Cela is the Goya of Franco’s Spain.

Paul West

Camilo José Cela

Camilo José Cela, winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize, was born in Galicia in 1916. His father was Spanish; his mother, English. He studied law, medicine, and philosophy in London and Madrid and in his younger years worked as a journalist and an actor. He was named a member of the Royal Spanish Academy in 1957 and received numerous literary prizes and honorary degrees. Cela published more than fifty books, including eighteenth novels and novellas as well as collections of stories, essays, plays, poetry, and travel books. His novel Mazurka for Two Dead Men was first published in Spain in 1983 and next to his first novel, The Family of Pascual Duarte (1942), is his most widely translated work. Cela died in 2002.

cover image of the book Mazurka for Two Dead Men

Mazurka for Two Dead Men

A beautiful, brutal novel about the Spanish Civil War, Mazurka for Two Dead Men is the culmination of Camilo José Cela’s literary art. At the beginning of the war in 1936, Lionheart Gamuzo is savagely murdered. In 1939, as the war ends, his brother avenges his death. For both deaths, the blind accordion player plays the same mazurka. Set in backward rural Galicia, Cela’s novel portrays a reign of fools, and works like contrapuntal music, its themes calling and responding, alternately visceral, melancholy, funny, lyrical, and coarse.

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cover image of the book Boxwood


Boxwood might perhaps be best described as a kind of whirlwind: a vortex of marvelous writing about folklore, traditions, superstitions, cooking, nautical disasters on the Coast of Death (ships from afar spilling cargoes of oranges, typewriters, iron ore, oil, spices), elements of nature both cruel and beautiful, whales, priests, witches, ghosts—sprinkled with various autobiographies—everything exquisite and crass in Cela’s native home, Galicia, Spain. “If the Holy Ghost were a bat instead of a dove our religion would not be the one true faith and there would be fewer Catholics, and if he were a magpie or a jackdaw there would be none at all, the devil appears in the guise of a billy goat whose rump you kiss as a mark of homage and respect, the Holy Ghost could have been a swallow, but not a cormorant, the form taken by the Holy Ghost is well thought out, you immediately see the hand of God in it, Father Xerardino, the priest of San Xurxo, supposes the form might also have been a butterfly in all the colors of the spectrum…” (from Boxwood)

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Cela is the Goya of Franco’s Spain.

Paul West

There is a secret slot for Cela at his best, as one of the great prose stylists, plural, of Spain — a man dangerously like us.

Roberto Bolaño

…if there is any Spanish novelist who deserves the Nobel Prize on the merit of narrative experimentation alone, it is without a doubt Camilo José Cela.

Miguel Ugarte, The Nation

…the excellence of Mazurka for Two Dead Men should at least serve as a reminder that among the many Spanish-speaking countries, Spain is still a source of powerful literature.

New York Times Book Review
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