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Gonzalo Torrente Ballester in Albany, NY (1966-1972): GTB and Albany

Bio-biographical information

Gonzalo Torrente Ballester (1910-1999) is a major literary figure in 20th century Spain. Well known as a novelist, Gonzalo Torrente Ballester (GTB) also published plays, film and broadcasting scripts, critical works, and journalistic writings. From 1966 to 1972, he was a professor at the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at the University at Albany, where he became its first distinguished professor. In 1975, GTB was elected as a member of the Spanish Royal Academy. In 1985, he was the first Spanish novelist to receive the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, which is the highest literary prize for Spanish-language writers.

Facing growing censorship from the Spanish government under Francisco Franco and disillusioned by the indifferent reception of his novel Don Juan (1963), GTB decided to leave his country and accepted a distinguished professorship of Spanish literature at the University at Albany  in 1966. This escape to North America marked the beginning of  the most fruitful, creative period of his life.

While in Albany he began to write what would become his “fantastic trilogy” of novels, which are widely viewed as his greatest works: La saga/fuga de J.B. (1972), Fragmentos de apocalipsis (1977), and La isla de los jacintos cortados (1980). La saga/fuga de J.B., which is considered by many critics as his masterpiece, was conceived and created in Albany. With respect to this novel, Nobel Prize winner José Saramago stated: "Until now, there was a vacant place next to Miguel de Cervantes, a place that has just been filled by Gonzalo Torrente Ballester." The beginning of the novel La Isla follows the steps of its main characters to places located in the city of Albany and other areas in New York State. While in Albany, he also finished another novel, Off-Side (1969). Portions of his non-fiction book, Cuadernos de un vate vago (1982), also include narratives on New York State.

Jesús Alonso-Regalado

September 2011