Albert Sánchez Piñol is one of Catalonia’s most successful writers. His debut novel Cold Skin was translated into 24 languages and sold more than 150.000 copies in Catalonia. His most recent work, titled Victus and originally written in Spanish language, narrates the story of a fictional character during the days of the Spanish War of Succession which led to the fall of Barcelona in 1714 and the loss of Catalan rights and liberties. Due to the immense success of the novel both on its Catalan and Spanish versions –more than 200.000 copies already sold in Spain– and as current political events in the region highlight the relevance of those historical episodes, Sánchez Piñol’s Victus has attracted a good deal of international attention.
Such is the case in the Netherlands, where an agreement between the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia and the Dutch publishing house Signatuur allowed the translation of the novel into Dutch language. Two public events where scheduled on September 3th and 4th to promote this publication, but something unexpected happened. During the course of the first one of the events, a lecture titled “Victus, the fall of Barcelona and European history” and held at the University of Amsterdam, a top representative of the Spanish embassy in the Netherlands took the floor to lambaste the book, according Martí Estruch, who witnessed the facts:
“She questioned the historical veracity of the events narrated at Victus because, according to her, there was a lot of people in Catalonia who loved the Bourbons. She also asserted that the Nova Planta decree [which banned Catalan laws and prosecuted Catalan language and culture, TN] was a very modern law. She added that Spain is a modern and consolidated democracy, and said that Catalans do not have the right to decide on its future by themselves. She was interrupted by some Dutch spectators, who recalled that it was question time and not the right moment for a rally.” Martí Estruch: A day in Amsterdam with Albert Sánchez Piñol [Catalan]
Cancelled lecture approaches ‘censorship’, Signatuur says
Yet the surprises were not over. Victus‘ Dutch publishing house, Signatuur, was soon shocked by the news that a lecture scheduled for the following day in Utrecht had been postponed by the organisers, the Instituto Cervantes –tasked with promoting the languages and cultures of Spain abroad–. The reasons of such a move were not explained, and Signatuur has issued a damning press release, highlighting its “surprise and disappointment” by the presumed move by the Spanish embassy. The publisher Juliette van Wersch, said:
[I am] shocked that on Dutch soil, where freedom of speech is a big issue, a public conversation between an author and his translator is boycotted from abroad. It shows the power of the word that a historical novel can bring. This is a serious matter and it tends to censorship. It is unfortunate and incomprehensible that this author is not allowed to explain Spanish and Catalan history in the Netherlands.- Signatuur | Victus novel boycotted by the Spanish government [Dutch] or Google-Translated version