Camilo José Cela

Camilo José Cela

Camilo José Cela (1916–2002) was a Spanish novelist who was incredibly influential to the world of Spanish Literature. During his lifetime he wrote more than 70 works, including essays, poems, travel books, and novels and he was associated with the Generation of ‘36 movement. His writing was often said to include a sarcastic, grotesque realism and his first novels had to be published in Argentina, instead of his native Spain, because they were considered too foul and violent. He earlier works received the most acclaim, particularly La Colmena (The Hive) and La Familia de Pascual Duarte (The Family of Pascual Duarte). His novel The Hive included more than 300 characters and showed the influence of both Spanish realism and contemporary English- and French-language authors. In 1957 he was appointed to the Royal Spanish Academy and Cela helped to oversee the literary style of the Spanish Constitution in 1997, when he was appointed to Spain’s Parliament. Cela received numerous awards, most notably the 1989 Nobel Prize in Literature and the 1996 Cervantes Prize. King Juan Carlos I granted him the title of Marquis of Iria Flavia in 1996.

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Mazurka for Two Dead Men

Mazurka for Two Dead Men, the culmination of Camilo José Cela’s literary art, opens in 1936 at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War: 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 excellent novel portrays a reign of fools, and works like contrapuntal music, its themes calling and responding, alternately brutal, melancholy, funny, lyrical, and coarse.…
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Fiction by Camilo José Cela

Translated from the Spanish by Patricia Haugaard

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
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