More than Márquez: Hispabooks’ Ana Pérez Galván on Contemporary Spanish Literature

Ana Pérez and Gregorio Doval

Gregorio Doval and Ana Pérez Galván

Brand new, Madrid-based independent publishing house Hispabooks has already generated buzz in the literary translation community and the publishing world, enriching the English-language book market with their first batch of releases from some of the most exciting and innovative contemporary Spanish authors. Founded in October, 2011 by Ana Pérez Galván and Gregorio Doval, two editors at large with more than 15 years in the Spanish publishing business, Hispabooks is focused and ambitious. Ana kindly discussed with me via e-mail how Hispabooks hopes to change the perception of Spanish literature among English-language readers worldwide.

How did you come to found Hispabooks?
My partner, Gregorio Doval and I set it up out of a will to do something about the little exposure Spanish writers have in the English book market. Having an urge to set up a project of our own, we came up with the idea of Hispabooks as the best way to contribute to the thriving of Spanish literary fiction beyond our borders.

Here in Spain, around 30% of what’s published every year is in translation, especially from English, but as you may well know, the English book market has a much lower rate of books in translation, with their infamous 3% rate. Within that, books from Spain are only in the fifth place, behind titles from German, French, Chinese, Japanese or Italian authors. With our deep knowledge of our own literature, we were dismayed to see how very few of our literary fiction writers managed to get a translation into English of their work and how sometimes English or American publishers seem to make a somewhat “strange” selection of Spanish titles to translate, taking on some minor works/authors and leaving out others, to us, more distinctive of what contemporary Spanish fiction from Spain has to offer nowadays (the economic crisis has fueled a creative boom). We have also seen a trend from publishers abroad to translate more Latin American authors than Spanish ones.

All that gave us the feeling there was some work to do here, and we decided to go ahead with Hispabooks!

 “…due to the lack of Spanish titles in translation, most English readers still associate Spanish literature with a very traditional and local culture, the one reflected in the great classical works (such as those of García Lorca or Ernest Hemingway) or popular topics like the Spanish Civil War.”

Why are you focused on contemporary Spanish fiction, and what is the void that you hope to fill with your books?
Both Gregorio and I have a true love for world literature but, as is logical, have a deeper knowledge of our own country’s contemporary literature than publishers abroad may have. Being that Spanish is our mother tongue and being knowledgeable in Spanish literature enables us to read the books we consider for publication and assess their literary quality with an independent criterion. With this approach we hope to fill the void left by non-Spanish publishers who are only able to access Spanish books via scouts, reading reports and sales statistics, which, in most cases amount to good choices, but leave out books which have been underrated in their original Spanish edition and, therefore, are usually overlooked.

We are also keen on offering in the long term a more modern, updated version of Spanish literature, as we feel that publishers abroad, when acquiring foreign titles, tend to look for the “local/exotic” taste that their readership is used to, due to a lack of variety from which to choose and which, in a way, results in a vicious circle.

As bookseller Mark Haber from Brazos bookstore put it in an article published a few months ago at Publishing Perspectives,“The days of Spanish language literature being reduced to Cervantes or García Márquez have passed. The diverse, expansive world of Spanish language literature is slowly getting recognized by English readers. I’ve seen this first-hand.” We totally subscribe to that.

Do you think English-language readers have any misconceptions about Spanish literature that you hope to correct with your publications?
In a way, the biggest misconception is the one Mark Haber pointed to in the mentioned article above: due to the lack of Spanish titles in translation, most English readers still associate Spanish literature with a very traditional and local culture/literature, the one reflected in the great classical works (such as those of García Lorca or Ernest Hemingway) or popular topics like the Spanish Civil War. In that sense, through our publications we hope to correct that, to help English readers be more broadminded when thinking about Spanish literature and world literature in translation in general.

Secondly, something very particular to our project is we are translating from our mother tongue into English, which is not the usual thing. Most publishers do the opposite: translate from other languages into their mother tongue. This means they are totally proficient at ensuring a translation “reads well”, but sometimes not so much so when it comes to assessing its “faithfulness” to the original text. I’m not referring to being literal, but to being really true to the meaning and the author’s register. In that sense, taking as a starting point the awesome and admirable work the translators we work with do, we distinguish ourselves during the copyediting process, checking the translation thoroughly alongside the original text and spotting mistakes and, specifically, undue or unnecessary cultural adaptations.

Paris-Marcos Giralt Torrente

Which titles are you most excited to introduce to readers this year?
We publish only ten titles a year, which means choosing from them is really difficult, as each of them is already “a chosen one,” but just to name a couple: Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente, and Rain Over Madrid by Andrés Barba are perhaps the two most powerful ones speaking in literary terms. Marcos Giralt was awarded the Spanish National Book Award in 2011 and is one of the best literary writers in Spain right now. This year marks his great debut in the English book market, as McSweeney’s published The End of Love in Fall 2013, a really enticing collection of short stories; we published his first novel Paris last Spring; and Farrar is releasing his memoir Father and Son in September. Also, very interestingly, each of the translations is by a different, well-known translator: The End of Love is translated by Katherine Silver, our Paris is by Margaret Jull Costa, and Father and Son by Natasha Wimmer.

Regarding Rain Over Madrid, it’s the first book in English translation by Barba, who was included in Granta’s issue on “The Best of Young Spanish-language Novelists” back in 2010. The book, formed by 4 novellas, received a lot of praise in its Spanish edition, and our English one, released now, is also getting good reviews. Andrés has been invited over to the AJC Decatur Book Festival in Atlanta at the end of month and to the International Festival of Authors in Toronto in October.

Rain Over Madrid-Andres Barba

How would you characterize some of the predominant trends in contemporary Spanish fiction?
Unfortunately, in Spain, and in the past years with the economic crisis, the book industry has seen its sales figures plunge and the gap widen between the reach of mass market titles and literary ones. Historical novels with a touch of romance, chick-lit, thriller and noir are, as in most international book markets, the big trends taking up most of the pie.

Still, despite that not too enticing scenario, there is still hope, as literary writers like Javier Marías, Enrique Vila-Matas or Marcos Giralt Torrente are also popular amongst readers, and there are also new small independent presses coming out constantly helping put forward the work of new Spanish and international writers.

How do you select your authors?
We don’t do genre, which leaves out a big batch of writers. Taking it from there, we look for good writers who distinguish themselves with their personal stance on the issues they approach, their language skills, narrative ability and sharp, smart reflections. This, in the end, means choosing books for consideration that we initially think might have any of those qualities and then just reading, reading and reading. Generally, most of the books we publish, we know by the first few pages. They just stand out. And when you can choose freely, because you are really independent and autonomous, you can go for a richer, more diverse and balanced selection.

“…taking as a starting point the awesome and admirable work the translators we work with do, we distinguish ourselves during the copyediting process, checking the translation thoroughly alongside the original text and spotting mistakes and, specifically, undue or unnecessary cultural adaptations.”

How do you select the translators you work with?
We try to look for translators who are not only proficient both in English and Spanish, but who might have a twin sensitivity and aesthetic to that of the author. For instance, if it’s an action-packed book with lots of slang, we’ll be looking for a younger translator (for instance Rosalind Harvey or Thomas Bunstead) who is more used to that register. If the original work has a very poetic feel, we’ll be looking for a poet-translator! We tend to be flexible, and we sometimes also check with the authors whether they have any preferences themselves but, basically, I guess it’s just common sense, like when you’re match-making in any other sphere of action, as with film dubbing or even dating!

How are you funded?
So far, we have funded ourselves by our own means, from personal resources and bank loans. Beginning this year we are able to apply to some grants from Spanish and European public bodies which we really look forward to, and are on constant look out for sponsors, so if anyone reading this is willing to financially support an enticing project on Spanish literature, do get in touch! (Our best smile is awaiting them :-))

Hotel Life and Nothing European Bookshop

Where can readers find your books?
Our books can be easily found online in the main international book platforms, both in printed and ebook format (Amazon, Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, Kobo . . .) and also, readers should be able to order them at their local bookstores, as our distributor, Ingram, has a really wide reach though their own distribution company and their partners in the UK, US and Australia.

What do you think contemporary Spanish fiction has to offer English-language readers that we are lacking in our own literature, or that might surprise or delight us?
Just a wider variety of good books from which to choose. Globalization has its roots deep into the Western culture, and contemporary Spanish writers under 50 have grown up with very much the same cultural references as, for instance, English, German, Italian or Swedish ones. They’ve all watched the same US TV sitcoms or movies, read the same world literature, listened to the same music . . . there no longer is that big cultural gap that literary fiction from the Twentieth century still conveyed.

Still, of course, we can’t forget our own historic literary input and assets, and our culture as a melting pot of Greco-Roman, Celtic, Arab and Latin American heritage. In this sense, there always is a very local sensibility in all cultures, which is reflected, for instance, in humor, but it’s something more subtle. In that way, I think what should be rewarding for English readers is to discover that they don’t need to stay within their frontiers to find the kind of literature they enjoy, but that, in fact, in their search for an enticing read they can browse amongst a much larger variety of voices.

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Christiana Hills

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