A prominent literary family reflects Spain’s tumultuous past.
Making his book debut, journalist Shulman creates a deeply researched portrait of the Paneros, one of Spain’s most notorious families: patriarch Leopoldo (1909-1962), a well-regarded poet during the Franco dictatorship; his unhappy wife, Felicidad; and his three tormented sons. The author’s fascination with the family began in 2012, when he watched El desencanto, a documentary made in 1976, in which Felicidad and her adult sons spoke candidly about their relationships with Leopoldo and one another, revealing anger, bitterness, and loneliness. The movie elevated the Paneros “into a cultural phenomenon,” Shulman writes, and sparked his own interest in the family’s “refreshing weirdness, poetic obsessions, and sacrilegious taste for destruction.” He is not alone in responding to their “lasting magnetism.” They have inspired academic studies, fiction, poetry, songs, films, memoirs, volumes of correspondence, and republication of their own works—“a literary subgenre unto themselves.” Central to the family’s story is the question of Leopoldo’s commitment to fascism. Like others of his generation, he chose “survival over principles” in supporting Franco, “warts and all.” As a well-respected poet, he knew that Spain needed cultured men “to burnish the country’s reputation—and to defend it, a cause he assiduously took up.” He served as a censor, took a diplomatic post in London (where he befriended T.S. Eliot), directed a government-sponsored literary magazine, convened literary conferences, and became editorial director of the Spanish Reader’s Digest. If his political stance enraged the likes of Pablo Neruda, who attacked him as “a Francoist executioner,” in Spain his reputation flourished. A success professionally, his personal life was a mess. He was, Shulman reveals, “a cryptic, complicated, and often difficult man, and his personality and the power he wielded over his family left a profound mark on his wife and children.” Felicidad felt unloved and oppressed; his sons, beset by their own demons, failed to achieve the literary success to which they aspired. Spain’s roiling history, beginning in the 1930s, forms the backdrop to the family’s turmoil.
A richly detailed history chronicles a family’s pain.