Enduring art is usually associated
with conflict and conspiracy-art engaged in a
plot against itself. This is certainly the case
with Galician literature, written in a minority
language spoken in the northwest corner of Spain
by a population forced to accept the language's
That wasn't always the case.
In the Middle Ages our language-virtually the
same as Portuguese-flourished politically and
culturally. It was the language of the people
and of the government; excellent Galician poetry
was written in the Provençal style. Even King
Alfonso X of Castile-dubbed "The Wise"-wrote his
Songs to the Virgin Mary in Galician. At
the end of the fifteenth century, however, Queen
Isabel I removed the Galician nobility, abolished
its institutions, severed Galicia's ties to Portugal,
and outlawed the Galician language. Thus the Dark
Unsurprisingly, the Spanish Civil War was another major setback. The 1930s were followed by new decades of silence and repression-not a single book was published for fifteen years. Intellectuals were assassinated, imprisoned, threatened, or forced into exile so that Galician culture only managed to survive in Latin America-a bleak time.
Today, Galician literature is
going strong. The arrival of democracy and political
autonomy in the late 70s gave Galician literature
a new impulse which can still be seen today. One
thousand books in Galician are published every
year, including fiction and non-fiction. Manuel
Rivas' novel The Carpenter's Pencil has
sold over 90,000 copies, and many other Galician
authors are being translated into other European
languages. From the Beginning of the Sea,
an anthology of contemporary Galician fiction,
for example, has just been published in the UK.
The literature is widely popular in Galicia too,
of course. Five years ago a Galician newspaper
sold a selection of 120 classic and contemporary
books. 50,000 copies of each were sold-that's
a total of six million books sold in just a few
months for a population of only two and a half
Surprisingly, there is a new-and large-market for these books. Our new writers are urban and cosmopolitan; our thrillers, sci-fi, erotica, and literary fiction are usually written in straightforward, streamlined prose. With this gain in popularity, however, the literature has lost its original spark and daring. In other words, the newest wave of Galician literature lacks the courage to "plot against itself." Writers have agents and pay attention to their public image, win prizes and lecture at the Centers of Galician Studies found in universities around the world, as if they were ambassadors spreading the word rather than embattled literary dissidents.
The question is: what space is Galician literature supposed to occupy when its writers are branded as foreigners by Spanish critics and academics-the same critics and academics who, paradoxically, welcome Latin Americans as their fellow countrymen? Where do we fit in? Where does a culture belong when its art is ambitious and cosmopolitan and its language constitutes a peripheral "subculture"? What, I have to ask, is the future of Galician literature?
to Index of Despatches | Back to the Table of Contents for Number 2
About our Correspondent
Xurxo Borrazás was born in Galicia in 1963. His
novels include Ser ou non, La aldea
muerta, and Na maleta. Borrazás
has translated works by Henry Miller and William
Faulkner into Galician, and frequently publishes
articles on Galician culture and politics.