2020-07-27 14:21:34 UTC
By Raphael Minder
Published July 23, 2020
First two thirds:
MADRID — Juan Marsé, one of Spain’s most acclaimed writers, whose novels mostly chronicled the dark years that followed the civil war in Barcelona, his home city, died there on Saturday. He was 87.
His death, in a hospital, was confirmed by the Carmen Balcells literary agency. His biographer, Josep Maria Cuenca, said the cause was heart failure.
In 2009 Mr. Marsé was awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world’s most important literary honor.
Mr. Marsé wrote more than a dozen novels, several of them based on his experiences in La Salut and Guinardó, working-class neighborhoods of Barcelona that were home to many families who had fought in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side, which was defeated by Gen. Francisco Franco.
Some of his characters are petty criminals or anarchists operating in the most oppressive years under Franco, when Spain was being purged of his political enemies and struggling to recover economically from the war.
Mr. Marsé loosely based some of his writing on events in Barcelona’s history, like the assassination of Carmen Broto, a prostitute, in 1949. There was speculation at the time that the official version of her murder, of which a man was convicted, had in fact helped shield some of her powerful clients from scandal. Mr. Marsé turned the story of her murder into the novel “Si Te Dicen Que Caí” (“If They Tell You I Fell”), published in 1973 in Mexico to circumvent Franco’s censors.
“I believe Marsé can be considered the reference writer of the anti-Franco movement, who also inspired a lot of writers who came from the working class,” said Mr. Cuenca, whose authorized biography of Mr. Marsé was published in 2015. Mr. Marsé, he added, “overhauled the literature of social realism in Spain.”
Juan Marsé Carbó was born Juan Faneca Roca in Barcelona on Jan. 8, 1933, and adopted as a baby by Pep Marsé and Berta Carbó. When he was growing up, his adoptive parents told him that they had lost a child at birth but had then been unexpectedly offered the chance to adopt him by the taxi driver who was driving them home in their grief from the hospital. The driver’s wife, they said, had died just after giving birth.
But when Mr. Marsé was in his 70s, Mr. Cuenca told him that he had found flaws in that story while researching his biography. As it turned out, his adoptive mother had not lost a child at birth, and the taxi story had been invented. His adoption had actually been agreed upon by his birth father and his adoptive father, who knew each other because they were both Catalan nationalist militants.
Upon hearing the truth, Mr. Marsé said, he still preferred his mother’s fabricated story; he understood that she had made it up so that he could feel more protected, he said, “the same way as good literature does with us.”
Mr. Marsé’s biological father, a chauffeur, and his biological mother, a domestic helper, worked for a wealthy Barcelona household. His adoptive father held odd jobs, and his adoptive mother was an auxiliary worker in nursing homes and hospitals.
As a teenager, Mr. Marsé became an apprentice in a jewelry workshop, a job he kept until the 1960s. At the same time, passionate about Hollywood movies, he began writing for a cinema publication. He later began writing short stories, which were published in magazines starting in the late 1950s. While completing his obligatory military service in Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in North Africa, he worked on his first novel, “Encerrados con un Solo Juguete” (“Locked Up With a Single Toy”), which was published in 1960.
Mr. Marsé won his first Spanish literary award, the Sesame prize, in 1959, for a short story. He then left Barcelona for Paris, where he worked as a translator, a Spanish-language teacher and a clerk at the Pasteur Institute, France’s prestigious medical research center.
In 1966, after returning to Barcelona, he published “Últimas Tardes con Teresa” (“Last Afternoons With Teresa”), a novel about class divisions. Considered his masterpiece, it propelled him to fame. The novel recounts the struggles of Manolo, a working-class petty criminal nicknamed El Pijoaparte, who tries to seduce a girl from Barcelona’s bourgeois society.
(The word “Pijoaparte” does not officially exist in the Spanish language, but, Mr. Cuenca said, it “will have to get added into the dictionary sooner or later” because it is now commonly used in Spain to describe an ambitious and unscrupulous person who comes from a humble social background.)...