This 2020 will go down in the history of the publishing industry as the year with two September and no book fair. The state of alarm decreed on March 14 to curb the coronavirus forced close the bookstores and postpone the spring festivities, including April 23. Its staggered reopening in May marked the first rentrée. The second comes in the midst of the outbreak of the pandemic, something that has already forced the crowded Madrid fair to be definitively suspended – rescheduled for October 2 – and to rethink the format of two mastodons such as those in Frankfurt and Guadalajara (Mexico). The uncertain autumn that is coming will have at least one certainty: it will be full of weighty books. Among other reasons, because the publishers tried to protect their best bets in March in the hope that around the summer they would help square the accounts of the most unlikely year of our lives.
1. A wonderful novel
Elena Medel He was born 35 years ago, but he was only 17 when he published his first collection of poems and revealed himself as the great voice of Spanish poetry of the 21st century. It had been known for a long time that he was working on a novel that never finished appearing. Well, it’s here – well, October 2 – and it’s another jolt. Its titled The wonders (Anagram) and tells the story of two women of different generations who arrived from Córdoba to Madrid. Condemned — not resigned — to work on what comes out, the two have led a life in which two questions throb: what would their relationship with love, motherhood and family have been like if they had had money? What if they had been men? Without Manichaeisms and in just 200 pages that do not give truce, Medel places his protagonists against the background of Franco’s death, the victory of the PSOE in 1982, the economic crisis or March 8, 2018. If we were professors, we would say that substance and form go hand in hand in a stylistic prodigy that, while remaining highly personal, recalls the audacity of Virginia Woolf, the atmosphere of Carmen Laforet and the rawness of Rafael Chirbes. If we were journalists, we would say that one of the best poets in Spain has suddenly become one of its greatest novelists.
2. Feather fields, battlefields
Another author who cannot write a bad book is Sara Mesa, who in One Love (Anagram) returns to raise another of his sieges to “normal.” The story of Natalia, a translator who decides to settle in a town, allows her to reflect this time on “the malaise of happiness” while exposing all the conventions about sex and feelings. The protagonist of Good luck (Alfaguara), the first novel by Rosa Montero after receiving the National Literature Award in 2017. Pablo is a successful architect who one day gets off the train at a station that does not correspond to him and decides to start a new life confined in a southern town. Empty Spain begins to fill with books. Of another type of love, the paternalofilial, they also try Ignacio Martínez de Pisón –End of season– and Alberto Olmos –Irene and the air-, both in Seix Barral. The latter, by the way, still has on the news table a collection of articles whose title refers to the past but could become a premonition: When Vips was the best bookstore in town (Chalk Circle).
On the thanatic reverse of the Spanish narrative of the coming months is one of the novels called to alleviate the crisis in bookstores: Fire line (Alfaguara), by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, which narrates from the point of view of eight characters the bloodiest episode of the Civil War: the battle of the Ebro. Sales are assured: Sidi in 2019 it was ranked number 12 in the list of most purchased titles according to the survey of the Federation of the Publishers Guild (number 1 was still occupied by Fernando Aramburu with Homeland, a 2016 release). The controversy is also assured: with the Falcó and The Civil War series told to young people behind his back, Reverte claims to have written his novel regardless of any ideological position, an endeavor as difficult as crossing the Ebro in the summer of 1938.
3. The (fallen) angel of the revolution
Irving Castillo is one of the protagonists of another choral novel, Like dust in the wind (Tusquets), by Leonardo Padura. Homosexual exiled in Madrid, he sometimes sits in the Retiro to look at the statue of the Fallen Angel – a few steps from where the Book Fair will not be held – to wonder if the monument will not be a symbol of everything he believed in and his friends in the times of “happy credulity”, when what they did was “historical” because it involved the forging of the “new man” hardened in work, study and the rifle. The monumental (672 pages) novel by Padura deals with the reverse of that dream, a multiple portrait of a generation between the so-called Special Period and the “historic” visit to Havana by Barack Obama. This took place in 2016. That one, after the fall of the USSR in the 1990s, another time of a “new normal” full of euphemisms, ruin and rafters.
Without leaving Cuba and now that blackness and slavery return to the conversation, the reissue of Biography of a cimarrón (Siruela), a classic by Miguel Barnet that tells the life of Esteban Montejo with the tools of the best testimonial literature. Another relevant recovery is very first in Spain. Finally, a publisher from the Peninsula —Días Contados— dares to publish The river without banks, by Juan José Saer, a classic of Argentine literature. Saer did with the Río de la Plata the same as Claudio Magris with the Danube to tell the story of his country, mixing story, memory and travel.
Among the most anticipated Latin American novelties of the new course are, however, the storybook The flying girls (Foam Pages), by the Ecuadorian Mónica Ojeda, who set the bar very high with her masterful Mandible (Candaya); Stop (Random House Literature), by Mexican Fernanda Melchor, who did the same with Hurricane season (on the same stamp), and The only child (Anagram)by his compatriot Guadalupe Nettel.
4. Old reality, new normal
It is difficult for the same author to win awards like the Booker or the Pulitzer twice, but this is what Hilary Mantel and Colson Whitehead have done. The first publishes now The thunder in the kingdom (Destiny), the volume that closes his successful trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. The second returns with The Nickel Boys (Random House Literature), the story of a black boy interned in a reformatory despite his idealism and pacifism. There are many ways to put the knee to a person’s neck and not all are part of the police repertoire.
If part of the translated narrative keeps one foot in the crudest reality – it is also the case of The war of the poor (Tusquets), by Éric Vuillard, or The consent (Lumen), by Vanessa Springora—, another tries to escape from her by way of science fiction and dystopia. They are the paths chosen by Ted Chiang and Don DeLillo. Famous for having written the story that inspired Denis Villeneuve the film The arrival, Chiang publishes Exhalation (Sixth floor), a collection of stories starring androids, alchemists, digital pets and human beings with absolute memory. DeLillo, for his part, doesn’t need to travel very far – to 2022 – because the immediate future is already unsettling. That year there is a global power blackout that leaves humanity without access to technology. Can you imagine a confinement in those circumstances? Counts it in The silence (Seix Barral). On the same stamp, Laurent Binet recounts the conquest of America backwards in Civilizations, uchronía where the Incas invaded Spain before expanding throughout the European continent.
5. The south is an idea
Joan Manuel Serrat has always been the most Latin American of the Poble Sec singers. So much so that in Return to Ithaca, Laurent Cantet’s Havana film based on a story by Leonardo Padura, discusses his songs with a vehemence reserved only for baseball and politics. In 1985, the author of Mediterranean he returned the affection from the other shore publishing The south also exists, an album based on poems by Mario Benedetti. On September 14, the Uruguayan poet’s centenary is celebrated, and four days before Alfaguara publishes an anthology of his poetic work prepared by Serrat himself, who in the prologue claims to have tried to represent all possible Benedettis: “The routine office worker, the middle-class Montevidean, the committed journalist, the curious traveler, the militant of the homeland, the exile and the unemployed, and also the partial intellectual, the political fighter and, of course, the meticulous and hard-working poet who never stopped be”. On the same day, the same publisher reissues the final version of A very discreet myth, the biography that Hortensia Campanella published during the poet’s lifetime.
His compatriot Idea Vilariño belonged to the same generation as Benedetti. They were both born in 1920, both died in 2009, they both wrote great love poems. She has taken much longer to be recognized, but her full Poetry is available on Lumen and Literature Random House launches Will no longer be, a pocket anthology that owes its title to one of his most famous poems, which says: “It will no longer be, / we will no longer live together, I will not raise your child / I will not sew your clothes, I will not have you at night / I will not have you I’ll kiss when I leave, you’ll never know who I was / why others loved me. / I will not get to know why or how, never / or if it was really what you said it was, / or who you were, or what I was for you / or what it would have been like to live together, / love us, wait for us, be. / I am no more than me forever and you / You will no longer be more than you. / You are no longer in a future day / I will not know where you live, with whom / or if you remember. / You will never hug me like that night, never. / I will not touch you again. I will not see you die ”.
That poetry survives the most prosaic is demonstrated by the fact that Benedetti published a book entitled Office poems from his years of experience in the now legendary Will L. Smith, SA. Spare parts for automobiles. That it survives politics also has a demonstration: in 15 days it will be on the street Trust in grace (Tusquets), of Olvido García Valdés, who, with good judgment, put aside all his own publishing activities during the 15 hectic months that he was in charge of the General Directorate of Books. His new collection of poems will also coincide with his entry into the Cátedra Hispanic Letters collection, which in another time served as an unofficial school canon. It was when literature weighed on the curriculum and the coronavirus was not the most hated classmate.