EXCHANGE OF WORDS Bríd Conroy and Neil Paul with Spanish booksellers Federico and Antonio, outside their store in Malaga.
I’m sipping a tea outside in a cafe and groups of women pass me by in beautiful red flouncy flamenco dresses. No it’s not Westport’s James Street, it’s southern Spain on a very hot August day during the annual Malaga Feria festival.
I’m here as part of a bookseller exchange organised by RISE Bookselling, a network programme of the International Booksellers Federation, co-funded by the European Union. Their goal is to upscale, reinforce and maximise the capacity and resilience of the European bookselling sector.
Our host was Libreria Luces, a stunning independent bookshop in the heart of Malaga City in Andalucia. It was refreshing, uplifting and inspiring to connect across Europe as booksellers who share a passion for literature and the power of books to transform people’s lives and inform the issues and challenges the world faces.
It was also a great opportunity to learn more about the great Spanish writers of old and the emerging writers of today.
We assume that our Joyce and Dickens are known the world over, which they are I guess, but there is a whole world of literature, history and cultural delights to be found in exploring beyond what we know. The following books are now on my ‘to read’ list and ‘to stock’ on our bookshop list.
Emilia Pardo Bazán, who lived from 1851 to 1921, was a countess, a novelist and a feminist. She is known for introducing ‘naturalism’ into Spanish literature; detailed descriptions of life from a more detached, pre-determined and ‘scientific observation’ standpoint. She also introduced feminist ideas into her works, and championed women’s rights to be educated.
Her novel ‘The House of Ulloa’ is a Penguin Classic, available in English. It tells the story of pious Father Julian Alvarez, who is sent to a remote country estate to put their affairs in order, only to discover moral decadence, cruelty and corruption. Tragedy, humour and satire abound.
Another Spanish novelist, Benito Pérez Galdós, lived from 1843 to 1920. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1912 and has been compared to Dickens, Balzac and Tolstoy. His outspokenness against the Catholic Church and his favour for republicanism and later socialism ensured his works did not receive recognition amongst the conservative classes.
His our-part novel ‘Fortunata and Jacinto’, first published in 1886, tells the turbulent story of two women, their husbands and lovers, set against the torrid society of Madrid in the 1870s. It is also published by Penguin Classics and available in English.
‘OldLadyVoice’, by contemporary Spanish author Elisa Victoria, tells the story of nine-year-old Marina, sent to her 72-year-old eccentric grandmother for the summer when her mother is seriously ill. The story told beautifully through the eyes of the child – perceptive, intense and funny all at once. It is published by And Other Stories and translated into English by Charlotte Whittle.
‘Cervantes para cabras, Marx para ovejas’ (Cervantes for goats, Marx for sheep), published by Maclein y Parker, is a hugely popular novel in Spain. Written by Pablo Santiago Chiquero, it tells the story of Mateo, who works as a herdsman of goats and sheep in Abra, a remote village in the province of Cordoba. He suffers a period of depression and upon recovery sets out to win back his girlfriend, but also to get the whole village to read Cervantes’ ‘Quixote’ and Marx’s ‘Capital’. A man after my own heart! This novel is currently only available in Spanish, for our Spanish-speaking population.
And lastly, while I was working in the shop, Neil took a visit to the graveyard where Gerald Brenan, the English writer who spent most of his life in Spain, is buried. He is famous for his works, ‘The Spanish Labyrinth’ and ‘South from Granada’, which shine a light on the dark times of the Spanish Civil War and the social unrest that followed that period.
I’ll finish on a piece from one of his other books, ‘The Face of Spain’, published in 1950 by Penguin, in which Brenan writes to his friends about his life in Churriana, Andalucia, and his garden, where he enjoyed “breathing in the calm and happiness, that only southern gardens, bathed in perpetual sunlight, can give.”
Spain has so much to offer, and I’m already so looking forward to our next visit to our friends at Libreria Luces and to welcoming them to Westport very soon.
Watch out for Spanish conversational and cultural evenings this month in Tertulia – A Bookshop Like No Other, at Westport Quay. For more details, follow Tertulia on Facebook and Instagram, or visit tertuliabookshop.com.
Bríd Conroy and her husband Neil Paul run Tertulia – A Bookshop Like No Other at The Quay, Westport.