In her debut novel, "Feria," Ana Iris Simón begins with a poignant admission: "I'm jealous of the life that my parents had at my age."
"Feria" is based on her childhood in the arid heartland of Spain, with parents who were postal workers and grandparents who were farmers on one side, traveling fairground workers on the other. Little happens, but that is intentional — she wants readers to appreciate her rural upbringing in Castilla-La Mancha, the region made famous by the Miguel de Cervantes classic "Don Quixote."
Simón, 30, also means, through her portrayal of how her family lived, to express ambivalence about what her generation has gained — university educations, travel, consumer goods — as well as their feelings of anxiety, especially when it comes to jobs and the economy. Simón lost her job as a journalist working for Vice magazine as she was writing "Feria."
The book has struck a chord with readers, but it has also become a lightning rod in Spain's emotional political debate, fueled by party fragmentation and polarization. Simón said her book had been interpreted as "a questioning of the dogmas of liberalism," to an extent that she had not anticipated.
Her parents had a home and were raising a 7-year-old daughter at the age when she was still trying to become a writer, Simón writes. "We, however, have neither a house, nor children, nor a car. Our belongings are an iPhone and an Ikea bookshelf. ... But we convince ourselves that freedom
means avoiding having children, a house and a car because who knows where we will be living tomorrow."
Initially published in late 2020 by a small Spanish press, Circulo de Tiza, "Feria" has since been reprinted 13 times and sold almost 50,000 hard copies. It was getting distributed last month in Latin America by another publisher, Alfaguara, as well as translated into German.
In the book, Simón describes her grandfather, José Vicente Simón, planting an almond tree on the outskirts of town, simply to tend it and watch it grow. During a visit to the area, the tree was thriving, and José Simón and other characters from the novel were just as she portrayed them.