fb-pixel Skip to main content

Almudena Grandes, novelist of Spain’s marginalized, dies at 61

In this picture taken on July 4, 2000, Spanish writer Almudena Grandes glanced through a book at the Alcala de Henares book fair, near Madrid.CURTO DE LA TORRE/AFP via Getty Images

MADRID — Almudena Grandes, an award-winning Spanish writer and ardent feminist who shot to fame with an erotic novel about a woman rebelling against social norms, died Nov. 27 at her home here. She was 61.

She had been treated for cancer for more than a year, her Spanish publishing house, Tusquets, said in announcing her death.

Ms. Grandes wrote more than a dozen novels whose protagonists mostly live on the edges of traditional Spanish society, either struggling against its sexual restrictions or marginalized by poverty. She was also a left-wing activist who had set about writing a six-novel series focused on Spain in the aftermath of its civil war of the 1930s. She completed five volumes.

Advertisement



Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s Socialist prime minister, said on Twitter, “We lost one of the most important writers of our time.”

He added: “Committed and brave, she narrated our recent history from a progressive point of view.”

Ms. Grandes’ breakthrough came in 1989 with the publication of “Las Edades de Lulú” (“The Ages of Lulu”), which tells the story of a woman’s first adolescent love and how she later pursues her sexual fantasies in a Madrid that is undergoing a social transformation with Spain’s return to democracy after the death of dictator Gen. Francisco Franco in 1975.

The novel won a literary prize for erotic fiction, sold more than 1 million copies worldwide and was turned into a movie by director Bigas Luna, with a cast that included the first screen appearance of Javier Bardem, the Spanish Oscar-winning actor. Among her other books, “Malena Es un Nombre de Tango” (“Malena Is the Name of a Tango”) and “Los Aires Difíciles” (“The Wind From the East”) were also adapted for the cinema.

María de la Almudena Grandes Hernández was born May 7, 1960, in Madrid. Her father, Manuel Grandes, had a plumbing business; her mother, Benita Hernández, was a homemaker. Almudena Grandes studied geography and history, specializing in prehistory, at the Complutense University in Madrid. After completing her degree, she became a contributing writer for encyclopedias and travel guides.

Advertisement



Several of Ms. Grandes’ novels are set during the Franco dictatorship. One of her more recent bestsellers in Spain — “El Corazón Helado” (“The Frozen Heart”), from 2007 — starts with the funeral of a powerful businessman, attended by a mysterious woman, during which an inheritance of money and documents comes to light and helps unravel a troubled family saga dating to the ravages of the Spanish Civil War.

It was on the back of the success of “The Frozen Heart” that Ms. Grandes started her six-novel series, set during the first 25 years of Franco’s dictatorship, from 1939 to 1964. She called her project “Episodios de una Guerra Interminable” (“Episodes in an Interminable War”), akin to one of Spain’s most famous literary series, “Episodios Nacionales” (“National Episodes”), written by Benito Pérez Galdós in the late 19th century.

The first book in Ms. Grandes’ series, “Inés y la Alegría” (“Inés and Happiness”), which was published in 2010 and won three literary prizes, tells the story of a group of left-wing guerrillas fighting Franco’s forces. Last year, the fourth installment in her series, “Los Pacientes del Doctor García” (“The Patients of Doctor García”), won the Jean Monnet Prize for European Literature, as well as the prestigious National Prize for Narrative, awarded by the Spanish culture ministry. Her last published novel and fifth installment in the series, “La Madre de Frankenstein” (“The Mother of Frankenstein”), was released in 2020.

Advertisement



In an opinion article in The New York Times in 2013, Ms. Grandes recalled the poverty as well as the dignity of many residents of Madrid in the 1960s, a time when “curiosity was a dangerous vice for Spanish children.” She denounced the self-censorship that has continued to shroud Spanish society, even after its return to democracy.

“Later they told us we had to forget,” she wrote, “that to build a democracy it was essential to look forward, to pretend nothing had happened. And by forgetting the bad, we also erased the good.”

Joan Tarrida, who heads another Spanish publisher, Galaxia Gutenberg, said Ms. Grandes had “followed the great 19th-century literary tradition of highlighting social problems by creating characters with whom her readership could really connect.”

“She talked to us about our difficult recent past,” he added, “and gave a voice to the most vulnerable in our society.”

Ms. Grandes leaves her husband, Luis García Montero, a poet who is the director of the Cervantes Institute, the Spanish government agency charged with promoting and teaching Spanish worldwide; their daughter, Elisa García Grandes; the couple’s two other children from previous relationships, Mauro Caffarato Grandes and Irene García Chacón; and three siblings, Manuel, Gonzalo and Luli Grandes Hernández.

García Montero said by phone that his wife had most recently been working on a novel (not the final installment in her series) that he called “an allegory of the future,” dealing with a society that is struggling to maintain individual rights and freedoms after being assaulted by a pandemic.

Advertisement



Ms. Grandes was a regular contributor to the Madrid-based newspaper El País. She disclosed her cancer diagnosis in one of her columns in October, writing that working on the novel and maintaining her newspaper contributions were helping to keep her in good spirits.

“Writing is my life,” she wrote, “and never has it been more, nor as intensely as now.”