Spanish novel reveals insight into newspaper industry under Franco

It is rare that a book from an award-winning Spanish author does not get translated into English, but somehow Miguel Delibes’ “Love Letters from a Voluptuous Sexagenarian” managed to escape the translator’s pen since 1983. Teresa Boucher, a professor of Spanish at Boise State University, decided to tackle the translation.

Delibes, who died in 2010, was the recipient of several awards, including the Prince of Asturias and Miguel de Cervantes awards. He was also a member of the Royal Spanish Academy. The plot of this novel is simple enough: a 65-year-old male, single, retired journalist happens to see an ad, in a romantic pen pals magazine, from a 56-year-old widow asking for correspondence. He writes to her, not knowing why her ad attracted him so much. It turns out that he (Eugenio) is not only single, but also a virgin, having spent his life cared for by a sister who ruined his only attempt at matrimony.

It is 1979, barely four years since dictator Francisco Franco’s death, and Spain is recovering from the heavily censored regime. Eugenio had risen from errand boy to editor, his advancement due to the firing of several editors through censorship, not because of talent. Delibes writes of his own experiences here, as he was a journalist under Franco. Eugenio writes to Rocio, not really expecting a reply, but it happens that Rocio’s son is a budding journalist, and Rocio, curious about his life in newspapers, writes back.

What follows is a one-sided novel, where the reader has access to Eugenio’s letters but only knows Rocio’s side from what his replies to her say. Eugenio is very gentlemanly and proper at first, but he gets earthier as the weeks go on, discussing his bodily functions as well as his semi-lustful adoration for one of his sisters. The reader discovers that Eugenio, far from being a gentle soul, is a grotesque caricature. When Rocio sends him a picture, assumedly of herself at the beach, Eugenio readily describes his erotic dreams of her. It is unclear why Rocio continues the correspondence. I believe that she thinks he would be of some help in advancing her son because nothing else makes sense.

Eugenio is easier to understand. Recently retired, family gone, he divides his time between Madrid and his family’s country home. His few human interactions are with a housekeeper, a wheelchair-bound neighbor and a Sunday casual meeting at a cafe with other male villagers. He not only misses interaction but needs it to live. His letters are full of pontification, in every subject under the sun, from cooking and gardening to medical problems. Rocio’s replies seem to be critical of him, and he responds with explanations or apologies, as he sees fit. When he finally meets Rocio, it is a disaster. But Eugenio does not desist; he wants to start over again, with more honesty. He cannot lose his audience.

I will not spoil the ending, but I recommend “Love Letters” to readers who want a quasi-autobiographical view of the newspaper industry under Franco’s regime, based on the experiences of Delibes himself.

Ana Kurland is a library assistant at Boise State University’s Albertsons Library.

“Love Letters from a Voluptuous Sexagenarian”

by Miguel Delibes, translated by Teresa Boucher (Boise);

Juan de la Cuesta — Hispanic Monographs ($24.95)