The “Eternal Nobel Prize Candidate”: Spanish Writer Javier Marías Died

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The “Eternal Nobel Prize Candidate”
Spanish writer Javier Marías dies

For a long time, Javier Marías’ books were considered hard to sell in Germany – until his work “My Heart So White” was heaped with praise in the summer of 1996. The writer was one of the most successful contemporary Spanish writers. He passed away unexpectedly shortly before his 71st birthday.

On his 70th birthday, almost a year ago, Javier Marías was as critical and argumentative as ever. According to some critics, the man, who is one of the most important and successful contemporary Spanish writers and has many fans in Germany, was in top literary form. Marías passed away surprisingly this Sunday, just a few days before his 71st birthday. The Spanish newspaper “El Mundo” reported that he had succumbed to pneumonia as a result of a corona infection.

His last book, the spy novel “Tomás Nevinson”, which appeared in Spain in the spring of 2021, was probably Marías’ best work ever, according to literature critic José Carlos Mainer. From this autumn, the novel will also be available in a German translation from Fischer Verlag. For a long time, the uneasy thinker was considered difficult to sell, even in Germany. Until “My heart so white” in the summer of 1996 – about four years after the release of the Spanish version – was unanimously praised in the TV program “Das literarisches Quartett”.

The “literary pope” Marcel Reich-Ranicki, who died in 2013, spoke of a “brilliant book” and the “greatest writer in the world currently alive”. After the broadcast and further positive reviews, the novel conquered the bestseller lists and the German translation alone sold 1.2 million copies. Marías, a member of the Royal Spanish Academy, was delighted with the success in Germany, but also wanted to maintain a critical distance. “I’m not good because the Germans or others say so.” There are writers whose books “only sold a few thousand copies and went down in history,” he emphasized a year ago.

rebel in the literary world

According to his publisher Alfaguara, Marías’ 16 novels have been translated into 46 languages ​​and have sold more than nine million copies. The author is one of the “eternal Nobel Prize candidates”. He is praised to heaven by prominent colleagues such as Orhan Pamuk and JM Coetzee. The chain smoker and late sleeper admitted openly that he was always plagued by “tremendous insecurity” when he started a new job in his book-filled apartment in central Madrid. The older he gets, the less he understands how novels are made,” said Marías a year ago. While the blank white sheet – Marías hated computers and always typed on the typewriter – caused him discomfort, the finished work often angered the literary historian and university teacher.

“All my novels seem bad to me right after completion. I would often like to throw all the pages in the trash,” he said at the time. Marías wasn’t just hard on herself. In his column for the newspaper “El País” he ruthlessly criticized many people. He complained about authoritarian government leaders of all stripes: “We live in a time full of famous fools.”

The man, who, according to his stories, started writing at the age of eleven and earned a living as a street singer in Paris, was always a rebel in the literary world. He rarely gave interviews, refused awards from government agencies in Spain – and did not accept advances. “I would lose my freedom. And I couldn’t put a book in the drawer that didn’t work,” he said as the reason.

Betrayal, love and desire

The author was the second youngest of five children of Julián Marías. The well-known philosopher (1914-2005) spent a long time behind bars as an opponent of the Franco dictatorship and had to emigrate to the US for a while in the mid-1950s. Javier Marías grew up bilingual. He earned his first money as a child not only with short appearances in films by his uncle Jesús Franco, but also as a translator. In the 1980s he taught at Oxford University. He worked on his experiences in Britain in the novel “All Souls or the Madmen of Oxford” (1989).

Marías’ work includes not only novels, essays, columns and short stories, but also many translations from English. The literary trademarks of the enthusiastic supporter of Real Madrid football club included the precise language, the blending of reality and fiction and the broad sentences.

He was mainly concerned with themes such as betrayal, love and desire. Hailed as the “innovator” of Spanish literature in the 1980s, Marías once said that writing is essentially “abnormal and funny.” He described it in “The Mortal Lovers” (2011). According to Marías, an employee of the publishing house discovered in the novel through daily contact with authors “how exhausting, stupid and conceited we (writers) are”.

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