artistic criteria when he approached, with iron discipline, the work in his current novel.
In my view, the circumstance that the weight of its vast novelistic constructions falls entirely on the adventures of the characters, each singled out so that none is reduced to an archetype, and not on principles, thesis or ideas, about the works of this writer to National Episodes de Galdós more than any other formal concomitances. I suspect that this is the main reason why his books are significant for a wide spectrum of readers inside and outside of Spain, whether they know our history or not, whether they vote for one party or another.
I have already mentioned at the beginning of this brief and perhaps excessively melancholic string of evocations the international dimension of Almudena Grandes as a writer. Not in vain I had confirmation of his death on the teletext of the first German public channel, shortly after the phone rang requesting a quick obituary, a task that I declined due to lack of serenity and faculties. Another day I read in the Hannover newspaper to which I am subscribed that she had been denied the appointment of favorite daughter of her city. You have to be dowels.
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