Spanning continents

Tertulia, vol. 11

Hola. This is Barbara. I’d like to share with you three exciting topics this week: the return of the Spanish exile in literature and historiography, a new biography about Luis Vives, and a short presentation of writer Estanislao Medina Huesca. Let’s start with him.

Estanislao Medina Huesca

In April, the renowned literary magazine Granta published its second list celebrating 25 authors in the Spanish language under 35 . Estanislao Medina Huesca (1990) is one of the authors included. He is from Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea. As a student, he attended the same school where he teaches Spanish today. His school is linked to the Salesians in Madrid, where he studied for his Master. As he recounts in an interview with El País, integration in Madrid was not easy despite speaking the same language, and he faced micro-racism from his co-students and professors on a regular basis.
Back home, he started to write to “estimular la lectura por medio de historias cercanas” (to stimulate reading through stories from near-by). He self-published his first fiction in 2016. For his new novel Suspéh. Memorias de un expandillero (Suspéh. Memories of an ex-gang member), Medina took to the streets of Malabo to document the poverty and daily violence of the gangs of youngsters. Suspéh is the local expression used to alert the arrival of the police. It is a recollection of his blog entries about his observations. Medina has chosen the right profession and remains optimistic:

Me gustaría que leyesen. En el momento en que lo hagan, este país habrá cambiado para siempre. (quotation taken from the interview passages in El País)

Translation (mine): I would like them to read. By the time they do, this country will have changed forever.

As his other books, Suspéh is only available on demand. Possibly, his blog is the quickest access to his way of thinking and writing even though he stopped publishing it in 2017. I have also found an interesting interview with him about his first novel, Barlock: Los hijos del gran búho (Barlock: Children of the great owl). Let’s hope the inclusion on the list widens his publication possibilities.

I will look more into the GRANTA list for the upcoming editions of the newsletter.

The return of the Spanish exile

Exile has left a scar in the Spanish history of the 20th century. To understand this history in its complexity, it is important to research on all different levels the complex process of being forced to leave your country and eventually return again. In 1939, more than half a million people crossed the border into France. Two thirds of them returned in the following months. The others had to find a new home abroad. Among those who returned, many went into “internal exile”. The Spanish newspaper El País has a good overview of new publications dedicated to the Spanish exile in the 20th century, covering topics like the contribution of the Spanish exile to the democratic transition of Spain, the underground activism of those who decided to stay, and a new collection of poems.

This article reminded me to recommend two of my favourite authors who have made the Spanish exile after the civil war a topic of their fiction.

Jordi Soler depicts the history of his Republican grandfather and several comrades who emigrated from Barcelona to establish a coffee plantation near Veracruz in Mexico. I can highly recommend the trilogy about his family:

  • Los Rojos de Ultramar (2004) / The Reds from overseas

  • La última hora del último día (2007) / The last hour of the last day

  • La Fiesta del Oso (2009) / literally: The bear’s festival, but Mondadori prefers the title The Republican Tale, probably to make explicit the historic context of the novel

The three books were republished together in 2012 under the title of La guerra perdida (The lost war). Each novel can be read as stand-alone, but the main characters are so endearingly weird and unique that you wish to continue. It is very intriguing to follow them on their escape, how they built a colony in the middle of the jungle where they continue to speak catalan as if they had never left home, and where they plan the assassination of Franco. Well, we all know that the latter remained a phantasy. They had to wait until 1975 to see the dictator die of age. Jordi Soler, grandson of those who fled Spain, today resides in Barcelona.

On this occasion, of course, I’d also like to mention again Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s last novel Volver la vistra atrás (2021, Look back), which I already reviewed in my newsletter from early May. The book recounts the story of the Cabrera family who went to Colombia after Franco won the civil war.

A new biography about Luis Vives

Juan Luis Vives (1493–1540) was a humanist and educational theorist. His work consisted of reading, writing, and advising. He is considered one of the most influential advocates of humanistic learning in the early sixteenth century. Luis Vives was born into a converso family in Valencia in 1492 or 1493. His father, Luis Vives Valeriola (1453–1524), had been prosecuted in 1477 for secretly practicing Judaism. After a second trial he was burned at the stake. Vives’s mother, Blanquina March (1473–1508) died in 1508 of the plague. Twenty years after her death, she was charged with having visited a clandestine synagogue. Her remains were exhumed and publicly burned. Luis Vives left the precarious situation of a converted Jew after his mother’s death and began to study in Paris. He would never return to Spain. For most of his life, he lived in Bruges. He also spent time in England when he was a tutor of Mary Tudor, the daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. I have used the biographical details as cited on Stanford’s Plato site, but for a quick orientation I can also recommend the introduction to his entry in the Oxford Bibliographies.

I you are interested in getting a nuanced view into his life and writings, there is also a new book for you on the Spanish book market: Philosophy professor José Luis Villacañas (Universidad Complutense Madrid) recently published a biographical essay about Vives. In this essay, he explains the eclectic contributions of Luis Vives to humanist thinking. In the following talk, he aims to show how Vives understood the complexity of the human condition from both the perspective of a Sephardic Jew with roots in Valencia, but also with the mind of a European humanist. He promoted consensus and reconciliation to resolve the religious and ideological disputes of his times while others were preparing for war to solve them. According to Villacañas, he learned the values he felt, rationalized and acted upon in his family environment.

It is a good sign that a thinker like him gets more attention again. By the way, I first didn’t learn about Luis Vives by reading his many books. I learned about him and his origins when I applied for my first student stay abroad. In Valencia, I was supposed to stay at the Colegio Mayor Luis Vives located on Avenida Blasco Ibáñez, so I had to look up who that name-giving guy was before the interview 😀.

One more thing: Spend your time wisely

Spanish writer and cultural critic Jorge Carrión published a very commonsensical observation on Twitter. I am happy to share it with you. For an English translation, click on the tweet so you can use Twitter’s automatic translation service.

I couldn’t agree more. I like the idea of cultural journalism and literature as a space of open and honest debate. When harsh criticism, however, is mainly motivated to produce more clicks for the sake of clicks or boost one’s ego, a fruitful discourse that relies on identifying some common ground and shared interests before starting the debate is hardly possible.

This is all for this week. Let me know what you think. If you have new ideas, please, leave a comment.

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