I have to confess that I know very little about Spanish literature so I was very pleased to be offered the opportunity to read a copy of this collection of Spanish short stories. The Penguin Book of Spanish Short Stories will be published in this beautiful hardback edition this coming Thursday.
The anthology has been curated, edited and, in most cases, translated by Margaret Jull Costa. She has selected an eclectic set of 50 short stories of varying lengths and from many different genres. They are arranged based on the dates of birth of the author. So that’s a span of almost 150 years from The Novel on the Tram by Benito Perez Galdos born in the mid 19th century to True Milk by Aixa de la Cruz born in the 1980s, with the stories covering a lot of Spanish history on the way.
The stories haven’t been arranged thematically at all which means you could easily be reading a romantic short story followed by some historical fiction followed by some fantasy or horror. It makes for a fascinating reading experience. The editor explains that there are some old favourites included in the collection as well as newer works. Almost all have never been translated into English before, so there should be something new for everyone to discover.
I’ll pick out just a few of the stories I enjoyed and I’ll begin with the first story in the book. I found The Novel on the Tram so entertaining with the protagonist not quite sure whether the story he read in a newspaper was real, as it started to blend with his everyday reality and to infiltrate his dreams. Light and Silence by Rafael Dieste was a rather eerie tale about Senor Nobody. Traffic Jam by Soledad Puertolas is a very short story where a car driver muses on the lives of the passengers in the other cars stuck in the traffic too while at the same time developing a strong dislike of her passenger. Jesus Carrasco’s 10/10/10 was a very moving story of a man receiving bad news on the phone while far from home. Finally, I very much enjoyed Julien Ayesta’s At the Beach which has a more biographical feel as a young child describes their enjoyment of spending time at the beach with their family, a simple pleasure in what was a bleak time in post-war Spain.
The Penguin Book of Spanish Short Stories is a very enjoyable, well written and well translated collection. I am sure that most people will discover writers they may not have come across before. There really is someone for everyone within the pages. I still have more of the stories to read as I decided to follow the editor’s advice that I should read no more than one or two stories a day and in a random order. So my education of Spanish writers will continue, hopefully in the sunshine while imagining that I am in Spain.
My thanks to Matthew Hutchinson at Penguin for sending me a copy of this book to review. It will be published in hardback and ebook on 24th June by Penguin Classics and should be available to buy or order from your usual book retailer. Alternatively, you will buying options for various retailers on the Penguin website: Spanish Short Stories
From the back of the book
This exciting new collection celebrates the richness and variety of the Spanish short story, from the nineteenth century to the present day. Featuring over fifty stories selected by revered translator Margaret Jull Costa, it blends old favourites and hidden gems – many of which have never before been translated into English – and introduces readers to surprising new voices as well as giants of Spanish literary culture, from Emilia Pardo Bazán and Leopoldo Alas, through Mercè Rodoreda and Manuel Rivas, to Ana Maria Matute and Javier Marías.
Brimming with romance, horror, history, farce, strangeness and beauty, and showcasing alluring hairdressers, war defectors, vampiric mothers, and talismanic mandrake roots, the daring and entertaining assortment of tales in The Penguin Book of Spanish Short Stories will be a treasure trove for readers.
About the editor
Margaret Jull Costa has translated the works of many Spanish and Portuguese writers, among them novelists: Javier Marías, José Saramago and Eça de Queiroz, and poets: Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, Mário de Sá-Carneiro and Ana Luísa Amaral. Her work has brought her numerous prizes, most recently, the 2018 Premio Valle-Inclán for On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes. In 2014, she was awarded an OBE for services to literature.