The Miguel de Cervantes Prize was established in 1976 and annually it honours the lifetime achievement for writing in the Spanish Lanuage, this includes writers from any Spanish speaking nation. Quoted as the “most prestigious” Spanish language prize the award of 125,000 euros is nothing to be sneezed at. Since inception there have been four female winners (in the forty presentations) with Elena Poniatowska from Mexico being the most recent in 2013, the first being in 1988, Spanish writer María Zambrano Alarcón, the second the Cuban poet Dulce María Loynaz in 1992 and the third Ana María Matute in 2010.
Whilst it is staggering to only have four winners in forty years, what is even more amazing is the lack of translated works (into English) available for Ana María Matute. Besides being nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1976 her list of awards and recognitions runs to twenty-three entries in the anthology “A Thousand Forests In One Acorn”. I can find “Soldiers Cry By Night” (translated by Robert Nugent and Maria Delacamara – Latin American Literary Review Press 1995), “The Trap” (translated by Robert Nugent and Maria Jose De La Camara - Latin American Literary Review Press 1996), “Celebration in the Northwest” (translated by Phoebe Ann Porter – University of Nebraska Press 1997) , “Fireflies” (translated by Glafyra Ennis – Peter Lang Publishing 1998), and “School of the Sun” (translated by Elaine Kerrigan – Columbia University Press 1989). “The Heliotrope Wall and Other Stories” was published by Columbia University Press in 1989, translated by Michael Scott Doyle. All of these works are out of print, and as you can see, are published by small publishers. With forty-four works appearing in her bibliography in “A Thousand Forests in One Acorn” the amount of work available in English is extremely limited, if you can lay your hands on any at all!!
Born in Barcelona in 1925, she was put into the care of her grandparents at age eight for health reasons and moved to Mansilla de la Sierra. Just prior to her eleventh birthday the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War “superimposed on her childhood memories” and this is “reflected in most” of “her early books, whose protagonists are children with a vision of the world that makes a distinction between the real (adult) world and fantasy”. (Valerie Miles). Her trilogy (‘Olvidado Rey Gudú’, ‘La torre vigía’ and ‘Aranmanoth’) set in a medieval court is the work that Ana María Matute chose as a representation of her work in the anthology “A Thousand Forests In One Acorn”.
And so, all these matters attended to, the time came for the Queen to gather together her advisors in a very private assembly to disclose to them something that had remained dormant in her mind and heart through her long years of thought and confinement.
Once they were gathered in her private chambers, the Sorcerer, the Goblin of the South, and the handsome Almíbar – although he was not essential, since in such circumstances he usually fell asleep: it was only a matter of courtesy – the Queen addressed her true – and perhaps he only – friends:
- Dear friends, the time has come to make an important decision regarding Gudú to emphatically and definitively secure the crown and the glory of the Realm for him. And as your lessons and my own experience have taught me, an essential condition has become very clear for endowing him with a unique virtue in this regard.
She was silent for a moment, one of her few weaknesses was a penchant for solemnity. Her friends listened attentively:
- My dear friends, she repeated, with her customary sweetness and strength, the matter is simple and complicated at the same time, and this is why I am in great need of your arts and wisdom. The decision is to, once and for all, render Gudú completely incapable of any form of love for others.
This is a fantasy tale of potions, severe consequences should the Prince shed a tear, a plot with a water nymph to become human flesh and placate Gudú’s desires and more. In a short excerpt of only thirteen pages, the tale from “Olvidado Rey Gudú” (“The Forgotten King of Gudú”) – translated by Lisa Buscov-Ellen – our writer has managed to suck this reader into wanting to know the outcome of such an evil plot, removing the capacity to love. Unfortunately this whetting of my appetite is all in vein, the book is not available in an English translation!!!!
Ana María Matute personally addressed the fantasy style in the “Coda” section of Valerie Mile’s anthology.
My intended style of writing forms part of the magic, you understand, of the magic of literature, of literature as invention. So that has always existed in my books and stories. But if you have to take into account the time in which I had to live and develop as a writer. It was the Francoist era. First, when I was eleven years old the civil war broke out right in front of me and after I was fourteen, in my adolescence, I lived through a very long postwar period. And that left a mark on all of us, marked us decisively. This explains why I had to find a lung to breathe and to fight this man and his system. Pequeño tentro or Primaria memoria are realist, but not entirely. This is always a more poetic part. I think that social realism really killed Spanish literature for a while and I wanted to get away from it. I didn’t renounce my rebelliousness or my strong social criticism by writing literature instead of social reporting. I haven’t limited myself to telling, to narrating. I imagine. I invent. In any case, I have travelled a lot and I’ve seen how women are treated in the world and I’ve come to the realization that it’s not solely the heritage of Spain. But in a country like ours and at that time there were strong inherited prejudices.
I think the four from forty winners of the Miguel de Cervantes Prize already tells us this. It’s a pity more of Ana María Matute’s work is not available in English and personally I’m disappointed that the tale of the King of Gudú is not available, I’d love to know how he goes without an ability to love!!!