Spaniard wins European Book Prize

Eduardo Mendoza’s ‘Riña de gatos’ involves an Englishman who discovers a painting attributed to Velázquez just before the Spanish Civil War

Eduardo Mendoza in front of the Prado museum, one of the scenarios of his winning novel.
Eduardo Mendoza in front of the Prado museum, one of the scenarios of his winning novel.Álvaro García

The story of Anthony Whitelands, an Englishman who discovers a painting attributed to Velázquez right before outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, has earned author Eduardo Mendoza the European Book Prize. This is the first time that a Spaniard has won an award that was created in 2007 to support European culture.

The jury, presided by the French philosopher Bernard Henri-Lévy, also paid tribute to five newspaper founders or editors for their commitment to democracy and to the effort of building Europe.

Mendoza, whose winning novel is called Riña de gatos. Madrid 1936 (or, Cat fight, Madrid 1936), drew on his experience as an interpreter and reminded the audience of something that Umberto Eco once said about translation being the real language of Europe.

“Today I am receiving this prize thanks to the fact that my novel has been translated into other languages,” he said in French at the European Parliament.

The winner in the essay category was Arnaud Leparmentier, an editorial writer for <CF1001>Le Monde and former Brussels correspondent, for a text that holds his countrymen responsible for many of the problems besetting the single currency.

Participants in the Wednesday ceremony underscored the need to foment a European identity and talked about some of the problems holding back this common project. European Parliament President Martin Schulz, who used to be a bookseller before becoming an EU politician, cautioned against focusing on financial aspects: “We are asking for sacrifices to save the banks. But the crisis will not be resolved merely when the economic figures improve.”

Past winners of the prize, which comes with a financial reward of 10,000 euros, include Luuk van Middelaar, Roberto Saviano, Tony Judt and Guy Verhofstadt. This is the seventh edition of the award, created by the French association Esprit d’Europe, whose honorary president is former EU Commission chief Jacques Delors.

Much of the discussion focused on the importance of having media that are able to articulate the European debate. The jury highlighted the work of five founders or editors of major newspapers, such as Juan Luis Cebrián of EL PAÍS; Jean Daniel, of Le Nouvel Observateur; Adam Michnik, of Gazeta Wyborcza; Eugenio Scalfari of La Repubblica; and Yvon Toussaint of Belgium’s Le Soir.

Henri-Lévy had generous praise for these five men. “They are all convinced, consistent Europeans. They defend their countries’ culture, but not sovereignty. There is no trace of nationalism in them.”

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