Marsé, Juan 1933-

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Marsé, Juan 1933-


Born January 8, 1933 in Barcelona, Spain.


Novelist; jewelry maker in Barcelona, 1946-59; laboratory assistant to Jacques Monod at the Pasteur Institute, Paris, France, and translator of film scripts for French-Spanish coproductions, 1960-62; columnist for the Spanish newspapers Por Favor and El Pais, 1974—.


Premio Sésamo de cuentos, 1959; Finalist, Premio Biblioteca Breve Seix Barral 1960, for Encerrados con un solo juguete; Premio Biblioteca Breve Seix Barral, 1965, for Últimas tardes con Teresa; Premio Internacional de Novela "México", 1973, for Si te dicen que caí; Premio Planeta, 1978, for La muchacha de las bragas de oro; Premio Ciudad de Barcelona, 1985,Ronda del Guinardó; Premio Ateneo de Sevilla, 1990, for El amante bilingüe; Premio de la Crítica and Premio Europa de Literatura (Aristeión), 1994, for El embrujo de Shanghai; Premio Juan Rulfo, 1997; Premio Internacional Unión Latina, 1998; Premio de la Critica, 2001, for Rabos de Lagartija; shortlist, Independent Foreign Fiction Award, Granta, 2004, for Lizard Tails.


Encerrados con un solo juguete (title means "Locked Up with a Single Toy"), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1960.

Esta cara de la luna (title means "This Side of the Moon"), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1962.

Últimas tardes con Teresa, Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1966.

La oscura historia de la prima Montse (title means "The Dark Story of Cousin Montse"), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1970.

Imágenes y recuerdos, 1929-1940; la gran desilusión, Difusora Internacional (Barcelona, Spain), 1972.

Si te dicen que caí, Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1973, translation by Helen R. Lane published as The Fallen, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1979.

Historia de España, vista con buenos ojos, Punch Ediciones (Barcelona, Spain), 1975.

Señoras y señores, Punch Ediciones (Barcelona, Spain), 1975.

Libertad provisional, Sedmay Ediciones (Madrid, Spain), 1976.

Confidencias de un chorizo, Planeta (Barcelona, Spain), 1977.

La muchacha de las bragas de oro, Planeta (Barcelona, Spain), 1978, translation by Helen R. Lane published as Golden Girl, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1978.

Un día volveré (title means "One Day I'll Return"), Plaza & Janés (Barcelona, Spain), 1982.

El amante bilingüe (title means "The Bilingual Lover"), Planeta (Barcelona, Spain), 1982.

Ronda del Guinardó, Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1984.

El fantasma del Cine Roxy, Almarabú (Madrid, Spain), 1985.

(With Berta Marsé) La fuga del Rio Lobo (for children), Debate (Barcelona, Spain), 1985.

Imágenes y recuerdos 1949-1960: tiempo de satellites, Difusora Internacional (Barcelona, Spain), 1986.

1939-1950: años de penitencia, Difusora Internacional (Barcelona, Spain), 1986.

Teniente bravo, Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 1987.

Los misterios de colores, Primera Plana (Barcelona, Spain), 1993.

El embrujo de Shanghai, Plaza & Janés, (Barcelona, Spain), 1995, translation by Nick Caistor published as Shanghai Nights, Harvill (London, England), 2006.

Las mujeres de Juanito Marés, Espasa (Madrid, Spain), 1997.

Rabos de lagartija, Lumen (Barcelona, Spain), 2000, translation by Nick Caistor published as Lizard Tails, Harvill (London, England), 2003.

Cuentos completos (title means "Complete Short Stories"), Espasa Calpe (Madrid, Spain), 2002.

Canciones de amor en Lolita's Club, Areté (Madrid, Spain), 2005.


La oscura historia de la prima Montse was filmed by Jordi Cadena in 1977. La muchacha de las bragas de oro was filmed by Vincente Aranda in 1980. Últimas tardes con Teresa was filmed in 1983 by Gonzalo Herralde. El embrujo de Shanghai was filmed by Fernando Trueba, Lolafilms, 2002.


The works of Juan Marsé made a large impact on the Spanish novel of his time. His sense of realism is based on the way contemporary Spaniards, especially those on the fringes of society, act and talk. Although he is concerned with style, his main interest lies in telling a story, in describing the world in which his characters move. Many of his characters are related to his own childhood memories and his youth.

In an interview for Marie-Lise Gazarian Gautier's book Interviews with Spanish Writers, Marsé said, "I was born in 1933, so the postwar era began when I was seven years old and continued into the 1940s, when I started working at thirteen. Those years were crucial and fundamental in every sense, whether personal, literary, or whatever. Today, I am the same boy who started writing at thirteen; I am just a street kid."

Marsé earned his living for many years making jewelry in a small Barcelona shop and later, in 1961, moved to Paris and worked as a Spanish teacher. When he was down to his last few francs, he got a job as a lab assistant to Jacques Monod at the Department of Cellular Biochemistry at the Pasteur Institute. Later he found employment translating movie scripts for French-Spanish coproductions. The translations gave him some free time, and he began writing his first novel.

Marsé's first novel, Encerrados con un solo juguete, deals with the harsh world of post-Civil War Spain for a group of disenfranchised kids in a working-class neighborhood. They are the generation too young to have fought in the war but living amid the consequences of defeat. Frankly autobiographical and straightforward in narrative, the book was well received and convinced Marsé to return permanently to Barcelona and devote his career to writing.

Últimas tardes con Teresa, which won the Biblioteca Breve prize in 1965, continued to examine the world of youth and opportunities in Franco-era Spain, which lasted from 1939 to 1975. The plot is a love story between Teresa, a rebellious ingenue of the bourgeoisie, and Manolo, a marginal, or Pijoapartes, who is from the other world of the barrios. Manolo is Marsé's particular favorite. He told Gazarian Gautier, "[Manolo] is probably the man I would have liked to be. He is a projection of a dream of mine; that of a smart, penniless youth from Andalusia who comes to Barcelona. He has a romantic relationship with a rich, attractive, blue-eyed blonde Catalan girl, with her sports car and all that. This happens over the course of a single summer. I knew many youth[s] like Manolo who had only their wits and good looks to go on. I think he is my favorite character."

In many ways, La oscura historia de la prima Montse, the author's 1970 novel, is written in a more complex style, blending historical and contemporary events, and is a continuation of Marsé's exploration of the class system and emotional confusion it engenders throughout Catalan society.

Marsé managed to elude overt censorship by the Franco government until 1973 and the publication of Si te dicen que caí. Written in the late 1960s, it was first published in Mexico in 1973 and did not appear in Spain until after Franco's death. When the author sat down to write this novel, he had no realistic hope of publication and self-censored nothing. The result is a picture of a depressing, sordid world, full of rats, disease, prostitution, and death. Marsé uses an abundance of detail to reveal people tied to the awful past of the Civil War and denied a future.

In this novel Marsé remembers the children being as hard and unforgiving as stone. One boy, the scheming and ambitious Java, takes the lead in torturing girls in a church orphanage, ostensibly to find out information about the former directress, who has disappeared and is rumored to be involved in prostitution. Others, back in the abandoned air-raid shelter below the church, which they use as a hangout, act out brutalities such as the execution of one girl's parents by the fascists in the war. The tension of the novel is created between the unavoidable, grim reality of daily life with the fantasy world of movies, comics, and the fading hope that the Franco government will fall.

La muchacha de las bragas de oro is set soon after the death of Franco. The protagonist, Luys Forrest, feels the need to justify the time he spent in the propaganda section of Franco's government and his subsequent, unmerited fortune. By his own admission, he had written false versions of the truth to whitewash the Falangist cause; he retreated to his old family home on the coast near Barcelona to write his memoirs. He is not overtly evil, but he refuses to recognize the consequences of his actions. As he begins to write a self-serving autobiography, he dredges through facts and fantasies of the past and suffers a moral crisis as he looks at these memories in a new light.

His niece, Mariana, a young, attractive example of the New Spain, shows up to interview him for a magazine article she is writing. As she smokes marijuana and he drinks whiskey, she questions and criticizes the day's work that she has typed out for him. As the intimacy and the sexual tension grow between them, the reader learns that the memoirs do not describe events as he remembers them, but as he thinks that they should have been.

Allen Josephs, reviewing the English translation of the novel (Golden Girl), wrote in the New Republic, "[Mariana] is a child of post-Franco Spain. [Forrest] is a burnt-out chronicler of a defunct regime, describing his old comrades in their sinister dark glasses as ‘shameful lotophagi—eaters of the flower of forgetfulness.’ But Mariana and Forrest are guilty of the same sin, she for refusing through her self-indulgence to acknowledge Spain's past, he through his self deception for refusing to remember it." Josephs went on to note, "Marsé's masterfully baroque manipulation of events as they were, (‘the incontrovertible reality of the past’ as he phrases it), and events as they are remembered, meshes perfectly with what we have come to expect from the best of the Spanish language novelists."

Marsé's next important novel, Ronda del Guinardó, has a clear and simple beginning: May 8, 1945, when news of Germany's surrender briefly rekindles the hopes of those vanquished in the Civil War. A police inspector takes a thirteen-year-old orphan girl to the morgue in Barcelona's Guinardó district to identify the corpse of, possibly, the man who raped her two years ago. Formerly called "Iron Belly" for his steel nerve and great strength, the inspector, now nearing retirement, is suffering from heart problems, a bleeding ulcer, and a receding testicle. By contrast, Rosita seems the ultimate model of vitality and innocence: she works long hours in menial jobs to support the orphanage, plays the martyr in a parish drama, and carries the miniature chapel of the local virgin for devotions.

The pair's bond is strong because the inspector, a fanatic on morality, views the orphans as his own daughters and takes pride in their virtue. The inspector's high hopes, like the optimism spurred by Germany's surrender, are turned to ashes; he learns that Rosita is really a prostitute. Writing in World Literature Today, William R. Risley commented, "Harshly ‘naturalistic’ and cruelly ironic, yet also masterfully constructed and subtly poetic, Ronda del Guinardó achieves a major success in its two absorbing, well-drawn characters."

Rabos de lagartija is similarly set in 1945, and the characters in the novel make numerous references to the fearsome new weapon, the atomic bomb, and how it has changed the weather patterns even in distant Barcelona, Spain. The novel features two street-smart teenagers, David and Paulino, who are experimenting with homosexuality. Meanwhile, Paulino's uncle, a traffic policeman, is sexually abusing him at home. Marsé again points out the hypocrisy in Franco's Spain. Various subplots also add to the gritty, realistic nature of the story. Reviewing Rabos de lagartija in World Literature Today, Luis Larios Vendrell felt that it "reaffirms [Marsé's] position as one of the most important writers in Spain today."

Marsé further explores the after-effects of the Spanish Civil War in El embrujo de Shanghai, translated into English in 2006 as Shanghai Nights. Here the author once again focuses on teenage protagonists, fourteen-year-old Daniel and the young and bed-ridden Susana. Unlike his other fiction, however, this story ventures into fantasy in addition to Marsé's strict realistic approach. Daniel, whose father did not return from the war, goes to work taking care of an old sea captain. He soon comes under the spell of Susana, who has tuberculosis and spins tales for the young Daniel. They are joined by a mysterious visitor from France who adds further tales of the Shanghai underworld. This novel is a "fable about dreams and frustrations," according to Adam Feinstein, writing in the Guardian Online. Feinstein further felt that this novel "confirm[s Marsé] as among Spain's finest living authors." Similar praise came from Raymond Carr, writing in the Spectator. Carr noted, "[Marsé] describes the sordid poverty and repression of the Barcelona of the 1950s through the lives of a wonderfully drawn assortment of invented characters."

Marsé has always believed that the most important job of a writer is telling a story. When Gazarian Gautier asked him about his favorite writers he said, "The books I most dislike are intellectual novels, novels of ideas. I will always value a novel that conveys feelings more than one that just deals with ideas. For instance, I will always place Dickens before Joyce. Ulysses has considerable poetic value, but it is not a great book. On the other hand, Dickens's Great Expectations and Stendhal's The Red and the Black are great novels…. If I could speak to the great writer of the past, I would probably choose to speak to Stendhal first, followed by Flaubert. I'd like to talk with Stevenson and Conrad as well."



Gazarian Gautier, Marie-Lise, Interviews with Spanish Writers, Dalkey Archive Press (Elmwood Park, IL), 1991.


Booklist, February 1, 1981, Erwin Buttler, reviews of Últimas tardes con Teresa; and La muchacha de las bragas de oro; March 1, 1979, Earle Gladden, review of La oscura historia de la prima Montse, p. 1045; July 1, 1981, review of Golden Girl, p. 1388.

Choice, January 1980, review of The Fallen, p. 1450.

Hispania, March 1995, David Herzberger, review of El embrujo de Shanghai, p. 87; December 1991, Carolyn Morrow, review of Últimas tardes con Teresa, p. 834.

Library Journal, July 1981, Ruth Dougherty, review of Golden Girl, p. 1443; November 1979, Ruth Dougherty, review of The Fallen, p. 2372.

Modern Language Review, January, 2001, Joan Ramon Resina, "The Double Coding of Desire," review of El amante bilingüe, p. 92.

New Republic, November 4, 1981, review of Golden Girl, p. 38.

New York Times, August 17, 1980, James Markham, article on contemporary literature in Spain, p. 9; September 8, 1981, John Leonard, review of Golden Girl, p. C10.

Publishers Weekly, June 26, 1981, review of Golden Girl, p. 52.

Spectator, April 1, 2006, Raymond Carr, review of Shanghai Nights, p. 52.

Times Literary Supplement, July 22, 1994, Michael Eaude, review of The Fallen, p. 21; December 15, 1989, review of Si te dicen que caí, p. 19.

World Literature Today, autumn, 1988, David Ross Gerling, review of Teniente bravo, p. 632; winter, 2002, Luis Larios Vendrell, review of Rabos de lagartija,.


Guardian Online, (April 29, 2006), Adam Feinstein, "TB and Roses," review of Shanghai Nights.

Juan Marsé Home Page, (January 27, 2007).