Monday, May 12, 2008

Carles Rius Çafó and Ildefons Falcons (I)

In the last two months I have been flying a lot, those very long flights that give me the opportunity to finish long and interesting books. Two of those books were written by Barcelona authors. The originals were written in Spanish (not in Catalan), although I decided to read one of them, The Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefolso Falcones in its wonderful translation to Catalan, since I thought it would allow me to get immersed much more easily in the medieval Catalonia. In general, I always try to read books in their original versions, but this time, reading The Cathedral of the Sea in Catalan was really a plus.

I never wrote in the past about the Frankfurt book fair. Now with the perspective that time provides, I have to admit that, in my opinion, it was a blunder, no surprise if we take into consideration that Josep Lluis Carod-Rovira was behind the whole thing.

As a purist, I went back to check how the invitation to Catalonia was phrased in the Frankfurt book fair website. There, they clearly stated that the Catalonia culture was invited, not the Catalonia literature, not the Catalan literature, not the literature in Catalan, but the Catalan culture. For me this is Culture generated by Catalans in any language. Not inviting Catalan authors writing in Spanish was, in my opinion, a big error. They should have positioned the Catalan culture as an open culture with excellent contributions in our mother tongue and also in other languages like Spanish. They could have even tried to find Catalans who write in other languages like English, French, German or Swedish (actually, there is afew of us) and give us a booth too. What about me?, I write in English, am I not considered Catalan culture?, apparently not, at least, for Carod-Rovira.

Frankly speaking, I think that the Catalan politicians do not portray the openness of the Catalan society. They should have taken credit for the contributions of all Catalans, independently of the language they use for their artistic creations, while highlighting the strength of the Catalan language which, in theory and due to its size, should be in the list of endangered languages, but which is still alive, kicking and growing.

Going back to Carlos Ruiz Zafón and Ildefonso Falcones, I think that there is a clear reason why they did not write their books in Catalan and the answer is that I think that they do not have a good enough command of the language to produce works of similar quality. They are both my age and at that time, it was forbidden to learn Catalan at school, and we spent years and years learning Spanish grammar and literature (from the "jarchas" to the Archpriest of Hita, from Cervantes to Pio Baroja, but never ever a single author who wrote in Catalan or a single piece of work written in Catalan). Therefore, I assume that they would have struggled (the same as I do, although I do not give up) to write something good in Catalan and they took the easy way out and it paid, since they are now famous and hopefully wealthy.

In one of my future posts, I will explain why, despite being written in Spanish, there is a thick Catalan subtract in those pieces of work, even in Ruiz Zafon's one.


Neil said...

Good points about the book fair but isn't it all water under the bridge? Has Catalonia learnt from it? Hmmmm maybe...

My point of view has remained the same on this before, during and after the book fair: A missed opportunity.

Instead of grabbing the "Catalan Culture" invite with both hands to show the world what Catalonia is made of, Carod-Rovira et al were too busy giving Spain the middle finger.

Where were the "castellers" events showing the world their rather impressive Catalan tradition? Why were the food halls not full of botifarra, pa amb tomàquet, crema catalana and cava? Why were they not shouting the praises of the huge international best seller "The Shadow of the Wind" - written by a Catalan and set in Catalonia? The list goes on and on...

The answer is simple: 1st (and only?) priority for Carod-Rovira was the exclusion of Spanish from the "Catalan Culture" part of the book fair. He should write a book himself. It could be titled "How to be a narrow minded provincial twat".

So, have Catalans taken in the lesson they were given from the handling of the book fair? Well, Carod-Rovira's beloved ERC took a beating in the last election. Maybe this indicates a shift in people looking to the future rather than following Josep Lluis Carod-Rovira's example of living in the past. One can dream...

Nuri said...

I read both books in Catalan, and loved them, sp. The Cathedral of the Sea. They are indeed very Catalan, so your guess about Falcones and Ruiz Zafón's reasons to go for Spanish is probably right.

Leider I missed the Frankfurt Book Fair last year as I was in Argentina then, from what you and Neil comment, I don't think I missed much though.

Una abraçada!

Nuri said...

I read both books in Catalan, and loved them, sp. The Cathedral of the Sea. They are indeed very Catalan, so your guess about Falcones and Ruiz Zafón's reasons to go for Spanish is probably right.

Leider I missed the Frankfurt Book Fair last year as I was in Argentina then, from what you and Neil comment, I don't think I missed much though.

Una abraçada!

ian llorens said...

When the Dutch culture was invited to Frankfurt, in 1993 I think, they decided to go together with Flanders.
In our case, Catalan authors who write in Spanish did not go, Valencians boycotted the fair, the Balearic Islands had a low rank representation, etc. That's a shame. And the German newspapers immediately noticed the disarray and charged against Catalonia and its people.
Carod needs to go. Now he is looking for allies, like the powerful Portugal. The Faroe Islands maybe next.

Johnny Tastavins said...

@Neil, where were castellers? In Frankfurt, fighting as usual against gravity, and despite the difficulty to travel 500 people far 1600 km, building "castells de vuit", only one step below maximum difficulty constructions. It was along the weekend of october 13th and 14th. Two of the three better "colles" were there, Vilafranca and Valls. You cannot say that this part of the culture was not present there.

Sant Sadurni's cofradias of cava were also there. Somebody things that everything was books and books and books? OMG!

Take a look at :

@Ian, I appreciate your effort deffending catalan culture, but never forget that original versions are always much better than any excellent translation. Even more, if two catalan writers decide to write their books in spanish, I will not spend one euro cent in the translated version. You can choose by your self to read their books, or the be so ashamed on them that you decide to burn the books in an excellent and folk bonfire during Sant Joan's night.

About valencian and balearic authors, they refused immediately to participate. OK, it's up to them, I will not cry for that.

Erik Wirdheim said...

Hi Ian,

Catalans writing in Swedish? Tell me who they are, since I (a Swede) have recently started to do the opposite - i.e. add comments in (my developing) Catalan on my blog.

I took great interest in your reflection that Ruis-Zafón and Falcones probably prefer Spanish since they are stronger in that language. If I remember it correctly, the Catalan literature was represented by 4 non-native writers in Frankfurt. Although I assume that the intention was to show the attraction of the language, I cannot help feeling that it must have looked a bit desperate. And I truly wonder how many non-native writers of Catalan would have been published, had it not been for the Generalitat's generosity in buying anything written in the language.

In Swedish litterature we have some well known "immigrant writers" but they are all native speakers of Swedish, since they are in fact "second generation" immigrants.

Finally, please, publish more often. Your non-conventional "catalanism" is really refreshing.


ian llorens said...

I was referring to Caterina Pascual Söderbaum. That's what La vanguardia published about her 18 months ago (that's where I learned about her):
"La suecocatalana Söderbaum, sorpresa literaria del fin de año
ROSA MARIA PIÑOL - 31/12/2005

La editorial La Magrana ha reservado para este fin de año una agradable sorpresa literaria. Se trata de un libro breve, pero de contenido denso y, sobre todo, de escritura singular: El sonet de la respiració, que además supone la entrada en la escena de las letras catalanas de una nueva autora, Caterina Pascual Söderbaum. Nacida en Lleida el año 1962, de padre catalán y madre sueca, esta escritora, traductora de profesión, vive a caballo entre Uppsala y la población ampurdanesa de Jafre. Este primer libro, que publicó originalmente en sueco el año 2001, fue distinguido con el premio Katapultpriset al mejor debut literario que otorga la Asociación de Escritores de Suecia. La obra, que ahora nos llega en una pulcra traducción de Lluís Solanes, fue tomando cuerpo a lo largo de más de ocho años de trabajo..."

That's what the Swedish wikipedia says about her:
"Caterina Pascual Söderbaum född 1962 i Katalonien, har omväxlande bott i Sverige och Spanien, numera bosatt utanför Barcelona, är en översättare, tolk och författare".

Regarding publishing more often, it is really hard. I have a very demanding job, I travel all over the world constantly, I have a wife and two little kids, I try to read novels and history as much as I can, to keep up to date (and I am also trying to write a book in Catalan) and I either have to plow the snow (in winter) or do yard work (in spring, summer and fall).

One post a month is my objective.

Glad that you find my "catalanism" refreshing. Catalan politics need honest and hardworking people who want to work hard to build a better society. We have too many politicians who just want to fill their pockets.

If we show honesty and progress, if we are all inclusive, almost everyone in Catalonia will become nationalistic and even Garci will return.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your candor on the issue of the Frankfurt faire, and Catalans always tend to be self-critical which shows a level of maturity and ability for fair self-evaluation. However, I would like to remind you of another literary faire that occurred last year, and that was the London Book Faire. The market focus for that faire was the country of Spain. Sources that attended the fair say that all the books in this special guest pavilion were all in Castilian Spanish. That’s funny, I could swear the country of Spain has many different languages spoken within its’ borders. Now that I think of it, I don’t remember reading any articles in the newspapers about how unfair this was, as were written about the Frankfurt faire. How about that? What a surprise!
I agree with you that leaving out the Catalans that write in Castilian from the Frankfurt Faire was the height of simple-minded mediocrity; something we always seem to get from Catalan politicians who have a stunted, immature idea of what it is to be a Catalan nationalist. But let’s also be fair and balanced with ourselves. It sometimes gets tiresome reading the criticism that Catalans are always levying at themselves. Even though I appreciate the fact that we need to be critical of ourselves to improve, if this is all we do it tends to erode our self-esteem as a people.