The personal love affair between Spain and my books began in 1990, through a series of strange circumstances.
I had just returned from a six month research project in Germany, and settled in the small town of Radford, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, where Karl Pribram and I had recently moved our household from San Francisco. One morning I was walking down the steep granite steps of the post office in my new town, when I noticed a very well-dressed, attractive, elegant woman of about forty, who was standing in the street peering into my parked car. She started circling the car, looking at it from every angle, then she went back into the street and put her hand on the car door as if she intended to open it, get in, and drive away!–when just at that moment, she caught me watching her from above.
Excuse me, she said, is this your car?
I asked if there was some problem, and she explained that she had recently come to town for a year as a visiting professor, her children were at school and living with their father in New England, and she wanted to buy a car right away so she could visit them and get around. My car was exactly what she was looking for. She asked many questions, which I answered. Though she had an accent, I didn’t ask what country she was from, I simply gave her my name and the name of my car dealer, and wished her good luck.
That same evening, Karl and I were invited to a reception to meet our new Fulbright professor who had just arrived at university. Of course, it turned out that the new Fulbright visitor was Carmen Varela of Madrid–my elegant suspected car thief. In the few hours since she and I had met on the street, she had wasted no time, but had rushed to the car dealer and bartered for a car similar to mine, only a smaller model, and it was now parked in front of our party host’s house.
Now that Carmen’s car was officially recognized by both of us as the “child” of my car, we became friends and soon learned that we had many connections, Spanish friends in common, my first Spanish translator had gone to university with her, and many stranger things, like the fact that in Madrid Carmen lived on a street named for my patron saint–not to mention, of course, that with a name like Carmen, she was identified with the Great Goddess “Car” whom I invented for THE EIGHT!
Before Carmen returned to Spain, she said she could not bear it that not enough people knew about my book in her country. The book had sold well, but I was not yet a Spanish household word. Carmen felt that THE EIGHT was somehow exactly attuned to cultures where people are connected with literature at many different levels–intellectual, esoteric, and swashbuckling adventure. After all, doesn’t Don Quixote enfold all of these?
As Carmen told me, In Spain, we don’t make an issue about paradox.
As a Fulbright coordinator for Spain, Carmen suggested that I receive an invitation to speak at the Ateneo, one of the oldest and most charming halls in Madrid, with perhaps the oldest library in Spain. The United States cultural consul in Madrid threw a party for us, and we arranged with my publisher, Enrique de Heriz of Ediciones B, to come to Madrid for the Ateneo event. But my book had been in print for quite a while, so we were all surprised that so many newspaper and magazine journalists showed up to interview me–for eleven straight hours the day of my speech. Their questions were so specific and knowledgeable, I knew that all the journalists had read the book more than once–an impossibility in America–and each journalist asked, at the end of each interview, “Do you think it is possible to have a great work of literature that is also a bestseller?”
To which I always replied, I hope so!
Until then, I had not understood what an honor it was to be invited there. When I went out to look at the posters in the hall, I saw that the speaker one week before me was Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine, and the other guests were equally distinguished.
Finally, one journalist asked the question that seemed to be on everyone’s mind: Why was I–an American girl who writes mainstream fiction– invited to speak at the Ateneo de Madrid?
But of course I knew the answer to the question: “In Spain, we don’t make an issue about paradox!”