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Pere Calders in pencil © Arturo Espinosa/Flickr
Pere Calders in pencil © Arturo Espinosa/Flickr

Top 10 Must-Read Catalan Writers

Picture of Lauren Cocking
Updated: 7 October 2016
Catalonia is one of the most culturally intriguing regions of Spain, yet it’s also tied up in a highly publicized fight for independence, and despite most Catalonians speaking Spanish perfectly, there are over 10 million Catalan speakers. This makes Catalan the most spoken, but still non-official, working language of the EU. Catalonia’s tumultuous history has led to a rather stop-and-start literary tradition, with huge breaks in output, most recently during the Franco dictatorship when minority Spanish languages such as Catalan and Basque were made illegal, driving many Catalans into exile abroad. Check out the top ten must-read Catalan writers below.

 

Quim Monzó

Quim Monzó is an enigmatic and well-liked figure in Catalan literature, known for his novels as much as for his journalism, and was the opening speaker at Frankfurt’s 2007 Book Fair. His rousing speech was a rapid fire affair, humorous and delivered in his native Catalan, like much of his literature. Extremely successful both commercially and critically, he has previously been the recipient of The National Award for Fiction, and his 1989 novel, La magnitud de la tragèdia, was awarded the El Temps Award for Best Novel. Also known for collaborating on the screenplay for Jamón, jamón (1992), his work is sophisticated, yet replete with pop culture and irony, making it as enthralling as the man himself.

Victor Català/ Caterina Albert

Better known by her rather appropriate pen name Victor Català, Caterina Albert is a Catalan novelist first formally rewarded for her talent in 1898, when she was awarded the Jocs Florals d’Olot for her poem Lo llibre nou. However the work that gained her the most praise was undoubtedly Solitud (1905), a novel highly regarded for not only its contribution to and encapsulation of the Catalan modernist movement as a whole, but for its subject matter. Centered on the protagonist Mila, the novel follows her struggle to assert her own independence in tough social surroundings. The force and power of Català’s style is impressive, and her work is imbued with a richness of phraseology.

Montserrat Roig

As if to make clear the literary importance of the aforementioned Victor Català, we have Montserrat Roig, recipient of the 1970 Premi Victor Català for her short story anthology, Molta roba i poc sabó…i tan neta que la volen. Roig is the writer of several overtly feminist works, including her 1972 novel Romano adéu, in which she follows three generations of women with significant points in Catalan history acting as the backdrop for their personal, private action. The same women were the focus of her Premi Sant Jordi de novel·la winning novel El temps de les cireres (1977), and her feminist attitude is culminated in 1980’s L’hora violeta. Not to be dismissed is her fantastic journalistic output, for which she was also well-liked.

Pere Calders

Having been exiled to Mexico – a country with a surprising interest in the Catalan language – for 23 years did not diminish the literary output of Pere Calders. From his first published collection of short stories El primer arlequí, in 1936, he wrote steadily until his death in 1994. In fact, Mexico was the glorious backdrop to the composition of some of his most critically successful novels, such as Cròniques de la veritat oculta (1955) and Gent de l’alta vall (1957). After his eventual return to Catalonia in 1962, L’ombra de l’atzavara (1964) – in which his precise style lent itself to a discussion of cultural displacement, longing for home, and the overall struggles of exile which many Catalans faced – went on to win the Premi Sant Jordi de novel·la.

Laura Freixas

Barcelona native Laura Freixas, while falling well into the category of must-read Catalan writers, is the only entry on our list that doesn’t publish her texts in Catalan, instead preferring the write in the perhaps more commercially viable Spanish. First coming to the attention of the public with her 1988 collection of short stories El asesino en la muñeca, one of her most intriguing novels is Amor o lo que sea (2005), which demystifies the concept of love through protagonist Blanca, toppling it from its pedestal of idealisation. For an arguably less pessimistic, but still realistic Freixas compiled text, Madres e hijas (1996) is a compilation of short stories from a variety of female authors, including Catalan Ana María Moix.

Mercè Rodoreda

Mercè Rodoreda is not just one of the most accomplished post-war Catalan authors; she is also widely considered, notably by Gabriel García Márquez, to be the greatest Spanish writer of the 20th century. This statement does not lack substance, as the most acclaimed Catalan novel of all time was written by her in 1962; La Plaça del diamant has been translated into over 30 languages, meaning there really is no excuse to not have read this fantastic example of Catalan literature. Also a former winner of the Victor Català prize, she too has an award named after her, the Premi Mercè Rodoreda de contes i narracions.

Jaume Cabré

A collaborator on the first Catalan TV series La Granja (1989-1992), Jaume Cabré is an accomplished Catalan writer who has published novels, short stories and scripts, yet only his latest novel Jo confesso (2011) has been translated into English. Dealing with common features of Cabré’s work, power and its inherent evil, Jo confesso is an intriguing read with historical flashbacks masterfully intertwined with the modern day main plot. Other excellent Cabré texts for those who have some knowledge of Catalan would be El mirall i l’ombra (1980) and L’ombra de l’eunuc (1996) which picks up the theme of musical inspirations and creations that are present in El mirall i l’ombra.

Jordi Puntí

Multiple-award-winning author Jordi Puntí is the author of short story collections Pell d’Armadillo (1988) and Animals tristos (2002), as well as the critically lauded Maletes perdudes (2010), his debut novel. Maletes perdudes won him the Lletra d’Or award and was celebrated for its often evocative style as well as its interesting plot. It follows the stories of four similarly named half-brothers who, while sharing an absent and recently officially declared missing father, have mothers from four different European countries. Aside from his own personal literary achievements, Puntí is also a translator and columnist. His fourth text will be a collection of his articles called Els castellans.

Marta Rojals

Elusive Marta Rojals is an up-and-coming author on Catalan’s literary scene who shuns in-person interviews, instead preferring to speak with the press via Facebook, as it gives her time to mull over her words properly. This intriguing writer has so far released two novels, the second of which, L’altra (2014), became the highest selling Catalan novel in three weeks after it went on sale. Despite her enigmatic presence, she is already the flavor of the month in many literary circles and would make an excellent starting point for anyone seeking to explore Catalan writings. This is particularly true because of her tendency to articulate the rejection of Spanish’s constant encroachment on the Catalan language, as well as the attitudes surrounding those who fight for the purity of Catalan as a separate language. Her debut, Primavera, estiu, etc. (2011) is also excellent.

Marc Pastor

Winner of 2008 Crims de Tinta prize for his stunning and intensely unsettling novel Barcelona Shadows, the CSI by day and novelist by night Marc Pastor rounds off our list of must-read Catalan authors. Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction, and this is more than evident in Pastor’s critically acclaimed Barcelona Shadows, the first of his novels to receive an English translation. It is based on the sickening true story of Enriqueta Martí, a.k.a ‘the vampire of Barcelona,’ who had a terrible habit of procuring young children to sell to wealthy pedophiles. However, this quirk pales in comparison to her rather more murderous hobby of killing and dismembering them before using their body parts to create creams and potions from which she would then also profit. Pastor’s fictional reimagining of this stomach-turning source material is atmospheric and genuinely frightening.