An epic about the colonization of Louisiana
Spanish author Luz Gabás wins the Planeta 2022 Award with a historical novel about Spain's past in the U.S.
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Luz Gabás, author of the bestseller Palmeras en la Niebla (published in the U.S. in English as Palm Trees in the Snow) won this year's Planeta Literary Award for her novel Lejos de Louisiana (Far from Louisiana), a love story set in the late 18th century in the former French colony in North America.
The prize, worth 1 million euros ($970,000), is the most lucrative Spanish-language prize in the world. It is awarded by Planeta publishing house, with headquarters in Barcelona.
Far from Louisiana is a historical novel set in the 18th century, when the French colony "dramatically passed" into Spanish hands and "where different ethnicities and cultures coexist in a difficult balance," according to the editorial summary. It is "a convulsive era that serves as the setting for a passionate love story between an Indian and a French subject."
"It is a choral novel about the effort and fortitude needed to get ahead in times of uncertainty, illness and war. The chief of the tribe tells his son: 'Don't ask for an easy life, but for the strength to get through a difficult life,'" the author explained at the awards gala in Barcelona.
Gabás decided to write about Louisiana after reading a book of short stories about Spain's role in the independence movement of the United States and realizing that she knew nothing about the history of the territory that belonged to Spain for 40 years, between 1863 and 1803. So she set about researching to write a novel.
"The English sell their past very well, even in serials, for example. In Spain we have not perhaps known how to sell our history. The historical novel is all very well, but it has to be part historical and part engaging for it to reach the general public," she told RTVE.
With a degree in English Philology, Gabás was the mayor of Benasque, a municipality in the Aragonese Pyrenees, between 2011 and 2015. Originally from these mountainous places in the northeast of the peninsula, Gabás published Palmeras en la nieve (Palm Trees in the Snow) in 2012, a novel following the adventures of some cocoa traders from the Aragonese Pyrenees in Equatorial Guinea in the mid-20th century, when it was still a Spanish colony.
The novel, which became a bestseller and later a movie, was inspired by Gabás' father's experience working on the Sampaka Cocoa Farm on the island of Fernando Poo.
In that eternally green, warm and voluptuous land, the novel's young brothers discover the lightness of social life in the colony compared to a corseted and gray Spain. They share the hard work necessary to get the perfect cocoa from the Sampaka farm, and learn the cultural differences and similarities between colonials and natives. In the process, they also learn the meaning of friendship, passion, love and hate. But one of them will cross a forbidden and invisible line and fall madly in love with a native.
Gabás, who still lives in the Aragonese Pyrenees, then wrote Regreso a tu piel (2014) (also in English: Return to Your Skin), a novel centered on the persecution of witches in the region in the 16th century. She then wrote Como fuego en el hielo (2017), a love story on two sides of the Pyrenees — French and Spanish — set in a thermal spa frequented by the European aristocracy, to later publish El latido de la tierra (2019), set in rural Spain in the 1970s.