This year the Feria del Libro in Madrid was back in full force. For the first time since the pandemic, the fair returned to its normal size, stretching out along the Paseo de Fernán Nuñez in Retiro Park. Madrid’s open air book fair began in 1933, and whilst its stands are primarily dominated by Spanish booksellers and publishers, each year it focuses on the promotion of literature from a guest country. This year, however, was slightly different, and whilst there is no guest country, the fair’s motto was: ‘Browse the world’, offering more of a general promotion of world literature. Of course, many of the events and workshops also highlighted Ukrainian and Russian literature.
Something I particularly love about this book fair is that it is open to the public. This means it’s overflowing with people buying books from the stands run by bookshops and publishers, queuing for signings by their favourite authors, and participating in workshops. The events schedule is also packed, and over the course of the fair I had the chance to make it to three of these.
The first was a round-table in which Marta Fernández, a writer and journalist, invited authors Milena Busquets, David Jiménez and Alberto Moreno to discuss what boundaries (if any) exist between memory and auto-fiction. The authors discussed the areas in which fiction, truth and memory overlap, and whether there are real differences between fiction and truth, as many writers, whether they realise it or not, draw on their real-life experiences to help them produce their works of fiction. I found this discussion particularly fascinating because in last month’s La Española I wrote about the current boom in Spanish auto-fiction and non-fiction.
‘What do you do with books?’ was another round-table, in which translator Marta Sánchez-Nieves, editor Álvaro Martín and journalist Francisco Pastor spoke about their individual roles within the book industry. It was interesting to get their insights on how the Spanish translation industry works, particularly about how literary translators are treated in Spain. Marta Sánchez-Nieves shared her experience as a translator. Like many literary translators in the United Kingdom, she is fighting for translators to get better pay, and to always be named on covers. My takeaway: the situation in Spain is very much the same as back home.
The final event I managed to see at the fair was a round-table on writing in a foreign language, in which Ukrainian-Spanish author Margaryta Yakovenko and Moroccan-Spanish author Najat El Hachmi, discussed what it was like writing in their ‘second’ or ‘foreign’ language. During an enlightening conversation, they delved into the term ‘mother tongue’, exploring the many ways it can be reductive and offered fascinating new perspectives on writing in a second language. I also came away from the event with two new books to read: Desencajada is Yakovenko’s debut novel and was published in 2020 by Caballo de Troya. It explores ideas around identity and reflects on the struggles that different generations of migrants face in Spain. El Hachmi’s latest book, El lunes nos querran, won the Nadal Prize in 2021 and is a story of women becoming the leaders and protagonists of their own lives. I can’t wait to read both.
As well as adding Margaryta Yakovenko and Najat El Hachmi to my list of authors to read, I picked up books from some of the many stands at the fair. I finally managed to get my hands on The Books of Jacob from an English-language bookshop – a novel that I am sure will see me through the summer. I also bought new books from one of my favourite Spanish publishers, Tránsito: Basura, by Silvia Aguilar Zéleny, and Otra, by Natalia Carrero. Tránsito are a brilliant independent Spanish publisher who champion the best female voices from Spain, as well as translations from a range of languages. For those of you who read Spanish, I would highly recommend checking out their catalogue.
By Alice Banks (aka ‘La Española’)
Alice Banks is a creative and literary translator from French and Spanish based in Madrid. After studying the MA in Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia, Alice began working with the European Literature Network as an Editorial Assistant. She also volunteers as a copy editor for Asymptote Journal and is a publishing assistant at Fum d’Estampa Press.
Read previous posts in La Española series: