The forbidden age of tango

Malena is a tango name

Almudena Grandes

A cancer claimed the life of Almudena Grandes from Madrid on November 27, 2021. The news shocked an entire country that had learned of the illness suffered by the writer just a month earlier in a column of hers that appeared in El País Semanal. “I’ve had to write some very complicated articles in my life. None like this one.” The cancer was detected in 2020. “It all started a little over a year ago. Routine check-up, malignant tumor, good prognosis and to fight.” Unfortunately, the writer could not turn the situation around and she passed away causing a profound impact that has transcended the literary and cultural universe of which she was a part.

‘Malena es un nombre de tango’, published in 1994 by the Tusquets publishing house, was her third novel. A thirtysomething Grtandes became one of the outstanding figures of Castilian letters. It is the story of a young woman from Madrid born into a bourgeois family that breaks the schemes of the modest and conservative Spain of 1960. Divided into four parts and with an extension of 560 pages, the book became a bestseller. It is one of the iconic works of the journalist, novelist and National Narrative Award.

In 2002 alone, 25 editions had been released and it had been translated into English and German, among other languages. In 1996, Gerardo Herrero took the novel to the cinema in an adaptation of the same name that received mixed reviews and that took off thanks to the brilliant performance of Ariadna Gil. In total, six of Almudena Grandes’ works could be seen on the big screen. Her relationship with the seventh art was very close: she was honorary patron of the Film Academy Foundation.

The acceptance of her physical appearance, her status as a woman, the desire to feel loved€ The axis of Malena is Malena herself. “Before going to bed,” the book reads, “I was tempted to lock myself in the bathroom and look at myself in the mirror and I learned, little by little, that those eyes and that skin, that those curls and that skin were mine. Because they were the reflection of the face that he had wanted to look at and my sudden beauty was nothing but the deepest imprint of his gaze. The writer from Madrid began her career pecking at the erotic novel (‘The Ages of Lulu’) and forged a solid career that has aimed to dignify the republican legacy and heal the wounds of the Civil War and Francoism.

Prohibited Age

Torcuato Luca de Tena

With the Civil War as a backdrop, two young people with opposite characters – the introverted and quiet Anastasio, the cheerful and sociable Enrique – become friends on a beach walk. Both will experience sexuality and the first love affairs of adolescence in their own way; the first, with great caution and lead feet. Enrique, on the other hand, will not put the brakes on youthful impulses and will want to drink life down. The former director of ABC and author of the acclaimed novel ‘The crooked lines of God’ dared with a teenage story published in 1958 and developed in San Sebastián.

It was what was worn. Torcuato Luca de Tena joined the bandwagon of a new generation of filmmakers and writers who approached early youth from a much more interesting and ambitious perspective than their predecessors. ‘Rebels Without a Cause’, ‘Lolita’, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ or a part of beat literature belong to the 50s. Teenagers are no longer goofy and passive characters and show that they have things to tell and contribute to the world of art. The book by the RAE academic also moves between the libertine and daring Enrique and the tender and innocent Anastasio. They are the two irreconcilable faces that guide the stories of the protagonists and perhaps reflect the ambivalent soul of the author himself. There are moralizing passages that have been outdated, as faithful reflections of a time long gone. Luca de Tena does not skimp on more spicy plots that include a visit to a brothel, an underage gigolo, ethical depravity. Not everything is syrup. And Anastasio is endearing seen through the eyes of today’s society, already back from everything regarding sexual issues.

This paragraph serves as an example of the character’s innocence: “Suddenly a naked woman appeared with a towel between her legs. She ran across the corridor and went into the toilet. No one looked at her. Anastasio had never seen such a woman. And he was surprised that he was not particularly moved. The nude seemed bleak to him. It reminded him of the cold, the infinite misery, and the engraving of a French catechism about those condemned to eternal punishment”. Adolescence will always be revolutionary, although each one takes it in his own way. And life is difficult to catalog and predict, whether it happens in the last breaths and a lot has been lived or in the first stages of the vital discovery that Luca de Tena describes with solvency.

From the other side

Bernardo Atxaga

Bernardo Atxaga has won everything or almost everything: the Euskadi Award, the Critics’ Award, the National Narrative Award, the Paris Millepages Award, he has been a finalist for the IMPAC European Literary Award€ The fever for the rural and magical world of ‘Obabakoak’ reached every corner of the world. He has been translated into 27 languages ​​and more than 30 years later, new copies of his masterpiece continue to be reissued. The 70-year-old writer from Asteasu, an icon of Basque culture, published his latest novel three years ago (‘Casas y tumbas’ Pamiela, 2019) and since then has dedicated himself to other literary pursuits.

From the other side’ is part of this new stage. Atxaga presents four narratives in which the fantastic and the real intermingle, the blurred borders that separate hallucination from revelation. The heartbeat reminiscent of the writer of ‘Obabakoak’ is also perceived. One of the stories, ‘Two Brothers’, was published in the mid-1980s in Basque under the title ‘Bi anai’. 10 years later, in 1995, the Gipuzkoan author translated the text in which two brothers have to face an enemy who embodies collective evil. ‘The death of Andoni in the light of LSD’ had not been released in Spanish until now. Only its version in Basque was known under the name ‘Andoniren heriotza LSDaren argitan’.

For its part, ‘Conference on life and death in the Obaba-Ugarte cemetery’ and ‘A film crime’ are unpublished texts that Atxaga publishes for the first time in Spanish. In the first of them he returns to the Obaba territory and two lecturers chat about life and death in a surreal tone before the audience gathered around them. In the case of the last text of the book, the premise could not be more curious: a very perceptive owl will solve a series of crimes in deep America where birds, reptiles and rodents live and interbreed.

From the Alfaguara publishing house, ‘From the other side’ has been sold as the return of the writer who “counts life and death as two sides of the same thing, the chain of affections that bind us to each other, the sensitivity of animals, violence, evil, loss and loneliness of the human being”. The best version of Bernardo Atxaga, in its purest form and in a reduced format.

written in the water

Paula Hawkin

Paula Hawkinks (Zimbabwe, 1972) has lived in London since she was a teenager and is one of the most recognizable voices of the ‘domestic noir’, a subgenre of crime novels set in an everyday environment and starring ordinary people. For Hawkinks, any of us can become a cruel killer. Or not.

In his literary debut, ‘The Girl on the Train’, he triumphed in style with a thriller that was adapted for the cinema with actress Emily Blunt in the title role. According to the Planeta publishing house, the novel reached 27 million readers in fifty countries around the world. A new literary phenomenon was born.

‘Escrito en el agua’ is the difficult second book by an author who with her debut reached the commercial peak, surpassing the mammoth figures of Dan Brown. As it happens in this type of narration, shortcuts, trips and a wide range of characters that are not what they seem abound. Everything is full of questions, false clues. The starting point is a beautiful spot that hides a tragic outcome in which several women have been found drowned. Are they suicides? Is there a killer on the loose in the area and no one has tracked him down? The strange death of Nel Abbott, in charge of investigating what happened, sets off all the alarms. She causes her sister Jules to visit the scene of the crime and at last some light begins to be shed on the so-called pool of the drowned.

There are those who have seen in the novel and, specifically in the characters of Jules and Amaia Salazar, a connection with ‘The Invisible Guardian’ by Dolores Redondo. Both share stormy pasts, heavy burdens to solve the unknowns of the present. ‘Escrito en el Agua’ is an extensive 560-page book that, without reaching the madness unleashed with its debut, was well received by readers. The British writer has good teachers, also in the cinema: “Something I admire about Hitchcock”, she confesses, “is the way he builds suspense from characters who can’t trust themselves. I like that paranoid perspective “.

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