Arturo Pérez-Reverte inspires conversation wherever he goes. In Spain, he’s been touring in support of his new novel, Sidi, a reimagining of the life and times of El Cid, an 11th-century soldier and one of the most famous figures in Spanish history. He’s called his novel, which challenges many preconceptions about the man as a hero and conqueror, "the work of a lifetime."
Historical fiction has long been Pérez-Reverte’s milieu. In the United States, he was first published in translation with The Fencing Master (1988), which was followed by The Flanders Panel (1990) and The Club Dumas (2002). But it was his Captain Alatriste series, which kicked off in 1996, that truly catapulted Pérez-Reverte into worldwide fame.
The author, who has sold more than 20 million books worldwide, has also seen success on the small screen. The Queen of the South, his 2002 novel about a Mexican woman who goes on the run to Morocco and subsequently forges a career as an international drug doyenne, has been adapted into two different television series, one in English for the USA Network and another in Spanish for Telemundo. And in September, Univision unveiled El Dragón, another telenovela penned by Pérez-Reverte, this one set among the drug cartels of Mexico and the Yakuza of Japan.
We caught up with Pérez-Reverte to ask him a few questions about the book, social media, and television adaptations of his work.
As perhaps the most popular writer in the world, what is your key message to readers in this age of social media, the internet, and Instagram?
There is no key message. I’m a professional teller of stories, and my readers read them. The means by which these stories reach my readers has changed due to circumstance and over time, but the stories remain the same. Social networks have the advantage of putting them into wider circulation, reaching people who don’t go to bookstores. That’s about it.
With Queen of the South streaming on television in the U.S. and with two different adaptations, do you find your work is read differently in translation—both into English and in the sense that it has now been "translated" into film?
As a medium, literature is destined for a specific audience, while film and television are destined for another. [Screen] adaptations are made by professionals who know both their industry and their audience. It has nothing to do with me. I can’t take credit for the results—good or bad—of the film and television versions of my work. The benefit is that they allow my stories to reach a wider audience that, in many cases, doesn’t read. You could say that my stories are being retold by others. It’s always interesting to see what has been done with them, regardless of whether the results appeal to me.
What is your reflection on the differences between American, Latin American, and Spanish readers? Do you find they are attracted to different aspects of your stories or books? If so, how?
I don’t believe there are specific differences between these groups of readers. At least, I haven’t ever noticed any.
You have been vocal about your political and social views about contemporary society, yet you have set many of your most popular books in the past. How do these two eras interact in your imagination? What lessons have you learned from your reading of history, and reimagining of it, that you’d like to pass along to the next generation?
I don’t hope to pass on anything to the next generation, not least because a novelist has no moral, ethical, social, or educational obligations, or whatever you’d like to call them. In this sense, [a novelist] is free to have political and social views, or not. As far as I’m concerned, my only obligation is to tell good stories in a way that’s both professional and moving; the reader can draw his or her own conclusions. With regard to the past, writing about it is a good way to better understand the present. As one of my characters says, "We are what we are because we were what we were."
Finally, is there something I have not asked that you would like me to? If so, please ask and answer it.
On the contrary, I thank you for your questions—especially the ones you haven’t asked. When all is said and done, the best way to get to know a novelist is to read his writing, not what he says.