Primera memoria
Rights sold:
  • Chinese: Beijing Quicheng
  • English: Penguin Classics
  • French: Libella-Phébus
  • Portuguese: Grupo Narrativa

Previously published in: Bulgarian, Czech, Dutch, German, Finnish, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovenian and Swedish.

Primera memoria / The Island

Novel , 1959


Pages: 224

“This is an old and wicked island. An island of Phoenicians and merchants, of bloodsuckers and frauds.”

Ana María Matute’s 1959 novel is a powerful and unsettling coming-of-age novel, set on Mallorca during the Spanish Civil War. It’s a stifling story of rebellious adolescence, narrated by Matia, as she struggles against her domineering grandmother, schemes with her mercurial cousin Borja and begins to fall in love with the strange boy Manuel. 

Steeped in myth, fairy tale and biblical allusion, the novel depicts Mallorca as an enchanted but wicked island, a lost Eden and Never Never Land combined, where the sun burns through stained glass windows and the wind tears itself on the agaves. Ostensibly concerned with Matia’s anxieties about entering the adult world, this internal conflict is set against the much wider, deeper, and more frightening conflict of the civil war as it plays out almost secretly on the island, set in turn against the backdrop of the Inquisition’s mass burning of Jews in previous centuries. These two conflicts shimmer at the edges of Matia’s highly subjective account of her life on the island, where life is drawn along painful and divisive lines. 

"One of the most beautiful books written in our language during the XXth century. [...] I have a memory that I would like to share. I talked about that book with Julio Cortázar and his wife at that time, Aurora Bernárdez, so many times. They workshipped this book and we enthusiastically talked about it. I even remember reading together the beginning, with that really magnificent and exemplary description of an old lady, which is one of the most precise, delicate and beautiful descriptions of a character I can remember in a novel of our time.” Mario Vargas Llosa

"It's an extraordinary and luminous book, easy and neat, deep and radiant, it seems written the day before yesterday." Milena Busquets 

"Brilliant, devastating . . . every character is remarkable and captivating." The Times Literary Supplement

"A feverish, dramatic brew . . . the style is intoxicating . . . it offers a unique view of a part of Spain usually overlooked by literature." The Irish Times

 "A great book, unruly and passionate and brutal." Jonathan Gibbs