José Manuel Caballero Bonald (Jerez de la Frontera, 1926) is without doubt the most important living personality of the Spanish letters, and the unanimous satisfaction with which his 2012 Cervantes Award laurate was received is proof of that. He learned to love adventure being a child with the novels of Salgari, Verne, Stevenson, London, Conrad, etc., and studied to become a seaman, until he learned that the adventure was not on the sea, a source unexpected perils, but in literature, which finally influenced his vocation to become a writer.
A prolific author, but very demanding with the quality of his finished work, who has published eleven books of poems, five novels, two books of memories, and numerous ethnographic essays (wine, dance, traditions from Baja Andalucía, Seville during the Spanish Golden Age, painting, etc.), as well as tales, travel accounts and literary studies, which together with his research work on the pure roots of flamenco singing, makes him one of the main intellectual figures of our time. All of his literary work, both fiction and memories or essays, has two convergent vectors as the starting point: an autobiographic origin that provides all of his production an unusual plot coherence, and an unmistakable conviction that literature is above all an experience of the language, where creation only happens in the act of writing. His will of style provides all of his work with an unmistakable identity.
His creative productivity and the tendency to rebellion that characterizes his youth, make his poetry insubordinate to the aesthetic standards of the time, and allows him to go beyond the temporal limits he sets himself. This way, once we were convinced that his poetry world was finalized with the publication of Diario de Argónida (1997), his own ethic imperatives that have guided all of his career, obliged him to write Manuel de infractores (2005), a book where his anger for the injustice of war and the actions of the government of Aznar is clearly visible. This was followed by La noche no tiene paredes (2009) where he reconsiders some personal episodes in conclusive terms and applying some stylistic modifications to enhance communication. But it is in Entreguerras (2012), where the author faces everyone and everywhere, providing us with the most unusual book of poetry tradition: an autobiographic testimony of more than 3.500 verses with precise structure and splendid verbal power, which is at the same time an exercise of soul-searching, a heritage of experiences, and a loyalty manifest towards the baroque conception of the poetic language. Due to its quality and creative vitality, this is the finalization of an unparalleled senesce cycle in the last century.
In Caballero Bonald's narrative, fiction and reality are merged in variable doses. Within his fictions it is possible to identify autobiographic episodes that work together with fabulous plot mechanisms to develop the narrative. This is the case of his knowledge on the world of vineyards and wineries in Dos días de septiembre (1962), or his own life experiences in the Coto de Doñana within the unreal and mythological Ágata ojo de gato (1974), two novels that in my opinion should hold relevant places within the contemporary Spanish narrative. And the same is true for the cerebral pathologic symptoms that the main character of Campo de Agramante (1992) suffers.
His two volumes of memories Tiempo de guerras perdidas (1995) and La costumbre de vivir (2001) are excellent examples of his art for narrating his own life assisted by drops of fiction to cover for memory lags or omissions, maybe random or maybe voluntary. This is why, the title of the refunded edition of these two books in a single one is so appropriate: La novela de la memoria (2010), the novel of memory.
The whole of his work allows us to reconstruct a maverick personality, a tenacious advocate of human rights and inflexible with injustice. A personality whose political position has always been identified with the fight for freedom. This led him to have an active participation in the opposition to Franco, in which he got involved through Dionisio Ridruejo, with whom he shared prison for a month in 1966. He later collaborated with the Communist Party by representing it in several collective organs during the Spanish Transition, and although he was never a militant. As easy as it is to identify within his work his compromise with aesthetic quality, the same is true for his compromise with his ethics and convictions: fighting for freedom and justice, defending the those unprivileged and needed like the republicans suffering political repression during the postwar or the gipsies that have been oppressed for centuries. His voice has managed to maintain dignity and integrity throughout his long career. I cannot find a better example of vitality, social compromise and literary value for future generations.