World Languages Review: La sonrisa de los peces de piedra (Spain)

La sonrisa de los peces de piedra (The Smile of the Stone Fish) by Rosa Huertas (Anaya). This book is written in Spanish and set in Spain. In 2017, it won the XIV Premio Anaya de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil (Anaya Children’s and Young Adult Literary Prize). In 2017, it was included on the Lista de Honor by the Organización Española Para El Libro Infantil y Juvenil (Spanish Organization for Children’s and Young Adult Books – OEPLI) and in 2018 it won the Fundación Cuatrogatos Award.

The book follows teenager Jaime who, on the death of his grandfather, discovers that his mum has kept a secret from him his whole life: the identity of his father. He has arranged to meet his mum in the cemetery but instead of finding her by his grandfather’s grave, she is standing crying at the grave of another man who has recently passed away: Santiago Muñoz Gallardo, a man who “could be” Jaime’s father.

But Jaime’s mum is not ready yet to tell him the story of his father and so Jaime sets out to try and uncover it himself. The main plot takes place in the modern day with Jaime working to uncover the truth, helped by a diary he has found that his mother is writing. The diary entries transport us back in time to Madrid of the 80s, to a period known as “la movida madrileña”, the post-Franco era when Spain was transitioning to democracy.

Website Madrid Uno describes this period of time as follows: “In parts of Madrid the changes were profound and certain parts of the city erupted into a hedonistic and cultural wave of events. Things got wild. Pornography exploded, gays and prostitution, both previously brutally repressed, began to become very visible and there was widespread use of recreational drugs by the youth.” It is against this backdrop that Jaime’s mum is writing her story which Jaime now reads, learning things about his mum that he could never have imagined, hoping ultimately to discover who his father is.

There is also a love story between Jaime and Ángela, a girl he meets at the cemetery one day. She is grieving for her father, the man who could also be Jaime’s father. While accepting she could be his sister, Jaime feels a huge attraction to Ángela and can’t keep away. This will eventually blow up in his face and there is a very awkward conversation to be had. Ultimately, while Jaime’s mum would have liked Santiago Muñoz Gallardo to have been Jaime’s dad, he is not, but she is ashamed of the circumstances that led to Jaime’s conception which she explains towards the end of the book.
The book contains references to alcohol and drug taking, with the man who does turn out to be Jaime’s father having a drug problem and dying as a result of an overdose.

There are cartoon-style black and white illustrations throughout the book with maps at the back to help orient the reader. There is also a link to a Spotify playlist you can access to hear the Spanish music that is referred to throughout the story.

La sonrisa de los peces de piedra
Rosa Huertas
IBSN: 978 84 698 3336 0
218 pages
Young Adult 14+

Claire Storey is a literary translator based in the UK. She works from German and Spanish into English and has a particular passion for children’s books. She has two children of her own: an eight-year-old son and five-year-old daughter. She also enjoys sharing her love of languages and books with anyone who will listen!
Twitter: @ClaireStorey16

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