Proustian grand dame of Spanish publishing

Esther Tusquets, purveyor of literary greats, dies in Barcelona aged 75

Esther Tusquets, photographed at home in 2010.
Esther Tusquets, photographed at home in 2010.CONSUELO BAUTISTA

"I can sense the end and I want to start dropping some luggage. At my age, one can permit anything." A little more than two years ago the editor and writer Esther Tusquets explained a slight ramping up of her always latent irreverence, which she left in black and white in her collection of memoirs, especially the 2009 Confesiones de una vieja dama indigna(or, Confessions of an indignant old lady).

 The journey that Tusquets sensed ended on Monday at the Clínico hospital in Barcelona due to pneumonia. She had suffered from Parkinson's disease for many years. The great irony of Tusquets' life was that she did not have a vocation for books but she is synonymous with them. She headed the Lumen publishing house for 40 years, which was part of the Holy trinity with Tusquets Editores and Anagrama during the Transition.

At Lumen, Tusquets oversaw the creation of a publisher that promoted children's books and works by great authors. The first book Lumen put out was by Ana María Matute, who had recently won the Nadal Prize for Literature: The Green Grasshopper .

Immediately afterward followed collections such as Palabra e Imagen (or, Word and Image) series, which became Lumen's first best-seller. Then came heavyweights such as Samuel Beckett, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, William Styron and Louis-Ferdinand Céline, quality authors some of whom, such as Susan Sontag, had never been published in Spanish.

However, when quizzed on her personal zenith, the woman who the superagent Carmen Balcells called "the grand dame of publishing" would surprise with her answer: "I could say Woolf or Joyce, but I am proud today for editing Bassani."

This dedication to quality was not inexpensive: Lumen lost money for the first seven years of her stewardship. Tusquets needed a success. She found one in Mafalda, the irreverent young girl in Quino's cartoon strip. The rights belonged to Carlos Barral, who ceded them to Lumen. Exactly the same thing happened with Umberto Eco, who had yet to pen The Name Of The Rose .

As globalization swept through Spain, maintaining a family publisher became impossible and Tusquets, who found she was spending more time with the accounting books than the literary type, sold up in 1996.

Tusquets' own works were well-received. "She is a Proustian writer who uses memory as a weapon for understanding," said Ana María Moix.

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