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Top 10 Classic Spanish novels
Classic novels in any language have always one characteristic in common: they stand the test of time and trascend cultures. Classic novels represents and connects with the immutable human nature, reflecting emotions, experiences and conflicts that everyone can relate to. However, at the same time, these kind of novels immerse readers in cultures and time periods that they have not experienced. These two features, universality and cultural immersion, only make them more enjoyable and memorable. With that said, let me present you ten classic Spanish novels.
1. DON QUIXOTE. Miguel de Cervantes
It was mandatory to start the top 10 with THE masterpiece of Spanish literature, the all-time classic Don Quixote. That’s not an exaggeration, since it’s the most translated book after the Bible, with editions in 145 languages. Many writers and experts in literature go as far as to label Don Quixote as the first modern novel and the best literary work ever written. Originally published in two parts in 1605 and 1615, Miguel de Cervantes writes the story of a noble that has read too many chivalric novels. Inspired by this noble, Alonso Quixano becomes a knight-errant to prove his chivalric virtues and conquer the heart of Dulcinea del Toboso, a woman that Don Quixote idealizes based on a vulgar prostitute. Along his squire Sancho Panza, Don Quixote experiences many bizarre and comical adventures where his madness and obsession with chivalry clashes with the harsh and unpretty reality. You will sure enjoy his adventures, with the currently best English translation edited by Edith Grossman.
2. LA CELESTINA. Fernando de Rojas
Fernando de Rojas, of Jewish descent, published in 1499 La Celestina, then titled The Comedy of Calisto and Melibea. Although it’s considered a novel, it’s entirely written as a series of dialogues. La Celestina is a love story that mixes comedy, tragedy and picaresque realism. It tells the story of Calisto, who uses the old procuress Celestina to start an affair with the unmarried and secluded Melibea. In the process, both Celestina and the servants of Calisto make profit out of the affair. That mixed with the lust of Calisto and Melibea will have fatal consequences, but better if you discover that by yourself!
3. EL CRITICÓN. Baltasar Gracián
More famous for his classic The Art of Worldly Wisdom, Jesuit philosopher Baltasar Gracián wrote later in his life El Criticón, an epic novel that synthesizes the vision of the world that Baltasar Gracián had. The intention of this work is clearly didactic, to show what’s right and wrong. In general, Baltasar Gracián had a pessimistic view of human societies, although the two protagonist, the naïve and impulsive Andreino and the wise Critilo represent hope.
4 and 5. LAZARILLO DE TORMES AND THE SWINDLER: TWO SPANISH PICARESQUE NOVELS. Anonymous and Francisco de Quevedo
Lazarillo de Tormes, along Don Quixote, are my personal favorite works of Spanish literature. Lazarrillo de Tormes is the founding novella of the picaresque genre, that was so popular during the Spanish Golden Age. The author is anonymous, since the story heavily criticizes the Catholic clergy and nobility, to the point that it was banned by the Spanish Inquisition. Lazarillo is the anti-hero of the story, being a low-class theft and bastard son of a prostitute who works for a blind beggar. Then Lazarillo works for different corrupt characters, all while living very miserable episodes. A classic work of brutal realism, with social criticism and humor.
This English edition also includes El Buscón, or The Swindler in English, another classic picaresque novel, this time written by one of the most famous Spanish poets, Francisco de Quevedo. Here Quevedo presents the adventures of Don Pablos, who wants to become virtuous and a gentleman. However, the cruel reality will punch the low-class Don Pablos in the face and circumstances forced him to become a rogue. Despite how harsh that sounds, the novel is a satire that you will enjoy.
6. LA REGENTA. Leopoldo Alas “Clarín”
Leopoldo Alas, aka Clarín, wrote this realist novel set in Vetusta, identifiable with Oviedo, the capital of Asturias. The story narrates how Ana Ozores “La Regenta” marries the old former magistrate of the city, Víctor Quintanar. Feeling unsatisfied and unhappy with her monotonous marriage, La Regenta lets herself be courted by a Don Juan of Oviedo and her confessor. A story of adultery that scandaled the late 19th century Spanish society, but Clarín did a great job depicting the hypocresy of the upper-class.
7. FORTUNATA AND JACINTA. Benito Pérez Galdós
Benito Pérez Galdós is one of the most prolific Spanish writers of all time. He is remembered for his Episodios Nacionales, a series of 46 historical novels, and this work, Fortunata and Jacinta. This novel is, along La Regenta, the best representative of Spanish literary realism. In essence, it’s a critique of the rising middle class. Fortunata is a low-class woman, while Jacinta is the wife of the wealthy Juanito. However, the plot gets complicated when Juanito sleeps with Fortunata and disappears leaving her pregnant. The novel is long and has many characters, so make sure you are hungry for a complex story before reading it.
8. PLATERO AND I. Juan Ramón Jiménez
It’s a short and easy to read lyric prose written back in 1914, a book that children and adults alike can enjoy. A dialogue (or more accurately a monologue) between a man and his donkey, recreating the childhood memories of the author’s life in a rural town of Andalucia. A slice-of-life novel that is a classic of Spanish literature and that make Juan Ramón Jiménez win the Nobel Prize of Literature in 1956.
9. THE FAMILY OF PASCUAL DUARTE. Camilo José Cela
Nobel Prize winner Camilo José Cela wrote The Family of Pascual Duarte back in 1942, a very dark novel where the impulsive protagonist, Pascual Duarte, tells the story of his life from 1882 to 1937, years marked by social and political instability. Pascual Duarte explains how he ended up in jail after murdering, but what makes this novel a classic is how Camilo José Cela explores the background of each character within the social context. The story reflects a deterministic and pessimistic view of the world and usually shows violent scenes, so better to keep this book out of reach of children!
10. ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE. Gabriel García Márquez
Latin American author Gabriel García Márquez tells the story of several generations of the Buendía family, who founded the town of Macondo. It’s a story of a rise and fall of a family and town, the dominant theme being the circular nature of history and how difficult it is for Latin America to escape from the vicious circle that keeps the region underdeveloped. It’s probably the best representative of the genre of magical realism, a combination of a realistic view of the world with magical elements presented as part of the realistic world.
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