When the name of Virginia Feito, a publicist by profession, began to be heard in Spain, the writer had already triumphed in the United States with her first novel. Although she is Spanish, Feito, who has been writing and reading in English since she was a child, naturally opted for the Anglo-Saxon market. The move did not go badly for her. The story of Mrs. March, a woman in stockings and fur coats who lives on the Upper East Side of New York and who gradually becomes obsessed with her husband’s personality, mixing psychological suspense and black humour, not only made it onto several bestseller lists in the United States but has also reached the film industry thanks to Elizabeth Moss. The actress who, if all goes well, will soon be playing this extravagant character – the production company Blumhouse has already acquired the rights to adapt it for the big screen – was immediately interested in it, even before it was published.
Feito’s story, whose book landed in Spain at the beginning of 2022, a year after its publication in the United States, is reminiscent of that of other Spanish writers who also went through a similar process. The most famous, that of Carlos Ruiz Zafón. The most widely read Spanish writer in the world after Cervantes had already published several books for young readers – including El príncipe de la niebla and Marina – when in 2000 he presented La sombra del viento (The Shadow of the Wind) to the Fernando Lara Novel Prize, becoming a finalist in an edition in which Ángeles Caso was the winner.
The words of a minister
However, to say that the author’s success was forged earlier abroad than in Spain would be unfair and untrue. Although with discreet and moderate beginnings, without much promotional noise, when Ruiz Zafón presented his novel at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2003, the title was already topping the bestseller lists in our country thanks to word of mouth rather than media attention. But the definitive push came from the German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, who confessed his enthusiasm for the book during a television programme, astonishingly boosting German sales. This not only endorsed the writer’s success but also aroused the interest of foreign agents and publishers of other Spanish authors. Today, his book has already sold 15 million copies.
Just like Feito or Ruiz Zafón, Antonio Iturbe’s story is impressive. Winner of the Biblioteca Breve Prize in 2017 for his novel A cielo abierto, the Zaragoza-born writer and journalist had already published several novels such as Rectos torcidos or Días de sal, as well as a children’s series starring Inspector Cito and Chin Mi Edo, when he wrote La bibliotecaria de Auschwitz in 2012.
This novel, based on the true story of Dita Kraus, a 14-year-old girl in charge of guarding a particular clandestine library during Nazi Germany and distributing the books among the prisoners, was first published with a print run of 8,000 copies. Like Ruiz Zafón, Iturbe’s work had also had its run before, but something definitely changed when, in 2019, it became the best-selling translated book in the United Kingdom. Reissued by Planeta in 2020, in an expanded and updated version, it has been translated into more than thirty languages, has already sold 500,000 copies abroad (300,000 of them in English), and will soon be adapted into comics by Salva Rubio and Loreto Aroca.
On the assault of the librairies
But perhaps the most emblematic example of a Spanish writer who has been successful abroad is Víctor del Árbol. Author of El peso de los muertos and finalist for the Fernando Lara Novel Prize for El abismo de los sueños – still unpublished today – the writer, who was first a seminarian and then a policeman until 2012, captivated the French public with his third novel, La tristeza del samurái, where he told the story of a crime committed during the Spanish post-war period based on two parallel plots: one set in Extremadura in 1941 and the other in Barcelona in 1981.
Awarded the Prix du Polar Européen 2012 for the best crime novel in Europe for that title, it quickly became a bestseller in France and was translated into a dozen languages. By the time he won the Nadal Prize in 2016 for La víspera de casi todo, Del Árbol, who has subsequently published titles such as Por encima de la lluvia, Antes de los años terribles and El hijo del padre, had sold four times more copies in France than in Spain. An idyll that continues today, to the point that in 2017 he was named Chevalier des Lettres et des Arts of the Académie Française, a title held to date by only one other Spaniard: Arturo Pérez-Reverte.
*Images: Penguin Libros España