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Everything dies, but nothing evaporates completely…

The Ebro, Spain’s longest river that flows into the Mediterranean from Catalonia
The Ebro, Spain’s longest river that flows into the Mediterranean from Catalonia

The author of the book The Invisible City… The editor of the world-famous Planeta Publishing House… The one who not only interviewed the Nobel prized Doris Lessing but also worked for four years with the legendary author Miguel Delibes… The close friend of Carlos Ruiz Zafón who has the most readers in Spanish literature after Cervantes…

When we decided to have an interview with the Catalan author and editor Emili Rosales, the season was autumn and the location was Frankfurt Book Fair. Better late than never, we had a frank conversation.

Hello, Mr Rosales. What have you been doing since the Frankfurt Book Fair?

Hi. I have been very busy. The first quarter of the year is the busiest season in Spain in terms of publishing because of the Book’s Day on 23rd of April.

You are currently in Barcelona, right? And as far as I know, you are Catalan. Could you tell us a bit about your origins?

Barcelona is the capital of Catalan and Spanish publishing industry, besides being a fantastic city for living. I come from the south of Catalonia, from a fishers town called Sant Carles de la Ràpita, near a beautiful natural place, the Ebro Delta, Unesco’s Biosphere Reserve.

You are both a writer and an editor. Which of these two fields do you feel closer to?

In fact, I am an editor and I was a writer. However, I feel very close to both activities, so much complementary: For writing, you must look at your inner life and for editing, you must be aware of the outdoors.


Emili Rosales through the lens of Kübra Çiğdem İnal – Frankfurt Book Fair

In 1989, you entered the literary world with poetry and started writing novels shortly after. I’m curious about the reason behind this decision.

The impulse is the same for writing a poem or a novel: You need to express yourself, build a story, create meaning or beauty, but the technique and the strategy are very different. I cannot write a novel despite the daily craziness anymore, but I wrote some poems.

You have also worked as a translator, a literature teacher at a middle school, and even written book reviews for newspapers. What has it brought to the Emili Rosales of today, having worked in various aspects of literature?

Fortunately, I could always work around the books, which was my vocation. Apart from my books, I loved doing literary interviews from 1990 to 2000, part of them in London; I could meet people like Martin Amis, Czeslaw Milosz, Amos Oz, Ismail Kadare, Doris Lessing, Gore Vidal… From 2000 on, I have been a full-time editor and enjoyed publishing Catalan and Spanish authors that are already legends.

What kind of person was Doris Lessing? 

Having met her was fascinating. I lived in London from summer ’98 to summer ’99. I took advantage of that year to interview not only English writers but also some writers that visited London by then. I published those interviews in two Spanish newspapers. When I interviewed Doris Lessing, she was already a classic at that time. I visited her in her house. I think it was in the south of London. She was a very nice old woman. We sat down on the floor of the house.

On the floor?

On the floor, yes. It was a very interesting conversation, not only about literature, but about her long life in Africa and in London, her special role in contemporary literature, her very early feminist years, her point of view for colonialism and the situation in Africa. A few days later, a friend of mine, one of those great Catalan writers called Baltasar Porcel, came to London and asked me about Doris Lessing and this interview. I told him everything I knew about Doris, but he didn’t say anything to me. Two weeks later, the same friend of mine announced that the Catalonia Prize, which is the most important prize with an international location, was won by Doris Lessing. It was very funny because this interview had some influence on it. When the award was announced, it was very moving for me.

Do you remember the exact date of that interview with Lessing?

It was in ’99. I will find the interview and send it to you, but it is in Catalan, not Spanish. I don’t know if you know someone who can translate it from Catalan for you.

I think I will find a way. Thank you!


After having published three books in four years, you didn’t write anything for five years. So, does “writer’s block” really exist? Also, I want to learn this: If a writer feels unproductive, should he force himself to produce?

My last book was published in 2005. However, thinking in general, it depends on a writer’s idea about his books. Writing is a job: Inspiration comes while you are working… But far away from the joke, if you have an idea, a plan, a strategy, an aim, or a dream, of course, you must struggle until you get it or until you reach the closest point to that.

Your books have been translated to more than twenty languages and you are currently coordinating works written in Catalan for Planeta, one of the world’s largest publishing houses. As a person who has been involved in different aspects of literature, when did you start considering yourself as a “literary figure”?

I don’t see myself as a literary figure, I never did. I feel very proud of having published writers that have become classics in Catalan (Josep Pla, Baltasar Porcel, Mercè Rodoreda, Jesús Moncada) and Spanish (Miguel Delibes, Ana María Matute, Carmen Laforet). Also, I enjoyed being part of a team that renewed our day’s literature and introduced it to the world like it had never been done before: Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Jaume Cabré, Dolores Redondo…

Miguel Delibes? Really? He is one of my favourite Spanish writers!

Yes. When I started to work for Destino Publishing House in 2006, Miguel Delibes was still alive. He had already published his last novel, The Heretic, which is an erratic, historic one. He was the most appreciated, the most loved Spanish writer. Absolutely. He is one of the big figures of the twentieth century in Spanish literature and in European literature as well. I had the great pleasure of working with Miguel Delibes for four years. He died in 2010. I had visited Miguel Delibes at his summer house by the Cantabrian Sea. It was really exciting for me. Having met Miguel Delibes, the master of literature and journalism…

Do you remember anything special about him?

He was so real. He was not fine, I mean. But he was fine with everybody working for Destino, his publishing house for sixty years. He had a kind of “paternal” tone. Do you understand what I mean by that word? Because I was very young and he was an ancient writer. He was celebrated by all the academics, all the universities. He always said to me, “We have to care for our readers, not for the academics and critics.” He had of course respect for academics and critics, but he always highlighted the importance of readers.

Unfortunately, his Cinco horas con Mario has not been translated into Turkish yet but I read it in Spanish four or five years ago and was fascinated by his tone, by that excessively long monologue in the novel. It’s a great, surprising book but I don’t know why it has not been translated into Turkish.

There is a play of it, too. Five Hours with Mario has been adapted to the stage with great success and this adaptation has been played in many theaters of Spain for years.

Is it still on stage?

I think so, yes.

You studied philology at university. How has philology been beneficial to the work you are doing now?

To build a new work, to appreciate new works and establish new authors, it is important to know and read your own tradition and main literature tradition.    

You are also a member of the Association of Catalan Language Writers. What does this association do and what is its purpose?

It was created to improve writers’ conditions and help authors become professionals.

What are the similarities and differences between Catalan literature and Spanish literature? Why are we not familiar enough with Catalan literature?

Catalan is a Latin language, such as Italian, French, or Spanish. Because of the Francoist prohibitions, the Catalan language and literature suffered an involution. After decades of democracy and autonomy, Catalan literature –with a tradition of eight centuries—is recovering international recognition. Catalan authors, with their own personalities, share elements with other European creators. 


You have only one novel translated to Turkish, The Invisible City (La ciutat invisible). Let’s talk about it.

The Invisible City is a self-discovery and historical novel based on the eighteenth century idea, the Enlightenment age, of building an ideal city mirroring Saint Petersburg. It was a real royal plan that was never completed. Still, as a child, I played in the ruins of this ambitious project in my birthplace near the Ebro Delta.

In 2004 The Invisible City won the Sant Jordi Award -which is considered to be one of the most prestigious literary awards for works written in Catalan- and placed you in the list of “the most successful contemporary Catalan writers.” How did this award make you feel?

It was a happy time. Many publishers worldwide decided to translate the book and I liked to tell this story to readers in Europe, China, and Australia. Concerning the award, it is funny that a decade later, I became the publisher of the Sant Jordi Prize. 

The Invisible City is a novel that successfully blends the present with the eighteenth century, depicting the passion of King Charles III of Spain to build a magnificent European city in the Ebro Delta. Honestly, I loved this book. While reading it, I felt immersed in intrigue, romance, art, politics, love, mystery, and history. Where did the idea to write such a novel come to you, Mr Rosales?

When I was a child, I used to play with my friends in the ruins of the eighteenth century monuments. However, nobody taught us about what those abandoned tunnels, fallen walls or arches were! Decades later, some historians began to explain the enlightenment origin of the old but never built royal city, inspired in Naples, in Saint Petersburg. It was irresistible: I had the opportunity to frame a personal tale of self-discovery and loss in a collective adventure just disclosed.

Like the invisible city, like the Italian architect Roselli, like the lost Tiepolo painting in your novel, there are so many cities, so many people, and so many objects that existed once but are now unseen; although they once witnessed the world, they are now covered with overgrown grass and were long erased from the memory. Did you write The Invisible City to signify this, to make the invisible visible?

I did! The narrator talks about the invisible city to talk about himself, his invisible inner, everything that rests floating but never fully disappears, everything that is part of you although it is not yet evident. The novel is full of metaphors: Pompeii was also discovered under the ashes by the king who tried (and failed) to create my town. Everything dies and nothing evaporates completely…

Does the narrator Emili Rossell in the novel have a connection with the author Emili Rosales, or is it just a name resemblance?

I played with that, with all those similar names. My family also arrived in the town at the time of the royal city building, but the novel is mainly an invention. 


Again, in The Invisible City, there is a striking sentence about Rembrandt’s painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son

I don’t even remember my father’s face, but one day, I would like him to embrace me just like Rembrandt.

I’m curious about the origin of your inclination towards art. In addition, how much research did you conduct, which resources did you explore to create such a novel filled with art, history, and travel in whirls?

Art involves meaning and pleasure. Could anything improve it? At the time that I wrote this novel, I used to travel with my wife to see an exhibition or just a painting, read very much about that age and circumstances, and of course, dream that I would find a footstep of the unknown architect or the engineer of the royal city. It was completely exciting. Naples, Rome, Venice, Saint Petersburg, Madrid…

Finally, let’s talk about your friendship with Carlos Ruiz Zafón, considered one of the most successful writers of contemporary Spanish literature, whom we lost at an early age in 2020: How and where did you meet him? What would you like to say about this friendship?

We met in 2000 when we began to work on The Shadow of the Wind edition. He was living in Los Angeles at that time. With the whole Planeta team, we started one of the most exciting experiences an editor may enjoy: to show readers a new author and then find out, four books and twenty years later, that Carlos Ruiz Zafón had become the Spanish author with the most readers over the world after Cervantes, an unbeatable adventure. Meanwhile, I met a singular and charming person, a genius, an unforgettable friend, someone that I miss every day.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón and Emili Rosales – San Francisco

You also gave a speech at the tribute to Carlos Ruiz Zafón at the Frankfurt Book Fair and shared your experiences with him. As an avid reader of Zafón, it was such a precious and unforgettable ceremony for me… For instance, that day I learned that Zafón was a talented pianist, had a passion for architecture and cinema, and was such a generous man. What else would you like to say about him? What kind of person was Carlos Ruiz Zafón?

He liked to be alone reading, writing, playing music, and walking. And he was an authentic storyteller; he enjoyed making us laugh. But when he was a child, some students’ mothers complained to the teacher that their son couldn’t sleep because of the horror tales Carlos told them. He had a special gift for atmospheres… However, he worked very hard until he obtained the literary goals he aimed. “I will take you to a place where books never die” embodies his most valuable legacy. 

On this occasion, we also paid tribute to the esteemed author. In an interview with the BBC, Carlos Ruiz Zafón said, “We are what we remember. The less we remember, the less we are.” What are your thoughts on this?

Carlos gave us one of the most admired buildings of the twenty-first century literature: The Cemetery of the Forgotten Books quartet. Readers will love those books for years and years.

Have you ever been to Turkey?

I have travelled to many countries like China and our neighbour countries like France, Italy, etc. to speak about The Invisible City but no, never to Turkey. I would have liked to go there very much but it did not happen. It depends on my publisher in Turkey whom I have never met or perhaps Cervantes Institute in Istanbul.

It has been a delightful conversation, Mr Rosales. I would like to thank you on behalf of my magazine Mikroscope. Shall we conclude with a quote from The Invisible City?

Nobody will remember the king’s name or the size of his land one day, but the fame of the emotions and pleasures conveyed by the great painter Tiepolo’s paintings will endure.

This interview; It was published in the 25th issue of the online monthly culture, art and literature magazine “Mikroscope”.

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