On the Death of Xavier Marias: Narratives of Betrayal, Love and Desire

Javier Marias 2006 Photo: dpa / Jens Kalaene

The successful Spanish writer Javier Marias, who died on Sunday, was one of the most famous and most successful contemporary Spanish writers. In Germany, too, he had millions of readers.

On his 70th birthday nearly a year ago, Javier Marías was as critical and controversial as ever. According to some critics, the man, who is one of the most important and successful contemporary Spanish writers and has many admirers in Germany, was in the best literary form. Literary critic José Carlos Meiner considered his latest book, the spy novel “Tomas Nevinson”, published in Spain in the spring of 2021, as perhaps Marías’ best work of all time. From this fall, the novel will also be available with a German translation from Fischer Verlag.

For a long time, the uncomfortable thinker was difficult to sell, even in Germany. Until “My Heart So White” was unanimously praised in the summer of 1996, about four years after the Spanish version appeared, on the TV show “Das Literary Quartet”. “Literary Pope” Marcel Rich Ranici, who died in 2013, spoke of a “wonderful book” and “the greatest writer in the world currently alive.” After airing and more positive reviews, the novel topped the bestseller lists and the German translation alone sold 1.2 million copies.

Serial and late-wake smokers

Marías, who was a member of the Royal Spanish Academy, was pleased with the success in Germany but also wanted to keep a critical distance. “I am not good because the Germans or others say so,” he asserted a year ago, “there are writers whose books have sold only a few thousand copies and have gone down in history.”

According to his publisher Alfaguara, the sixteen Marías novels have been translated into 46 languages ​​and have sold over nine million copies. The author is one of the “eternal nominees for the Nobel Prize”. He was praised in heaven by notable peers like Orhan Pamuk and JM Coetzee. A frequent smoker and a late fourth, he openly admitted that he always had “massive insecurity” when starting a new business in his book-filled apartment in central Madrid.

Marias did not write on a computer, but on a typewriter

The older he gets, the less he understands “how novels are made,” said Marias a year ago. While the blank white paper—Marias hated computers and was always typed—caused him discomfort, the final work often annoyed the literary historian and university teacher. “All my novels look bad to me once they are finished. I often want to throw all the pages in the trash,” he said at the time.

Marias wasn’t just hard on himself. In his column in El Pais he mercilessly criticized many, many things. He complained of authoritarian heads of government of all stripes: “We live in a time full of celebrity idiots.”

The man, who began writing at the age of eleven according to his stories, and makes a living as a street singer in Paris, has always been a rebel in the world of literature. He rarely gave interviews, refused to award prizes from government agencies in Spain, did not accept advance payments. “I will lose my freedom. And you cannot put a book that is not well placed in the drawer.”

Son of the philosopher and opponent of Franco

The author was the second youngest of five children to Julian Marias. The well-known philosopher (1914-2005) spent a long time behind bars as an opponent of Franco’s dictatorship and was forced to emigrate to the United States for a period in the mid-1950s. Javier Marias grew up bilingual. He earned his first money as a child, not only through brief appearances in the films of his uncle Jesús Franco, but also as a translator. He studied at Oxford University in the 1980s. He worked on his experiences in Great Britain in the novel All Souls or Madmen of Oxford (1989).

Marias’ work includes not only novels, essays, columns, and short stories, but also numerous translations from the English language. The literary marks of the ardent supporter of Real Madrid football club included subtle language, a mixture of fact and fiction and broad sentences. He mainly dealt with topics such as betrayal, love and desire.

Marías, who was hailed as the “innovator” of Spanish literature in the 1980s, once said that writing was essentially “unnatural and funny.” Described in “The Mortal Lovers” (2011). According to Maria, through daily contact with the authors, a publisher employee of the novel found out “how tired, stupid and conceited we (the writers) are.”

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