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Antonio Muñoz Molina (b. 1956)


Spanish novelist, short story writer, and essayist. Muñoz Molina often incorporates elements of popular culture into his works, which combine modernist and postmodernist narrative strategies. In his novels, such as El invierno en Lisboa (1987), Beltenebros (1989), and El jinete polaco (1991), Muñoz Molina has reevaluated Spain's recent history, the Civil War, and the decades of dictatorship under Generalísimo Francisco Franco.

"Unconscious memory is the yeast of imagination." (in Sepharad, 2001)

Antonio Muñoz Molina was born in the southern provincial city of Úbeda in Jaén. His parents Muñoz Molina has once described as members of "an unlucky generation." At the age of eight, his father had dropped out of school to help with the family's small farm. Muñoz Molina's mother never had the opportunity for any education in her childhood. "My grandfather's farm could be better called a vegetable and fruit orchard, one of the many fertile huertas which surrounded the outskirts of town, irrigated by a centuries old system of reservoir and ditches dating from the times of the Arabic civilization in Spain." (in 'Memories of a Distant War', The Volunteer, Vol. XXVII, No. 4, December, 2005)

Muñoz Molina was the first of his family to obtain a formal education. He studied journalism in Madrid and then art history at the University of Granada, where he lived between 1974 and 1991. Until 1988, Muñoz Molina worked in Granada as a municipal employee.

Muñoz Molina began writing in the 1980s, publishing his first articles in the Diario de Granada. Later they were collected in El Robinson Urbano (1984) and Diario del Nautilus (1986). Muñoz Molina has also written articles for such major newspapers as El País, ABC, and Die Welt. His first novel, Beatus Ille (1986, A Manuscript of Ashes), received the Icaro Prize. Muñoz Molina started Beatus Ille after Franco's death, but it took ten years before the work was completed. Superficially a detective story, it tells of the attempts of a young college student, Minaya, to reveal the murderer of his uncle's wife in 1937, during the Civil War. However, there is also another mystery, the identity of the narrator, who turns out to be a supposedly dead, forgotten poet of the Generation of 1927. Unlike in the work of authors like Eduardo Mendoza, who has also exploited the conventions of the detective novel, Muñoz Molina's focus is on existential and moral issues, not political or social criticism.

El invierno en Lisboa (Winter in Lisbon), which was awarded the 1988 Premio de la Crítica, and the Premio Nacional de Narrativa, was made into a stylishly photographed film by the director José A. Zorrilla in 1991, starring Christian Vadim, Hélène de Saint-Père, Dizzy Gillespie, and Eusebio Poncela. The episodic story, filled with the atmosphere of a film noir, revolves around a jazz pianist, Santiago Biralbo, whose life is turned upside down by an art smuggler called Malcolm. In an interview Muñoz Molina has acknowledged, that the anonymous narrator, Biralbo's friend, was modeled after the narrator in Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

Muñoz Molina's third novel, Beltenebros (Prince of Shadows), set in Madrid in the 1960s and constructed as a spy thriller, inspired Pilar Miró's film of the same title, starring Terence Stamp, Patsy Kensit, José Luis Gómez, and Geraldine James. The novel was partly inspired by factual events, the assassination of Gabriel León Trilla, one of the founders of the Spanish Communist party. The narrator, Darman, is an executioner, who is called to Madrid to "eliminate" a man he has never met, Andrade, a presumed security risk. While on his mission in the world of shadows, Darman recalls events in the 1940s, when he executed another presumed traitor. El jinete polaco, in which Muñoz Molina retuns to his fictional town of Mágina created in Beatus Ille, was awarded the prestigious Planeta Prize and the Premio Nacional de Narrativa. In the story two lovers, Manuel and Nadia, try to make sense of their lives in a rented New York apartment. The past is present through memory and a chest full of photographs, given them by Ramiro, the Mágina photographer. In his speech accepting the Planeta Prize Muñoz Molina said, that "this is what I have been trying to do for years, to tell the story of memory and desire". Both Beatus Ille and El jineto polaco portray protagonists, who have been too young to witness the civil war, but its tragic events have had an impact on their minds.

A central theme in Muñoz Molina's work is that to know the past is to understand the present. The memoir-history Sefarad ( Sepharad), which maps the mental changes of the 20th-century Europe, took its title from the Hebrew word for the biblical Sepharad (Spain). A kind of reference book on refugees, Sefarad consists of 17 seemingly separate tales portraying fictional and true-life characters Primo Levi, Franz Kafka, Walter Benjamin, Victor Klemperer, Yevgenia Ginzburg, and others and their occasionally intertwining paths. "Muñoz Molina quotes everyone and everything", said Michael Pyn in The New York Times (December 21, 2003). "When there's a story without sources, ''Sepharad'' is like a memoir." The connecting link between the characters is the experience of homelessness and exile, in one or another way, metaphorically referring to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and Portugal in the 15th century.

In 1991 Muñoz Molina was appointed member of the Real Academia Española de la Lengua. From 2004 to 2006 he served as Director of the Instituto Cervantes in New York City. In 2007 Muñoz Molina received an honorary doctorate from the University of Jaén. Muñoz Molina is married to the Spanish journalist, writer and actress Elvira Lindo. They co-wrote the screenplay for the film Plenilunio (1999), based on Muñoz Molina's novel of the same title. Although Muñoz Molina has acknowledged the influence of Jorge Luis Borges, William Faulkner, Juan Carlos Onetti, Julio Cortázar and Mario Vargas Llosa, his work is deeply rooted in the European historical experience. At home while writing he listens to classical music and jazz. His favorites include Bach, Debussy, Jean Sibelius, Shostakovich, and the jazz trumpeter and composer Dizzy Gillespie.

Note: This article is under construction. (January 18, 2008.)

For further reading: The Gaze on the Past by Olga López-Valero Colbert (2007); Traces of Contamination: Unearthing the Francoist Legacy in Contemporary Spanish Discourse, edited by Eloy E. Merino and H. Rosi Song (2005); The Narrative of Antonio Munoz Molina by Lawrence Rich (1999); The Use of Film in Postmodern Fiction of Peter Handke, Robert Coover, Carlos Fuentes, and Antonio Munoz Molina by Ana Carlota Larrea (1991) - For further information: "Tócalo otra vez, Santiago." Mass Culture, Memory, and Identity in Antonio Muñoz Molina's El invierno en Lisboa by Timothy P. Reed, in Letras Hispanas, Vol.1, Issue 1, Fall 4

Selected works:

  • El Robinsón urbano, 1984
  • Diario del Nautilus, 1986
  • Beatus Ille, 1986 - A Manuscript of Ashes (tr. Edith Grossman, 2008)
  • El invierno en Lisboa, 1987 - Winter in Lisbon (tr. Sonia Soto, 1999) - Talvi Lissabonissa (suom. Tarja Härkönen, 1993) - Film 1991, dir. by José A. Zorrilla, starring Christian Vadim, Hélène de Saint-Père, Dizzy Gillespie, Eusebio Poncela
  • Las otras vidas, 1988
  • Beltenebros 1989 - Prince of Shadows (tr. Peter Bush, 1993) - Film 1991, dir. by Pilar Miró, starring Terence Stamp, Patsy Kensit, José Luis Gómez, Geraldine James
  • El jinete polaco, 1991
  • Córdoba de los Omeyas, 1991
  • Los misterios de Madrid, 1992 - Madridin mysteerit (suom. Tarja Härkönen, 1994)
  • La verdad de la ficción, 1992
  • La realidad de la ficción, 1993
  • Nada del otro mundo, 1993
  • El bosque de Diana, 1994 (opera libretto, music by José García Román)
  • El dueño del secreto, 1994
  • Ardor guerrero, 1995
  • Las apariencias, 1995
  • La huerta del Edén, 1996
  • Plenilunio, 1997 - Täysikuu (suom. Tarja Härkönen, 2003) - Film 1999, dir.  Imanol Uribe, starring Miguel Ángel Solá, Adriana Ozores, Juan Diego Botto, Fernando Fernán Gómez
  • Escrito en un instante, 1997
  • La colina de los sacrificios, 1998
  • Carlota Fainberg, 1999
  • Pura alegría, 1999
  • La huella de unas palabras, 1999 (ed. José Manuel Fajardo)
  • En ausencia de Blanca, 1999 - In Her Absence (tr. Esther Allen, 2006)
  • Unas gafas de Pla, 2000
  • Josè Guerrero: el artista que vuelve, 2001
  • Sefarad, 2001 - Sepharad (tr. Margaret Sayers Peden, 2003) - Sefarad (suom. Tarja Härkönen, 2007)
  • El jinete polaco, 2002 (rev.ed.) - Öinen ratsumies (suom. Tarja Härkönen, 2010)
  • La vida por delante, 2002
  • Las ventanas de Manhattan. 2004
  • La poseída, 2005
  • El viento de la Luna, 2006 - Kuun tuuli (suom. 2011)
  • Días de diario, 2007
  • La noche de los tiempos, 2009

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