Why Your Next Read Should Be From Catalonia
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Native writers tend to tell the stories you’re not expecting.
Since the recent vote for Catalan independence resulted in an overwhelming cry to “leave,” the world’s gaze has been cast upon the Spanish region of Catalonia. But it’s slim pickings for English-language readers looking for literary insight into this fascinating, independent-minded culture, with translations of Catalan masterpieces woefully sparse.
And for every regularly translated Montserrat Roig, Quim Monzó or Jaume Cabré — the latter of whom Catalan scholar Montserrat Lunati considers to be “possibly the best novelist in Catalan right now” — you’ve got a Max Besora, Albert Pijuan or Maria Guasch, who’ve been recognized for producing some of the best books of 2017, but have yet to see their works published in English.
Still, English-language publications are slowly taking note. Based on recommendations from Catalan writer, literary critic and current coordinator of the “Barcelona, City of Literature” project Marina Espasa, and others, here are some texts that you can find in English, whether in print or online.
We Could Have Studied Less by Marta Rojals
(Translated by Alicia Maria Meier). Rojals’ impressive 2011 debut, Primavera, estiu, etcètera, is an “exceptionally good” novel, Espasa says, that effectively taps into the everyday parlance of the people, all while exploring the plights of a generation. The author strikes a balance between selling well without selling out, Espasa adds, and that’s also evident in her tightly crafted “passionate and on-the-money” essays, such as those compiled in We Could Have Studied Less. Life in contemporary Catalonia has rarely been articulated so well.
Translated excerpts here.
‘For No One’ from La mala reputació by Bel Olid
(Translated by María Cristina Hall). As a writer’s rights activist, one-time candidate for a seat in Catalan Parliament and a key figure of queer visibility on the Catalan literary scene, Olid is so much more than a writer. “For No One,” taken from her short story collection La mala reputació, is one of her few pieces available in English, says Catalan-to-English translator Bethan Cunningham. And like Olid herself, it’s complex and engrossing. A queer, tragic love story of sorts, it’s a beautifully executed tale that will leave you emotionally broken.
Translated short story here.
You’ve Likely Never Been to a Party This Big by Borja Bagunyà
(Translated by Scott Shanahan). Bagunyà may have published three books and generated much critical acclaim and discussion, but he remains surprisingly underrated beyond the Catalan literary scene. In fact, his short story “You’ve Likely Never Been to a Party This Big” (translated in 2017), which relates the disorienting, so often unarticulated horrors of attending a sprawling social gathering, is the first time an English translation of his work has been published online.
Translated short story here.
The Last Patriarch by Najat el Hachmi
(Translated by Peter Bush). One of the most widely acclaimed (and widely translated) books to come from Catalonia in the past decade is The Last Patriarch, by Moroccan-Spanish author el Hachmi. Touching on some of the more overtly drawn autobiographical themes addressed in her 2004 debut, Jo també sóc catalana (I’m Catalan Too), this is a two-parter of violence, identity and, ultimately, empowerment.
Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
As opposed to the previous writers, Cantero often skips the whole translation debacle, and writes in English. His second English-language novel, New York Times best-seller Meddling Kids — inspired by kids’ TV favorite Scooby-Doo — blends a unique, meta narrative with more pop culture references than Stranger Things (however, it does a far better job at subverting them).
Further English-language reading:
- The Boys by Toni Sala (translated by Mara Faye Lethem)
- The Body’s Reason by Maria-Mercè Marçal (translated by Montserrat Abelló and Noèlia Díaz-Vicedo)
- The Gray Notebook by Josep Pla (translated by Peter Bush)
- Lost Luggage by Jordi Puntí (translated by Julie Wark)
- Women Writers in Catalan by various
Further Catalan-language reading:
- Vulcano by Max Besora
- El talent by Jordi Nopca
- Olor de clor sota la roba by Maria Guasch
- El dia del cérvol by Marina Espasa
- Albert Serra (la novel·la, no el cineasta) by Albert Forns
- El dia de l’ós by Joan-Lluís Lluís
- La pell de la frontera by Francesc Serés (also available in Spanish)