10 books by the winners of the Princess of Asturias Award for Literature that you should read

    Juan Mayorga has just won the 2022 Princess of Asturias Award for Literature and, with it, there are now 41 editions of the award that has been awarded uninterruptedly – without even stopping due to the pandemic – since 1981. With a diploma, a sculpture by Joan Miró, the insignia of the Princess of Asturias Foundation and an award economic prize of 50,000 euros, the Princesa de Asturias de las Letras has ended up becoming something like the Nobel Prize for Literature in Spain. About. Its endowment is still well below the 980,000 euros that the Swedish Academy gives to the winners of the Nobel Prize for literature and the staggering million euros that the winners of the Planeta Prize receive.

    The award is “aimed at the work of cultivating and perfecting literary creation in all its genres”, although Mayorga was only the third playwright to receive it after Francisco Nieva (1992) and Arthur Miller (2002). It is usually received by poets and novelists, yes, always first class. There are oversights, of course, like the books by Gabriel García Márquez that never received this recognition (nor did they need to), but oversights are everywhere, right? Let them tell Borges.

    The important thing is that the list of winners includes the most outstanding literature of recent decades. At least, of literature in Spanish, because until the year 2000 the Foundation did not open the award to a foreigner, the German Günter Grass. Since then It has been received by 5 Americans, 3 Canadians and 8 European authors in languages ​​other than Spanish (and just 3 authors from other parts of the globe). At some moments in its history, the Asturias jury has been very clever. He even went ahead of the Swedes in literary recognition of a musician by awarding Leonard Cohen’s songs before Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize for literature in 2016. By then, Bob Dylan’s songs had already been recognized with the Princess of Asturias Award for the Arts in 2007.

    With a certain imbalance -17 Spanish writers awarded against only 7 Latin Americans- it is among the authors in Spanish that the Asturias has best x-rayed literary trends, but Juan Rulfo, Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa and other great names of the Latin American boom have also passed through Oviedo.

    Already in the peninsula, The recent history of Spanish poetry is represented by the path that goes from José Hierro to Ángel González and Claudio Rodríguez, from the first post-war literature to the Generation of the 50s. And looking at the list of winners, one might think that it ends there. On the other hand, among the national novelists, the awards to Miguel Delibes, Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, Camilo José Cela and Francisco Umbral in the first years of the contest only find their continuity in the recognition of Antonio Muñoz Molina. Is there no one on the throne who laughs at Eduardo Mendoza’s books? In both cases the same thing happens, with the opening of the prize to other literatures, it is more difficult for Spanish narrators and poets to access the contest. For that there is the Cervantes Prize for the career of a writer or others such as the Alfaguara Prize for novels.

    Without further ado, we have compiled for you 10 essential books among the winners of the Princess of Asturias Award for Literature. We will not say that they are the best because all those who have come to the Salón Covadonga in Oviedo are, but they are our favourites. Others have been left out because they didn’t fit and because, well, of the best books by Mario Vargas Llosa, Paul Auster and Margaret Atwood, for example, we have already spoken to you on other occasions and we will continue to do so. aim.

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Theater 1989-2014 by Juan Mayorga

Juan Mayorga has received the Princess of Asturias for “the enormous quality, critical depth and intellectual commitment of his work”, which
that the director of the RAE, Santiago Muñoz Machado, summarizes in “action, emotion, poetry and thought”. You can find the bulk of his work in this volume of La Uña Rota, which includes such emblematic titles as love letters to Stalin (1997), comedy Himmelweg (2003) either The boy in the last row (2006), perhaps his most famous work thanks to the film adaptation by François Ozon, At home.

If you don’t want to read, you can go to the Teatro de la Abadia in Madrid, directed by Mayorga himself, or go to a performance of the golem one of his last works that the playwright rewrote during confinement to include the collapsed public health system and is currently on the bill.


The adversary by Emmanuel Carrere

If you’re not afraid of meeting one of the most hateful characters in literature, you’re going to really enjoy the story of Jean-Claude Romand. The adversary is a highly licensed non-fiction novel about the most unscrupulous guy you can imagine, a scoundrel who posed as a UN doctor in the institution’s most scandalous fraud.


The beauty of the husband by Anne Carson

“Desire squared is love and love squared is madness. / Madness squared is marriage.

Pearls like this you will find yourself reading Anne Carson’s poetry books. The Princess of Asturias jury highlighted “her ability to build an innovative poetics from the study of the Greco-Latin world”, especially Sappho whom she discovered as a teenager. But that sounds too abstract. If the Canadian poet likes her readers so much, it is because we feel that she has written her verses exclusively for us.


Independence Day by Richard Ford

Some say that Frank Bascombe, who stars in several novels and short stories by Richard Ford, is the author’s alter ego, something like Hemingway’s Nick Adams that he likes so much. It may be, because not even a realistic imagination as meticulous as his could have created a character with so many nuances. In Independence Day gets Bascombe back after the sports journalist to narrate another daily adventure in New Jersey, after a divorce, with a teenage son and with Bascombe deluded by another woman.


the polish horseman by Antonio Munoz Molina

I remember when I started the polish horseman I couldn’t stop thinking about Juan Marsé’s novels, especially in the dialogues with memory trips by Last evenings with Teresa, but this is a book that never stops changing and suddenly I found myself in an Andalusian town, Mágina (a copy of Úbeda), which seemed built with the history of Spain on the magical realism of Macondo. Then the book would transform again. It is the novel in which Antonio Muñoz Molina threw everything: his memories, his family conflicts and how much he had learned watching westerns, reading adventure books and the best literature on both sides of the Atlantic.


american pastoral by Philip Roth

In 2012 Philip Roth was the first writer who did not get to see a hard of the Princess of Asturias. The foundation is very strict about that: whoever does not attend the ceremony is left with nothing. Roth couldn’t attend because he had just had surgery, but neither of those.

american pastoral it was published before all this and is my favorite. A mix of The life of Ivan Illich Y of The Great Gatsby with an aspiration to be the great American novel of the 60s. With a playful and imaginative narrator, a copy of Roth -the usual Zuckerman of his novels- american pastoral describes how I have never seen the social changes of the 60s from the mythical figure of Semyour Levov, the Swede, a comfortable and calm gatsby who has also been run over by life (and History).


essential work by Susan Sontag

Before Susan Sontag died this year, she sounded like one of the favorites for the Nobel Prize in Literature. In the end, she got it from Abdulrazak Gurnah (and we already took the opportunity to recommend his novel Paradise) and Sontag left without the Swedish Academy recognizing America’s greatest chronicler. The same time that Roth portrayed from fiction, she covered it as a direct witness who lived impregnated with the atmosphere of her time. At least she could boast of having won the Princess of Asturia (together with the Moroccan writer, thinker and feminist Fatima Mernissi).

The Random House Literature volume brings together some of his best articles, essays, and journal entries on the siege of Sarajevo or the making of his novels. there you can read Crawl to Bethlehemthe best portrait of the sixties before the crimes of Charles Manson.


The colored spears by Arturo Uslar Pietri

Among all the authors of the Latin American boom to win the Princess of Asturias, it is worth rescuing the Venezuelan Arturo Uslar Pietri, one of the most renowned intellectuals, politicians and writers in the country and the one who introduced the term magical realism. The colored spears It was his first novel and it won over attentive readers like Borges and Vargas Llosa. And to us, who are more rude, and to you if you read it. Word.


between net curtains by Carmen Martin Gaite

Unfortunately, there are not many writers who can boast of having won the Princess of Asturias or, rather, the other way around, of all the Spanish writers, the award can only show off the timely recognition of the work of Carmen Martín Gaite (the rest of women, 8 in total, are foreign writers). between net curtains It was her first novel, a succession of small talk between girls that ends up revealing the lack of post-war expectations.


Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo

García Márquez used to say that the encounter with Juan Rulfo was, along with that of Kafka, the most important of his life and the one that gave him a world to write about. Pedro Paramo has that effect. Rulfo poured his childhood in Jalisco, the murder of his father, the harsh life in the countryside and the difficulties of the post-revolutionary era into this novel and he was so exhausted that, except for a couple of film scripts, he never wrote again. . Nor did he need it. Pedro Paramo It is one of the best novels of the 20th century.

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10 books by the winners of the Princess of Asturias Award for Literature that you should read