A nostalgic novel about how the heartland of Spain got involved in the political war

CAMPO DE CRIPTANA, Spain – In her debut novel, “Feria,” Ana Iris Simón begins with a poignant admission: “I envy the life my parents had at my age. .”

Feria“Based on her childhood in the arid central region of Spain, with postal workers parents and farmer grandparents on the other hand traveling fairground workers. It’s rare, but it’s intentional – she wants readers to appreciate her upbringing in the countryside in Castilla-La Mancha, the area famous for Cervantes’ classics.”Don Quixote. ”

Ms. Simón, 30, also means, through her depiction of how her family lives, to show around what her generation has achieved – higher education, travel , consumer goods – as well as their feelings of anxiety, especially when it comes to jobs and the economy. Simón herself lost her job as a reporter for Vice magazine while writing “Feria”.

The book made a big impression on readers, but it also became a lightning rod in an emotional political debate in Spain, fueled by partisan fragmentation and polarization. Ms. Simón said her book has been interpreted as “a question about the dogmas of liberalism”, to a degree she did not anticipate.

Ms. Simón wrote: Her parents already had a house and were raising a 7-year-old daughter while she was still trying to be a writer. “However, we do not have a house, children, or a car. Our furniture is an iPhone and an Ikea bookshelf. … But we convince ourselves that freedom means avoiding children, houses and cars because who knows where we will live tomorrow.”

Originally published in late 2020 by a small Spanish newspaper, Circulo de Tiza, “Feria” has since been reprinted 13 times and has sold nearly 50,000 hard copies. It will be distributed this month in Latin America by another publisher, Alfaguara, as well as translated into German. (So ​​far, there are no plans for an English translation.)

In the book, Ms. Simón describes her grandfather, José Vicente Simón, growing an almond tree on the outskirts of town, simply to tend it and watch it grow. During a visit to the area, where the trees are thriving, Mr. Simón and the other characters in the novel are just as she describes them.

When Mr. Simón, 85, was told he would be photographed for this article, he asked for time to undress and change clothes. He quickly returned with a cardigan that looked exactly the same, only it was blue, not brown. He also changed his cap, to a thicker version made of felt.

“It’s just his way,” said his granddaughter, chuckling. “He cares about the little things that no one else really notices.”

One of her uncles, Pablo Rubio-Quintanilla, is a carpenter who prides himself on his phonograph, an instrument that uses a pendulum to draw geometric shapes. Referring to her grandfather’s relationship with his tree, Mr. Rubio-Quintanilla explained that he built his tape recorder for the sheer joy of watching it draw.

“I don’t believe things need to have value or use value, but they should be enjoyed,” he said during a visit to his workshop. “The air conditioner works by the law of gravity and it seems magical that the drawings are never exactly the same.”

As a student, Ms. Simón was an activist who joined the far-left protest movement in 2011, which occupied Puerta del Sol, a popular square in Madrid, to condemn political corruption and grievances. economic equality, just a few months before the Occupy Wall Street movement took place. in New York.

On the back of the novel’s success, Ms. Simón took on a larger role, and she was recently invited by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, a socialist, to speak on how to revitalize the Spanish countryside. Dental. Now she has also become a columnist for El País, the Spanish-language newspaper.

Ms. Simón stressed that she remained on the left side of Mr. Sánchez’s political line and was not satisfied with his management in Spain, as well as opposed to the European Union, which she said had turned Spain into a “European resort hotel.” She said she was stunned not only by the success of her book but also by how an extremist and conservative audience accepted “Feria” as a tribute to values. traditional Spanish family, although it discusses the separation of her parents and her gay brother. . Last June, the leader of Spain’s far-right Vox party, Santiago Abascal, grabbed a copy of “Feria” while addressing Parliament.

“Some people read my book as if it were the new ‘Mein Kampf,’ and then they wrote to me to say they were disappointed to find that it didn’t have the strong political message they had hoped for. hope, nor the content they heard about,” she said.

According to Pablo Simón, a professor of politics at Carlos III University in Madrid (who is not related to the writer), “Feria” has fueled Spain’s political debate because “even if it is a the novel rather than a political pact, the book still asserts that the present generation is inferior to previous generations, a statement that is easy for politicians to use, even if it is inconsistent. must be based on facts”.

He added: “Our parents may have been less ambitious and faced less uncertainty, but that doesn’t mean they are better off, and nostalgia also makes us forget the most important aspects of our lives. Spain’s difficult and bad aspects of the 1970s and 1980s, including high drug consumption and unemployment during a period of industrial transformation, were complex. ”

Recently becoming a mother, Ms. Simón currently lives with her son and partner, Hasel-Paris Álvarez, in Aranjuez, a town outside Madrid where her parents also live. While raising her children and writing for El País, Ms. Simón said she has tried to protect her family from the malicious comments her book has caused on social media, from both the right and the left. .

“Unfortunately, we live in a time where some people insult just for the sake of it, even if it becomes meaningless, to the point where I get attacked like a Red Nazi,” she said. .

Ms. Simón says she wrote “Feria” with limited ambitions, intending it as a record of a way of life she feared would soon be lost. She recalls her father warning her that “although no one else will read this book, at least we have a lot of cousins ​​who will buy the book.” Her grandparents met at a fair (“feria” in Spanish, which was the inspiration for the title), after which, she wrote, “they did only two things: have children and travel Spain In the Sava pickup truck they bought.”

But her book touches on many other issues, from feminism to the importance of the Catholic Church in rural Spain. She also talks about the economic decline of Castilla-La Mancha, an area she describes as “sunshine and windy, endlessly stretched orange skies and plains”.

And despite her nostalgia, Ms. Simón also shared bittersweet memories of “I was embarrassed when Campo de Criptana appeared on my ID,” so she will instead testify. man Madrid is his birthplace. On the identity of a Hispanic nation, she writes that “there is nothing more Spanish than asking what Spain is.”

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