CAMPO DE CRIPTANA, Spain — In her debut novel “Feria,” Ana Iris Simón begins with a poignant confession: “I’m jealous of the life my parents had at my age.”
“Feria” is based on her childhood in the arid heart of Spain, with parents who were postmen and grandparents who were farmers on one side, and traveling fairground workers on the other. Little happens, but that’s intentional – she wants readers to appreciate her rural upbringing in Castilla-La Mancha, the region made famous by the Cervantes classic “Don Quixote.”
Ms Simón, 30, also seeks, through her portrayal of how her family lived, to express ambivalence about what her generation has gained — college degrees, travel, consumer goods — as well as their feelings of anxiety, especially when it comes to jobs and the economy. Mrs. Simón herself lost her job as a journalist working for Vice Magazine while she was writing ‘Feria’.
The book has struck a chord with readers, but it has also become a lightning rod in the emotional political debate in Spain, fueled by party fragmentation and polarization. Ms Simón said her book had been interpreted as “a questioning of the dogmas of liberalism” to an extent she had not expected.
Her parents owned a home and raised a 7-year-old daughter while she was still trying to become a writer, Ms Simón writes. “However, we have no house, no children or a car. Our stuff is an iPhone and an Ikea bookshelf. … But we convince ourselves that freedom means avoiding children, a house and a car, because who knows where we will live tomorrow.”
Originally published in late 2020 by a small Spanish press, Circulo de Tiza, “Feria” has since been reprinted 13 times and sold nearly 50,000 copies. It will be distributed in Latin America this month by another publisher, Alfaguara, and also translated into German. (There are no plans for an English translation as of yet.)
In the book, Mrs. Simón describes her grandfather, José Vicente Simón, who planted an almond tree on the outskirts of town, just to care for it and watch it grow. During a visit to the area, the tree bloomed, and Mr. Simón and other characters from the novel were exactly as she had portrayed them.
When Mr. Simón, 85, was told that he would be photographed for this article, he asked for time to brighten up and change. He soon returned with an identical-looking vest, except it was blue instead of brown. He had also changed his cap to a thicker felt version.
“That’s just the way he is,” his granddaughter said with a chuckle. “He cares about little things that no one else really notices.”
One of her uncles, Pablo Rubio-Quintanilla, is a carpenter who is proud of his harmonigraph, an instrument that uses a pendulum to draw geometric shapes. Echoing her grandfather’s relationship with his tree, Mr. Rubio-Quintanilla explained that he built his harmonigraph for the sheer pleasure of looking at it.
“I don’t believe that things have to have value or use, but that you should enjoy them,” he said during a visit to his workshop. “The harmonograph works thanks to the law of gravity, and it seems magical that the drawings never end up looking exactly the same.”
As a student, Ms. Simón was an activist who in 2011 joined a far-left protest movement that occupied Puerta del Sol, a famous square in Madrid, to condemn political corruption and economic inequality, just months before the Occupy Wall Street movement followed suit. follow the. in New York City.
After the success of her novel, Mrs. Simón has taken on a bigger role and she was recently invited by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, a socialist, to give a speech on how to revitalize the Spanish countryside. She is now also a columnist for El País, the Spanish newspaper.
Ms Simón stressed that she remained far to the left of Mr Sánchez’s politics and was not satisfied with his management of Spain, as well as against a European Union that she blames for turning Spain into ‘the resort hotel of Europe’. She said she was stunned not only by the success of her book, but also by how an ultra-nationalist and conservative public had embraced “Feria” as an ode to Spain’s traditional family values, even though it dealt with her parents’ divorce and her gay brother . Last June, the leader of Spain’s far-right Vox party, Santiago Abascal, grabbed a copy of “Feria” while addressing Congress.
“Some people have read my book as if it were the new ‘Mein Kampf’, and then they write to me that they are disappointed to find that it has neither the strong political message they had hoped for nor the content they had heard of,” she said.
According to Pablo Simón, a politics professor at the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid (who is not related to the writer), “Feria” has fueled Spain’s political debate because “even if it is a novel and not a political treaty, the book establishes that the current generation is worse off than the last, a claim that could easily be used by politicians, even if it is not necessarily based on fact.”
He added: “Our parents may have had less ambition and faced less uncertainty, but that doesn’t mean they were better off, and nostalgia also makes us forget the difficult and sordid aspects of 1970s and 1980s Spain, including high drug use and unemployment during a very complicated industrial transformation.”
Mrs. Simón has recently become a mother and now lives with her son and her partner, Hasel-Paris Álvarez, in Aranjuez, a town outside Madrid where her parents also live. While raising her child and writing for El País, Ms. Simón said, she had tried to protect her family from the toxic comments her book provoked on social media, both from the right and the left.
“We unfortunately live in a time where some people just insult for the sake of the fact, even if it becomes nonsensical, to the point where I was attacked as a red fascist,” she said.
Ms Simón said she wrote “Feria” with limited ambitions, intending to describe it as an account of a way of life she fears will soon be lost. She recalls her father warning her that “although no one else would read this, at least we have a lot of cousins who will buy the book.” Her grandparents met at a funfair (“feria” in Spanish, which inspired the book’s title), after which, she wrote, “they only did two things: have children and travel around Spain in the Sava minivan 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, a region she describes as “plenty of sun and a lot of wind and the sky and the orange-colored plain that are endless.”
And despite her nostalgia, Ms. Simón also shares bittersweet memories of how “I was embarrassed that Campo de Criptana appeared on my ID card” so that she would instead falsely claim Madrid as her hometown. Of Spain’s identity as a nation, she wrote that “there is nothing more Spanish than asking what Spain is.”