Spanish National Prize of LiteratureUnai Elorriaga
Spain / Basque Country
The author was born in 1973 in Algorta/Getxo on the Basque Coast, where he still lives today. Unai Elorriaga studied Language and Literature and currently works as a translator and critic. For his first novel, UN TRANVÍA EN SP, he was awarded the Spanish national prize Premio Nacional de Narrativa in 2002. The four following titles were composed in Basque and translated into Spanish by the author himself. For his second latest novel MAPAS Y PERROS Elorriaga was awarded the Premio Nacional de la Crítica and was finalist for the Premio Nacional de Literatura in 2015. In 2019, he won the Critics Awards in the Basque language for his novel ITURRIA (“Nosotros no ahorcamos a nadie”).
We Don’t Hang Anyone
In this novel, Elorriaga sends two almost eighty-year-old friends from the Basque Country, who could hardly be more dissimilar, on a final journey through Eastern Europe: Erroman, who tells us the story, is the epitome of calmness, Soro Barturen is eccentric, a millionaire and seriously ill. Despite this – or perhaps because of it – Barturen pursues his missing friend Pedro Iturria, with whom he had once studied engineering in London, like an obsessed man, with Erroman always at his side. Iturria had a passion for writing. Now the two friends follow the trail of his writings, published in the respective local languages, from Prague via Budapest and Warsaw to Moscow, for which the translators, especially Eszter Nagy, a Hungarian of Argentinean origin, are of special importance. In their conversations with Barturen, they have to answer all his questions.
Part of the novel is made up of some of the fascinating stories of the misunderstood genius Iturria. They deal with the deeper meaning of life in exceptional situations and depict dystopian visions of reality. The title story We Don’t Hang Anyone (“Iturria”/”Nosotros no ahorcamos a nadie”) stands out in particular: it culminates in the public hanging of five people and, with the simultaneous presence of past and future elements and an undefined controlling authority with terrifying rules, inevitably calls to mind Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale”. The novel develops into an enjoyable literary scavenger hunt celebrating friendship and the art of storytelling.
London Is Made of Card
The young protagonist Phineas is convinced that his vanished sister Sora has been abducted by the henchmen of the dictatorship terrorising their small town. Despite all the risks involved, he sets out to search for her. Phineas comes across reports and documentations of the permanent spying, torture and forced operations used to oppress every dissident in the surveillance state. Into this first part of his novel London Is Made of Card (“Londres es de cartón”) Elorriaga weaves a second strand, which reads like a typical English detective story. An elderly lady has been murdered and three men start the detective work of revealing the killer. The murderer they find is the schizophrenic Sora, who is put into a psychiatric ward. Although Phineas finds out what really happened to his sister in the end, he never loses hope of one day seeing her again. Londres es de cartón questions our familiar perception of reading. With virtuoso skill, the author uses dreams and imitation, confronting the reader with the horrors of a nameless dictatorship and the dubious nature of deductive investigations. Elorriaga is a master in showing us the gaps left behind by a desaparecido.
»Worn-out words like originality and astonishment regain all their power when we are talking about Unai Elorriaga.«
»We read Unai Elorriaga’s latest novel almost without taking a breath. Incredibly good, friends.«
»Short sentences, well-balanced words, silences which suggest dialogues, letters…We can find everything in this little narrative feast.«
Plants Don’t Drink Coffee
In Plants Don’t Drink Coffee (“Vredaman”) Unai Elorriaga tells the enchanting tales of a small Basque village. At first, we meet Tomas, whose childlike perspective forms one of four narrative strands. Since his father is in poor health, the boy spends the summer at his aunt’s house and goes hunting for insects with his older cousin. To catch the rare blue dragonfly is his highest ambition. As before with age, the author here skilfully encapsulates the child’s world with his imaginative and playful language. The most ambitious project of the summer, however, is impelled by Uncle Simón. As a rugby fan he has a tough stand in Spain, where only rarely a game is transmitted, let alone carried out. Yet with the help of 82-year old Piedad, who once lived in England and speaks the language, he manages to realize his wildest dream, to referee a game in Wales against Ireland. The game is a huge success for him, but he goes even further: Simón invites both teams back to his village. Here both players and spectators clamber over the walls of the nearby golf course where Simón and his friends have prepared a pitch. When the police eventually arrive on the sidelines, indecisive and late, the final whistle is blown and all disappear to conclude the evening on the beach. In scenes which sometimes border on the surreal, Unai Elorriaga presents us with a world in which dreams and desires still form part of everyday life. His protagonists are often simple human beings, who emanate a great kindness and who charm their environment and the reader alike.
»An unmistakable author.«
El Correo Español
»Replete with small joys and charming revela-tions, Plants Don’t Drink Coffee (Vredaman) will delight readers with its simple wisdom, delightful prose, and capricious cast of steadfast dreamers.«
Resource for international literature at the University of Rochester
A Tram to the Himalaya
A Tram to the Himalaya (“Un tranvía en SP”) tells of an unusual friendship between a young busker and a pair of elderly siblings. Critics were thrilled by the young author’s startlingly perceptive approach to thorny topics such as age, forgetfulness and death. Moreover, they rejoiced at his wilful style.
»We welcome Unai Elorriaga, a diamond already polished: A true gift to Literature.«
Carlos González, AVUI
»An original and poetic narrative, which, in all its simplicity, touches the essence of life.«
Lourdes Rubio, LEVANTE
»For readers still capable of enthusiasm, the unanticipated arrival of Unai Elorriaga is excellent news.«
Ricard Ruiz Garzón, LA RAZÓN
»From minute, poetic scenes and jottings, the young Basque author has constructed a warm-hearted and humorous novel. For once, age is not portrayed as oppressive, unfortunate or offensive, but as a miracle.«
»Unai Elorriaga’s poetic tone moves with the certainty of a sleepwalker; he encounters his figures with respectful irony. What often seems so difficult in reality, here becomes effortless.«
Patricia Wolf, DER TAGESSPIEGEL
We Don’t Hang Anyone (“Nosotros no ahorcamos a nadie”)
Zarautz: Susa 2019, 241 p.; Barcelona: Galaxia Gutenberg 2023, 216 p.
(original title in Basque: Iturria) Critics Awards in Basque language 2019
Maps and Dogs (“Mapas y perros”)
Zarautz: Susa 2014, 376 p.
(original title in Basque: Iazko hezurrak)
National Critics Prize 2015
Finalist of National Literature Prize 2015
USA: Archipelago Books
London Is Made of Card (“Londres es de cartón“)
Donostia-San Sebastián: Elkar 2009, 218 p.; Madrid: Alfaguara 2010, 216 p.
(original title in Basque: Londres kartoizkoa da)
Plants Don’t Drink Coffee (“Vredaman”)
Donostia-San Sebastián: Elkar 2005, 206 p.; Madrid: Alfaguara 2006, 188 p.
(original title in Basque: Vredaman)
Catalan: RBA – La Magrana 2006 · Galician: Galaxia 2006 · Italy: Gran Vía 2008 · USA: Archipelago Books 2009
Van’t Hoff’s Hair (“El pelo de Van’t Hoff“)
Donostia-San Sebastián: Elkar 2003, 218 p.; Madrid: Alfaguara 2004, Punto de lectura pb, 211 p.
(original title in Basque: Van’t Hoffen ilea)
Galician: Galaxia 2004
A Tram to the Himalaya (“Un tranvía en SP”)
Donostia-San Sebastián: Elkar 2001, 153 p.; Madrid: Alfaguara 2003, Punto de lectura pb 2004, 175 p.
(original title in Basque: SPrako Tranbia)
Premio Nacional de Narrativa 2002
Over 100.000 copies sold
Filmed in 2008 with Daniel Brühl (Good Bye, Lenin), entitled “Un poco de chocolate”
Polish translation available
Catalan: Proa 2003 · Estonia: Loomingu 2005 · Galician: Galaxia 2002 · Germany: Schöffling 2005, pb Piper 2006 · Italy: Gran Vía 2008 · Serbia: Samizdat B92 2005
Giants Don’t Eat Their Friends (“Los gigantes no se comen a sus amigos“)
(Ill. by Alejandro de Orbe Ferreiro)
Bilbao: Begiko, Zubia (Santillana) 2018, 78 p.
(original title in Basque: Erraldoiek ez dute lagunik jaten)
107 Kiwis (“107 kiwis“)
(Ill. by Mikel Santos Martinez)
Donostia-San Sebastián: Elkar 2015, 55 p.
(original title in Basque: 107 kiwi)
(Ill. by Mai Egurza Arruti)
Donostia-San Sebastián: Elkar 2012, 99 p.
Grasshoppers’ Ears (“Las orejas de los saltamontes“)
(Ill. by Eider Eibar Zugazabeitia)
Donostia-San Sebastián: Elkar 2006, 122 p.; Madrid: Alfaguara 2013, 111 p.
(original title in Basque: Matxinsaltoen belarriak)
And the Fish Sneezed (“Y los peces estornudaron”)
(bilingual edition Basque-Spanish)
Buenos Aires: Letranómada 2008, 110 p.
(original title in Basque: Doministiku egin dute arrainek)