Saturday, June 17, 2023

Q&A with Ana Veciana-Suarez




Ana Veciana-Suarez is the author of the new historical novel Dulcinea. Her other books include the essay collection Birthday Parties in Heaven. Also a syndicated columnist, she lives in Miami.


Q: Why did you decide to write a historical novel about the fictional muse who inspired Don Quixote?


A: I read Don Quixote in its original Spanish when I was in the 10th grade and was fascinated by the character of Dulcinea, who remained in the shadows though she was an integral part of the knight’s story.


I decided then and there that I would one day give this fictional woman her own story and voice. It’s taken me half a century and several detours, including other novels, to keep that promise to my teenage self.


That said, I’m not sure this was the kind of book I could have written at a younger age. My Dulcinea is a conflicted, complicated woman who looks back at the choices she made in her life and asks, “What if?” a lot.


Q: What did you see as the right balance between history and fiction as you wrote the novel?


A: I wanted to stay true to the timeline of Miguel Cervantes’s life, so that served as the guardrails for the narrative. However, there are chunks of Cervantes’ time scholars have not accounted for, so I used that in my favor. It provided me with the freedom to place Cervantes in Barcelona frequently, where much of the story takes place.


In historical fiction, history should serve only as background. It’s like an undergarment – there but invisible to the eye of the beholder. The story of my Dulcinea and her forbidden love takes precedence. Facts flavor it, but nothing beyond that.

Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I spent about a year reading dozens of books, theses, and diaries. A few were in English, but most were in Spanish and Catalan. I’m completely bilingual in Spanish and English, but my Catalan is rudimentary so wading through those documents proved a challenge. (My mother and paternal grandparents spoke it, and I have lots of family in Barcelona and other parts of Catalonia.)


I had planned to visit Barcelona for research in the spring of 2020, after receiving a CINTAS fellowship, but COVID quashed that. I had to rely on ancient maps and documents I found online as well as my memory of the city from previous visits.


I was most surprised by how much the late 16th century and early 17th century resembled our current moment. In Golden Age Spain, there was a deep distrust of the “other” and all manner of irrational beliefs about why things happened, a sort of misinformation and disinformation. Religion played an outsized part in society, helping the vocal few control the many.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book called it a “feminist reclamation of Don Quixote’s Dulcinea that explores what happens when the woman who inspired the character is able to confront the writer.” What do you think of that description?


A: Honestly, I never thought of my Dulcinea’s account as a feminist reclamation or retelling of the most famous book in Spanish literature. But, in hindsight, I realize the Kirkus description is actually spot on. Very incisive and accurate.


While writing, I saw Dolça Llull Prat as a woman burdened by a secret, a woman who desperately wants to make things right. Hers is a story of missed opportunities and second chances, beginnings and endings, regrets and amends. Like each of our stories when we get to a certain age.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I just finished the first draft of a novel that also takes place in Barcelona. I didn’t think I would write another historical novel after Dulcinea, but I fell in love with that time period. I may live in it for a while.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: You don’t have to read Don Quixote to enjoy my version of Dulcinea. For those who have, I hope you notice the small nods of acknowledgement to that classic.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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