Nineteen seventy-five marked the end of the dictatorship in Spain. The repressive regimes in South American countries would hold out until the following decade, but other cultural changes were afoot. In Europe, the tradition of exiled South American writers living and working in Paris gradually came to an end. Instead of looking north for their intellectual meridian, a young generation of émigrés began seeking publication in post-Franco Spain.
The writers in this collection were all born in or after 1975.
Many of these writers have not suffered in their own skin the social and moral circumstances that haunted their predecessors. When asked, the majority expressed scepticism, with varying degrees of reticence, nervousness or irony about the idea of an author having an active role in public life. Mario Vargas Llosa, whose bid for the presidency of Peru in 1990 was the theme of Granta 36, is perhaps the most obvious example of a public and influential figure following the intellectual model of Camus or Sartre. While writers such as Julio Cortázar, Ariel Dorfman and Isabel Allende adopted a moral and political stand against unacceptable political conditions and wrote sweeping social epics, the writers in this issue, by contrast, tell stories which are quotidian. For them, censorship, blacklists, exile and persecution are historical facts rather than actual memories, although it is obvious that they have had to fight other difficulties and fears.
This generation – and those before it – has been able to forge new paths, unfettered by the shadows of yesterday’s literary masters. Not surprisingly, a variety of manifestos has been launched over the past few decades: Chile’s ‘McOndo’ (an Anglo version of García Márquez’s Macondo); ‘Crack’ in Mexico, playing with the idea of the ‘Boom’ generation; and, most recently, the ‘Nocilla’ – chocolate spread – generation in Spain. Despite these stabs at collective self-identification, talent is individual and unpredictable, and the work of a single writer can suddenly upset all readings of the past and future. Who could have imagined fifteen years ago that the writings of the outcast Chilean, Roberto Bolaño, who washed ashore in Barcelona via Mexico, would exercise so wide an influence on writers in Spain, Latin America and across the world?
If a good part of contemporary Spanish literature seems eccentric to Europe, Latin America has always been the literary Far West. No other language shares the same territorial expanse (or population) in contiguous nations. The controversy over whether there are national literatures in Latin America long ago became the realm of historians. The literary homeland, as this collection shows, is the language itself. Granta has never before put together a selection of the best young writers in a language other than English. The publication of this edition almost simultaneously in English and Spanish represents the culmination of a dialogue which began seven years ago with the first issue of Granta en español.
We invited four writers to serve as jurors: the Argentinian writer and film-maker Edgardo Cozarinsky, who has lived between Paris and Buenos Aires for many decades; the British journalist Isabel Hilton, previously a correspondent in South America, who currently divides her time between England and China; the novelist Francisco Goldman, an American of Guatemalan descent who lives between NewYork and Mexico City; and the Catalan writer and literary critic, Mercedes Monmany, who lives in Madrid. The two of us, co-editors of the Spanish edition of Granta, were also members of the jury.
It has been an ambitious endeavour. We limited eligibility to writers under thirty-five, with at least one novel or story collection to their name. We searched exhaustively for recommendations and discoveries, receiving over three hundred submissions, from over twenty countries. We read everything, and agreed to a shortlist. Early on, we renounced the possibility of a unanimous vote, establishing instead a system of four rounds in which each successful author had to receive at least one majority vote. In the end, we chose twenty-two authors, only a handful of whom had been previously published in English.
The fiction in this issue is profoundly diverse, ranging from an ironic and demanding story by Pola Oloixarac, which dissects the political and moral shortcomings of the preceding generation, to the symbolism of Sònia Hernández and the clarity and outspokenness of Lucía Puenzo. Elvira Navarro deconstructs the final hours of a doomed relationship, while Samanta Schweblin’s original voice turns the kaleidoscope of narrative suggestion slightly askew.
Many of the male writers represent women in a less passive and traditional role than have previous generations, or write in the first person as female narrators. Thus, Rodrigo Hasbún explores a couple’s sentimental unravelling from the points of view of both characters and Alberto Olmos describes the desolation and emptiness of his main character, a female consumer in the frozen limbo of modern-day life. Federico Falco’s story explores the hidden motivations of a young girl infatuated with Mormon missionaries in the Argentinian provinces, and Andrés Barba writes about female isolation and the extremes of a warped relationship to the body.
Spanish readers will recognize the trademark style of Patricio Pron and the intense technical innovation of Carlos Labbé. Pablo Gutiérrez, Alejandro Zambra and Javier Montes all have in common an almost Poundian purification of the dialect of the tribe. Andrés Neuman explores the language as an outsider – an Argentinian who has come of age in Granada – in a story about hatred between university professors. Matías Néspolo, Andrés Felipe Solano and Santiago Roncagliolo delight in particular locations. There is a strong sense of revision of various sentimental customs and literary traditions in the pieces by Antonio Ortuño, Andrés Ressia Colino, Oliverio Coelho and Carlos Yushimito. Many of them have chosen to live in foreign countries or are naturally more open, thanks to their backgrounds, to influences beyond the Spanish-speaking world.
With this selection, Granta and Granta en español aim to seal a pact – a secret handshake of sorts – with the reader, which we hope will prove the value of our shared references. In ten years’ time we will see if our choices were correct, how many of the writers in this collection will have lived up to their promise, how many of them will endure.
We wish to thank Luigi Spagnol and Stefano Mauri for their sponsorship of this project through Duomo Ediciones, the members of the jury for their willingness and endurance, and Angels Balaguer, Laia Salvat, Doris Castellanos and Ella Sher for their indispensable help.
Photograph © Eli Carrico