Almudena Grandes obituary | Spain
Almudena Grandes, who died of cancer at the age of 61, achieved the rare feat of being both a very popular and very serious writer. A successful novelist, newspaper columnist, radio commentator and outspoken leftist in her native Spain, she has become the leading literary voice in a mass movement to reclaim her country’s historical memory.
The government of José María Aznar in the early 2000s encouraged right-wing revisionism that falsified the history of the Spanish Civil War and embellished Franco. In response, anti-Francoists and their descendants began to denounce the murders, torture and imprisonment of the dictatorship. Even today, shamefully, more than 114,000 Franco’s victims still lie in anonymous graves.
“Spain is the only democracy in Europe”, wrote Grandes, “which turns its back on its own anti-fascist tradition”. She embarked on the ambitious project of a series of six novels with the title Episodios de una Guerra Interminable (Episodes of an Endless War), to record the struggles and the forgotten sufferings of anti-Franco fighters, in particular women. Five of the six have been published, selling around 1.3 million copies.
The first, Inés y la Alegría (Inés et le Bonheur), was released in 2010. It is the story of the Communist invasion of Vall d’Aran in the Pyrenees in 1944, told not in heroic terms of military prowess. , but mainly through Inés, cook for the partisans. The fourth, Los Pacientes del Dr García (Patients of Dr García, 2017) won the national narrative award from the Spanish government.
Grandes’ role model was Benito Pérez Galdós (1843-1920), Spain’s greatest realistic novelist, whose Episodios Nacionales (National Episodes) covered most of the 19th century. Like Galdós, Grandes focused on the lives and feelings of ordinary people trampled on by history. Both wrote historical fiction to change the present and shape the future.
She has also appeared regularly on radio broadcasts and in 2008 took over the Monday front page column that Manuel Vázquez Montalbán had made famous in the newspaper El País.
She was a supporter of the United Left political coalition and participated in election campaigns, movements against male violence and for women’s rights, and campaigns against repressive legislation.
One of four children of Manuel Grandes, who ran a plumbing company, and his wife, Benita Hernández, Almudena was born and raised in Madrid. She said she was a fat kid who never played a role in the Christmas play. His intimate revenge was in reading and the dream of becoming a writer. She studied geography and history at Madrid’s main university, Complutense – to please her parents, she said, although she would have preferred Latin. Belonging to the generation that grew up in the new post-1977 democracy, she plunged into the Movida de Madrid, the explosion of youth freedom after the gray and repressed years of the dictatorship.
After graduation, she worked as a writer of encyclopedia texts. Research and deadlines gave her, she says, the discipline to write. His first completed book was Las Edades de Lulú (1989, translated by The Ages of Lulu, 2005), which broke taboos, which won the Sonrisa Vertical (Vertical Smile) award for erotic fiction. Not just literary porn, the novel explored the hardships and joys of women in the new Spain, although many feminists saw it as a fantasy for men. Its unexpected success (over a million copies sold in 20 languages) gave Grandes the confidence and money to write full-time.
Her 90s novels were mostly stories of young women finding their mark in the whirlwind of 1980s Madrid. Los Aires Difíciles (2002, translated as The East Wind, 2006) is a saga of family conflicts and secrets revealed, taking place mostly in Rota, on the Atlantic coast of Andalusia, where Grandes herself has spent her summers for 30 years. Like most of his novels, it is long, packed with stories and characters, and is almost a typical blockbuster to read on the beach; but it’s slower, with a deeper psychology, more like a beautiful 19th century novel. Great entertained with powerful stories; and also wanted his readers to think.
El Corazón Helado (2007; translated by The Frozen Heart, 2010) deals with a family shattered and divided by civil war. It opens with a young woman no one knows appearing at the funeral of a wealthy man. This device, borrowed from sensational novels, immediately appeals to the reader. Like the following novels, it is a radical epic, spanning decades of history and, in the case of The Frozen Heart, the geography of wartime Russia in contemporary Madrid.
Six of his 13 novels have been adapted for cinema, including The Ages of Lulu, directed by Bigas Luna with Javier Bardem in his first leading role.
Grandes is survived by her husband, the poet Luis García Montero, whom she married in 1996, their daughter Elisa, her son Mauro, from a previous relationship, and her daughter-in-law, Irene.