A Slice of Spain

Award winning author  Cristina Sánchez-Andrade talks about her books, the tradition of oral narration in her country and how she has fallen in love with the writings of Indian author Saadat Hasan Mant

Published: 22nd January 2018 10:46 PM  |   Last Updated: 23rd January 2018 07:01 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

HYDERABAD: Talk about Spanish literature and two prominent names that come to mind are: journalist-author Gabriel Garcia Marquez and legendary poet Federico Garcia Lorca. But as the eighth edition of Hyderabad Literary Festival unfolds in the city at Hyderabad Public School this Friday, you will get to see a stellar gathering of Spanish writers. We bring to you Cristina Sánchez-Andrade, who is the author of nine novels, and is invited as a speaker for the three-day literary event.

She amazed the world with her latest novel ‘The Winterlings’ written in English which has been praised as ‘radically new…original and unusual’. The 50-year-old author has won much critical acclaim, fellowships and several prizes, including two English PEN Awards. She pens engrossing and sensual  prose which oscillates between the magic realism of Marquez and the southern Gothic style of Flannery O’Connor. She talks to us about her visit to India, the narrative styles and more. Excerpts from the interview:

This is the first time you have been to India for Hyderabad Literary Festival and also to Kolkata Lit Meet; how different do you think HLF is from other lit fests that you have attended?
It is an exhilarating feeling to be part of this literary festival, in a culturally vast country like India, where I have never been. The importance of the festival can be gauged from the fact that almost all great contemporary  international writers have been there at some point of time.

I also think that inviting foreign countries such as Spain to showcase its literature, art and culture is a unique feature the organisers have incorporated. The  problem of the Spanish book industry is its failure to reach foreign markets thanks to very little translations, especially into English. The opportunity festivals like HLF provide is to open the perspective of readers in both directions. I want to find out about contemporary Indian writers about whom I’ve never heard because their works are not translated into Espanol. 

What do you think of the participation of female authors?
Yes, I’ve noted that there are a lot of women writers participating in HLF. This is great, as this deficit in translations (not only in Spain but all over the world) is even worse in the case of the female authors. Finally, I’ve been told that the attendees in festivals of India are different, much more active and receptive, always willing to interact. I really looking forward to that. 

How much of Indian literature have you read? How do you find the same?
I’m glad you asked me about this. It’s a pity that all we know about literature from other countries (and in the case of India, a distant and totally different country) is what the few publishing houses decide to publish. Normally, the Indian authors we hear about in Spain are the ones that are already well known  such as Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie or VS Naipul. These writers interest me, of course, but what I really would like to do is to find about less prominent authors that are equally good. An Indian poet friend recently told me about the Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto, so I’m currently reading in English ‘Bitter Fruit’ (unfortunately it’s not translated into Spanish). These are the good recommendations, the ones that come directly from someone!  

Well, I’m struck by the sharpness, as well as the moving lyricism of Manto’s style.  What really fascinates me is the way senses (smell, in particular) are present in his work. This, along with his black humour, is something which I share with my literature. I’m convinced that we’re all bound through the senses to a particular society and a particular history. There’s a superb story in the collection called ‘Odour’ about a sexual encounter between a prostitute and a rich young man who is intoxicated to madness by the smell of her armpits. While reading Manto, I like this feeling that however distant a writer could be from me in time and distance, we always have things in common.

How much of literature do you think has trickled down to the common public in terms of perception, reach and distribution? 
We  have the problem not just in Spain but all over the world that what really trickles down to the common public is always writing by the same authors. Thankfully literary festivals are good to open the mentality of readers to other things, to other authors. Sometimes we are too limited to the translations we get, to the distribution and to the market trends. And it’s a pity because finding a new author is equal to  finding a new friend.

You have a penchant for story-telling traditions. Do you find a parallel between Spain and India? 
Storytelling tradition in Spain and in my work is what’s common with India.  I was born in Santiago de Compostela (northwest of Spain, the end point of the Pilgrims way) and like in many regions of Spain, there is a strong storytelling tradition. My stories carry the imprints of the stories I used to hear at home, especially from my grandmother. At night, a fire was lit in the hearth and she’d tell us old folk stories. The elders based the stories on yet other tales told to them, and then jewelled them up with their own imagination, which meant that each retelling made the same stories richer. 

Do some of these stories appear in your books?
Many of the tales that appear in my books are what I heard or saw as a little girl in Galicia (the region in which Santiago de Compostela falls). I believe that the landscape of childhood is important when it comes to writing, because that’s where the tension between the real and the imaginary is first forged; it is a tension that stays with an adult forever. García Márquez, for example, said that Macondo isn’t a place but the past, which also takes place in his grandparents’ old house, in Aracataca. Truly magical things happened there, things that justified the author when he said that in his opinion what he wrote was not magic realism, but realism pure and simple. 
— Saima Afreen saima@newindianexpress  @Sfreen

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