Books

Death at Intervals

José Saramago (and others)

In an unnamed country, on the first day of the New Year, people stop dying. There is great celebration and people dance in the streets. They have achieved the great goal of humanity: eternal life. Soon, though, the residents begin to suffer. Undertakers face bankruptcy, the church is forced to reinvent its doctrine, and local 'maphia' smuggle those on the brink of death over the border where they can expire naturally.

Death does return eventually, but with a new, courteous approach – delivering violet warning letters to her victims. But what can death do when a letter is unexpectedly returned?

The Elephant's Journey

José Saramago (and others)

For two years Solomon the elephant has lived in Lisbon. Now King Dom João III wishes to make him a wedding gift for a Hapsburg archduke in Vienna. The only way for Solomon to get to his new home is to walk. So begins a journey that will take the stalwart elephant across the dusty plains of Castile, over the sea to Genoa and up to northern Italy where, like Hannibal's elephants before him, he must cross the snowy Alps. Based on a true story, Saramago’s tale is an enchanting mix of fact, fable and fantasy.

On the Edge

Rafael Chirbes (and others)

The acclaimed novel of Spain's economic crisis - a timely masterpiece.

Under a weak winter sun in small-town Spain, a man discovers a rotting corpse in a marsh. It’s a despairing town filled with half-finished housing developments and unemployment, a place defeated by the burst of the economic bubble.

Stuck in the same town is Esteban, his small factory bankrupt, his investments gone, the sole carer to his mute, invalid father. As Esteban’s disappointment and fury lead him to form a dramatic plan to reverse financial ruin, other voices float up from the wreckage. Stories of loss twist together to form a kaleidoscopic image of Spain’s crisis. And the corpse in the marsh is just one.

Chirbes’s rhythmic, torrential style creates a Spanish masterpiece for our age.

Seeing

José Saramago (and others)

Despite the heavy rain, the officer at Polling Station 14 finds it odd that by midday on National Election day, only a handful of voters have turned out. Puzzlement swiftly escalates to shock when the final count reveals seventy per cent of the votes are blank. National law decrees the election should be repeated but the result is even worse. The authorities, seized with panic, decamp from the capital and declare a state of emergency. When apathy and disillusionment renders an entire democratic system useless what happens next?

Out in the Open

Jesús Carrasco (and others)

'A...humane and very beautiful book'
Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You

A young boy has fled his home. Crouched in his hiding place he hears the shouts of the men hunting him. When the search party has passed, what lies before him is an infinite, arid plain, one he must cross in order to escape those from whom he’s fleeing. One night he crosses paths with an old goatherd and from that moment nothing will ever be the same for either of them.

Out in the Open tells the story of a boy in a drought-stricken country ruled by violence. A closed world where names and dates don’t matter, where morals have drained away with the water. In this landscape the boy, not yet a lost cause, has the chance to learn the painful basics of judgement, or to live out forever the violence with which he grew up.

Winner of the European Union Prize for Literature 2016

Skylight

José Saramago (and others)

Called ‘the book lost and found in time’ by its author, Skylight is one of Saramago’s earliest novels. The manuscript was lost in the publishers’ offices in Lisbon for decades, and is only now being published in English.

Lisbon, late-1940s. The inhabitants of an old apartment block are struggling to make ends meet. There’s the elderly shoemaker and his wife who take in a solitary young lodger; the woman who sells herself for money, clothes and jewellery; the cultivated family come down in the world, who live only for each other and for music; and the beautiful typist whose boss can’t keep his eyes off her. Poisonous relationships, happy marriages, jealousy, gossip and love – Skylight brings together all the joys and grief of ordinary people.

Diary of the Fall

Michel Laub (and others)

‘I often dreamed about the moment of the fall, a silence that lasted a second, possibly two, a room full of sixty people and no one making a sound, as if everyone were waiting for my classmate to cry out ... but he lay on the ground with his eyes closed’

A schoolboy prank goes horribly wrong, and a thirteen-year-old boy is left injured. Years later, one of the classmates relives the episode as he tries to come to terms with his demons.

Diary of the Fall is the story of three generations: a man examining the mistakes of his past, and his struggle for forgiveness; a father with Alzheimer’s, for whom recording every memory has become an obsession; and a grandfather who survived Auschwitz, filling notebook after notebook with the false memories of someone desperate to forget.

Beautiful and brave, Michel Laub’s novel asks the most basic – and yet most complex – questions about history and identity, exploring what stories we choose to tell about ourselves and how we become the people we are.

Michel Laub's next book, A Poison Apple, will be published on 6th July 2017.

The Fall

Diogo Mainardi (and others)

'The Fall is a moving portrait of a relationship with a child and a place. It is a rare book: by turns heartbreaking, angry and lyrical' – Edmund de Waal, author of The Hare With Amber Eyes.

Step 1: Tito has cerebral palsy.

Step 2: I blame Tito’s cerebral palsy on Pietro Lombardo.

Join Diogo Mainardi and his son Tito in a journey of 424 steps, starting with Tito’s disastrous birth in Venice, in Lombardo’s Renaissance hospital.

It’s a journey full of joy and reflection, and an honest exploration of fatherhood. It’s a journey that follows the arc of Western culture, from Dante Alighieri, Rembrandt van Rijn and Claude Monet to Marcel Proust, Neil Young and Assassin’s Creed, to show how one boy’s fate has been shaped by history.

Above all, it’s a celebration of love and courage, and of the hope and faith we place in our children.

Lone Man

Bernardo Atxaga (and others)

Two Basque gunmen on the run after a bomb attack find refuge in a hotel whose owner, Carlos, used to belong to their movement. With the World Cup in progress, the Polish football team is staying in the hotel. A television crew is infiltrated by undercover agents.

Raised from the Ground

José Saramago (and others)

This early work is deeply personal and José Saramago 's most autobiographical, following the changing fortunes of the Mau-Tempo family – poor, landless peasants not unlike the author’s own grandparents. Saramago charts the family's lives in Alentjo, southern Portugal, as national and international events rumble on in the background – the coming of the republic in Portugal, the First and Second World Wars, and an attempt on the dictator Salazar's life. Yet, nothing really impinges on the farm labourers' lives until the first stirrings of communism.

As full of love as it is of pain, it is a vivid, moving tribute to the men and women among whom Saramago lived as a child.

The Lone Woman

Bernardo Atxaga (and others)

Irene is 37 years old and just out of prison after serving time for terrorist activities. Deciding to return home to Bilbao, she takes a bus journey across Spain, striking up conversations with the passengers who include two plainclothes policemen. As the journey progresses, so the tension builds.

Seven Houses in France

Bernardo Atxaga (and others)

1903, and Captain Lalande Biran, overseeing a garrison on the banks of the Congo, has an ambition: to amass a fortune and return to the literary cafés of Paris.

His glamorous wife Christine has a further ambition: to own seven houses in France, a house for every year he has been abroad.

At the Captain’s side are an ex-legionnaire womaniser, and a servile, treacherous man who dreams of running a brothel. At their hands the jungle is transformed into a wild circus of human ambition and absurdity. But everything changes with the arrival of a new officer and brilliant marksman: the enigmatic Chrysostome Liège.

Cain

José Saramago (and others)

After killing his brother Abel, Cain must wander for ever. He witnesses Noah's ark, the destruction of the Tower of Babel, Moses and the golden calf. He is there in time to save Abraham from sacrificing Isaac when God's angel arrives late after a wing malfunction.

Written in the last years of Saramago's life, Cain wittily tackles many of the moral and logical non sequiturs created by a wilful, authoritarain God, forming part of Saramago's long argument with God and recalling his provocative novel The Gospel According to Jesus Christ.

Butterfly's Tongue

Manuel Rivas (and others)

In the summer of 1936, before the outbreak of the Civil War that plunged Spain into three tears of agony and terror, eight-year-old Moncho is beginning his first day at school. Butterfly's Tongue is about a friendship between the boy and his schoolmaster, born of their shared interest in animal and insect life. In Saxophone in the Mist a young musician discovers the meaning of music and of love in the face of a girl he meets on a foggy night at a fair; while in Carmina the boy listens as an old man relates how a village dog named Tarzan used to frustrate him in his attempts to woo his beloved.

Small Memories

José Saramago (and others)

Born in Portugal in 1922 in the tiny village of Azinhaga, José Saramago was only eighteen months old when he moved with his father and mother to live in a series of cramped lodgings in a working-class neighbourhood of Lisbon. Nevertheless, he would return to the village throughout his childhood and adolescence, its river landscape and olive groves seeping deep into his memory.

Shifting back and forth between Azinhaga and Lisbon, this touching book is a mosaic of memories, a gathering together of the fragmented recollections that make up the idea of one's youth. Written with Saramago's characteristic wit and honesty, Small Memories traces the formation of an artist fascinated by words and stories from an early age and who emerged, against all the odds, as one of the world's most respected writers.

By the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The Accordionist's Son

Bernardo Atxaga (and others)

The Accordionist's Son is a remarkably powerful and accomplished novel, exploring the life of David Imaz, a former inhabitant of the Basque village of Obaba, now living in exile and ill-health on a ranch in California.

As a young man, David divides his time between his uncle's ranch and his life in the village, where he reluctantly practises the accordion on the insistence of his authoritarian father. Increasingly aware of the long shadow cast by the Spanish Civil War, he begins to unravel the story of the conflict, his father's association with the fascists and his uncle's opposition and brave decision to hide a wanted republican.

Caught betweeen the two men, the course of his own life is changed forever when he agrees to shelter a group of students on the run from the military police.

Translated by Margaret Jull Costa.

The Double

José Saramago (and others)

Watching a rented video, Tertuliano Maximo Afonso is shocked to notice that one of the actors is identical to him in every physical detail. He embarks on a secret quest to find his double and sets in motion a train of events that he cannot control. Saramago's novel explores the nature of individuality and examines the fear and insecurity that arise when our singularity comes under threat, when even a wife cannot tell the original from the imposter...

The Fencing Master

Arturo Peréz-Reverte (and others)

Fencing is not a game but a science. The outcome is invariably the same: triumph or disaster, life or death...

It is 1868; Spain teeters on the brink of revolution. Jaime Astarloa is a master-fencer of the old school, priding himself on the precision, dignity and honour of his ancient art; his friends spend their days in cafes discussing plots at court, but Jaime's obsession is to perfect the irresistible sword thrust. Then Adela de Otero, violet-eyed and enigmatic, appears at his door. When Jaime takes her on as a pupil he finds himself embroiled in dark political intrigues against which his old-fashioned values are no protection.

The Flanders Panel

Arturo Peréz-Reverte (and others)

The clue to a murder in the art world of contemporary Madrid lies hidden in a medieval painting of a game of chess.

In a 15th-century Flemish painting two noblemen are pictured playing chess. Yet two years before he could sit for the portrait, one of them was murdered. In 20th-century Madrid, Julia, a picture restorer preparing the painting for auction, uncovers a hidden inscription in Latin that points to the crime: Quis necavit equitem? Who killed the knight? But as she teams up with a brilliant chess theoretician to retrace the moves, she discovers the deadly game is not yet over.

Biography

Margaret Jull Costa