RARA-AVIS: Camilo Jose Cela

From: Mark Sullivan ( DJ-Anonyme@webtv.net)
Date: 19 Jan 2002

I saw this Associated Press obit of Camilo Jose Cela today. I'd never heard of him, but he sounds interesting. Has he been translated into English?

The description of his big book sounds like it could be related to hardboiled. It also brings to my mind comparisons with Isaac Babel. Is either of these assumptions even close?

MADRID -- Camilo Jose Cela, 85, a flamboyant novelist from Spain who won the 1989 Nobel Prize in literature with his crude, straightforward writing style, died of a heart ailment Jan. 17 at a hospital here.
"We have lost probably the most universal writer Spain had in the second half of the 20th century," Spanish Culture Minister Pilar del Castillo told national radio. With his first novel, "The Family of Pascual Duarte," Mr. Cela became the leader of an uncommonly straightforward style of writing called
"tremendismo" that clashed with the lyricism of previous Spanish writers. A bon vivant known in Spain for his flamboyant lifestyle, he tended to show a darker side of life in his writings. He drew from his experiences in the Spanish Civil War for many of his stories, which were often violent and gruesome. He was recruited as a private to fight on the side of the right-wing rebel forces led by the future dictator, Gen. Francisco Franco, but he was released after suffering serious wounds. He later published an anti-fascist magazine that became a forum for opposition to the 36-year Franco dictatorship. Mr. Cela's breakthrough 1942 novel, "The Family of Pascual Duarte," was first published in Argentina because it was deemed too violent and crude for Spain at the time. It tells the story in the language of a rural, uneducated man who commits a series of brutal murders without really knowing why and ends up being executed. It often is credited with creating a sort of literary vanguard in the years immediately after the 1936-39 Civil War, both in Spain and Latin America. Another well-known work, "The Hive," published in 1951, takes place in the cold, depressing postwar years and depicts starving writers who would sit for hours during the winter in Madrid's literary cafes. When Mr. Cela was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1989, the Swedish Academy cited him for "rich and intensive prose, which with restrained compassion forms a challenging vision of man's vulnerability." It said "The Family of Pascual Duarte" was the most popular work of fiction in Spanish since Miguel de Cervantes' masterpiece "Don Quixote" was published nearly 400 years ago. Mr. Cela greeted the honor with aplomb, saying it could just as easily have gone to many other Spanish writers. "Life is like a game of tennis," he told reporters, "and this time I won." He also spoke of what the prize might mean for his legacy and how he'd like to be remembered. Using the crude language common to his fiction, Mr. Cela said he would like this epitaph: "Here lies someone who tried to screw his fellow man as little as possible." Mr. Cela, the son of a Spanish father and English mother, was born in comfortable surroundings in the town of Iria de Flavia in the northwestern region of Galicia. He went on to produce more than 70 works, including essays, poems and travel books and 10 novels. But at home, he was better known for his love of food, travel and women. He enjoyed touring his country in a Rolls-Royce and sometimes reminisced about fellow writer Ernest Hemingway.
"We went to a lot of bullfights together. He was a great author and a great friend," Mr. Cela said in Stockholm in 1989. At his death, Mr. Cela was involved in an unresolved court battle with an obscure Spanish writer, Carmen Formoso Lapido, who accused him of plagiarism. She said a novel she wrote in the early 1990s served as the basis for Mr. Cela's book, "La Cruz de San Andres," which won Spain's prestigious Planeta Award in 1994. Mr. Cela's survivors include his wife, Marina Castano, who was his literary aide and whom he called his muse.

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