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10 of the Best Contemporary Spanish Writers

Carlos Ruiz Zafón | © The author
Carlos Ruiz Zafón | © The author
Spain has a rich history of seeing its writers translated in other languages, especially English. We look at 10 of the top Spanish novelists writing today, and highlight some of their greatest works.

Javier Marías

There are people who swear Javier Marías isn’t just the greatest living Spanish writer, but arguably the greatest living writer. Marías began publishing as a teenager, and now in his 60s, his novels—including the family tragedy A Heart So White, and the sprawling society epic Your Face Tomorrow—are often cited as masterpieces. Marías is also a columnist for El País and has translated many English language writers, including John Updike and Thomas Hardy. Marías has received numerous awards, including the Rómulo Gallegos Prize in 1994, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 1997, and the Austrian State Prize for European Literature in 2011. He is often touted as Spain’s next Nobelist. A devout lover of the classics, his work has been noted for its unique exploration of many themes that obsessed the great literary figures: secrecy, treason, love and the impossibility of definitive knowledge.

Rosa Montero © Juan Zarza

Rosa Montero

Acclaimed as both a journalist and a novelist, Rosa Montero has been able to create incredible narratives while also conducting fascinating interviews. Her novel, The Delta Function, has been regarded as a significant work of contemporary feminist thought and explores the dualities of female life. Her later novel, The Lunatic of the House, won both the Qué Leer Prize for best book published in Spain and the Italian Grinzane Cavour Prize for best foreign book. Montero currently works for El País and has won the National Journalism Prize multiple times.

Enrique Vila-Matas © the author

Enrique Vila-Matas

Enrique Vila-Matas was born in Barcelona and wrote his first novel, Mujer en el espejo contemplando el paisaje, in 1971 while completing his military service in Melilla. As his career has progressed, he has worked within a range of forms, from film criticism to novels, and from essays to film scripts. His best work is renowned for its ironic and fragmented style that dismisses the barrier between fiction and reality. Acclaimed internationally, Vila-Matas has won many literary awards for his books and dedication to literature, including the Italian Bottari Lattes Grinzane Prize, the French Prix Jean Carriere, and the Spanish Leteo Award, all of which he won for his novel Dublinesque. One of the most acclaimed Spanish authors by both national and international critics, Vila-Matas’s works have been translated into many languages.

Elvira Navarro

The youngest writer on this list, Navarro was included in Granta’s Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists anthology issue in 2010. In 2009, she published La ciudad feliz (The Happy City), a novel that brought into focus an immigrant Chinese worker and a homeless Spanish man. The Happy City went on to won Spain’s Jaén Prize for best novel and the Tormenta Prize for best new author, and was published in an English translation in 2013. In a review of the book for El País, Spanish novelist Enrique Vila-Matas said of Navarro: “This author’s literary talent is a natural gift (…) the subtle, almost hidden, true avant-gardist of her generation.” Keep an eye out for future translations.

Sonia Hernandez © Wikicommons

Sónia Hernández

Another inductee into Granta‘s Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists, Hernández is by origin literary critic and poet. In 2008, she published her first work of fiction, a collection of stories Los enfermos erróneos (The Wrong Patients), a highlight of which, “The Survivor” was published in an English translation by The Guardian. Hernández is also is the coordinator of the literary research magazine Quaderns de Vallençana, dedicated to the humanist Juan Ramón Masoliver.

Ildefonso Falcones © the author

Ildefonso Falcones

A lawyer and a writer, Falcones’s first book, Cathedral of the Sea, was published in 2006, when he was nearly 50. This historic novel is set in 14th-century Barcelona, when the Catalan empire was at its greatest. Cathedral of the Sea won Falcones several international awards, including the Spanish Qué Leer award, the Italian Giovanni Boccaccio award, and the French Fulbert de Chartres award. His second novel, The Hand of Fatima, which is set during the Moorish era, received the American-Italian Roma Prize for best foreign literature. In 2013, he released his latest novel, La Reina Descalza.

Antonio Muñoz Molina © Wikicommons

Antonio Muñoz Molina

As both a novelist and journalist, Antonio Muñoz Molina adeptly weaves narratives into historic settings. Born in Jaén in 1956, Muñoz Molina has dedicated his life to literature and has been internationally recognised for this commitment. Winning a number of awards—including the National Prize for literature (twice!)—Muñoz Molina is now a member of the Royal Spanish Academy. His works are acclaimed for their exploration of personal, cultural and political themes. Muñoz Molina was in the news in 2013 for traveling to Israel to receive the Jerusalem Prize despite pressure from certain Palestinian groups. In response, Muñoz Molina stated that he did not, and never will, accept stereotypes about Israel.

Julio Llamazares © the author

Julio Llamazares

Julio Llamazares is renowned for his depictions of rural Spanish life, which were influenced by his childhood in the small village of Vagamián in the province of León. His oeuvre delves into many genres, including poetry, novels, essays, travel writing, screenplays and more, and he has received many awards across these mediums. Most striking about Llamazares’s style is its lyrical aesthetic that allows for the story to follow inanimate protagonists, such as nature. The Yellow Rain was Llamazares’s 1998 breakthrough work, and it explores the relationship between an almost abandoned village that lies in ruins and an old man approaching death who remains in this withering landscape. This novel has continued to be reprinted and translated into multiple languages.

Felix J Palma © Fülöp Máté

Felix J. Palma

Revered in Spain for his magical realism novels, Felix J. Palma has been recognized by both critics and the public. Masterfully crafting stories, Palma has had many anthologies and short stories published, and has also received a number of literary awards. The Victorian Trilogy, which consists of The Map of Time and The Map of the Sky, has grabbed the attention of readers across the globe. The series is yet to be finished and mixes magical realism with history.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón © The author

Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Zafón started his writing career as an author of young adult fiction. His debut novel won Spain’s Edebé literary prize for young adult literature in 1993. In 2001, he stepped out of the young adult fiction genre with The Shadow of the Wind, a novel in which a child discovers and must protect a extremely rare book from a mysterious figure who wishes to destroy it. The Shadow of the Wind was not only an international success that sold over 15 million copies, but it was also very well received by critics. Zafón grew The Shadow of the Wind into a series—The Cemetery of Forgotten Books—following it up with three more novels, the latest of which, The Labyrinth of Spirits, was published in 2016.