Arturo Pérez-Reverte inspires conversation wherever he goes. For the past several months, he has been touring in support of his new novel, Sidi (Alfaguara), a reimagining of the life and times of El Cid, the 11th-century soldier and one of the most famous figures in the history of Spain. Pérez-Reverte has said that the novel, which challenges many preconceptions about the man as a hero and conqueror and took him a year and a half to write, is “the work of a lifetime.” It was published with a first printing of 145,000 copies.
Historical fiction has long been Pérez-Reverte’s milieu, and he was catapulted into worldwide fame with his series about Captain Alatriste, first released in 1996. His 2002 novel, The Queen of the South, the contemporary story of a Mexican woman who goes on the run to Morocco and subsequently forges a career as an international drug doyenne based in Spain, demonstrated his ability to capture the headlines—perhaps a skill he honed after a long career as a journalist, and one he’s never quite given up.
The Queen of the South has had a long afterlife, too, having been adapted into two different television series: one in English for the USA Network that is now in its fourth season, and another in Spanish for Telemundo, which first debuted in telenovela format in 2011 and had a second season earlier this year. In September, Univision unveiled El Dragón, another international drug crime telenovela penned by Pérez-Reverte; this one is set among the drug cartels of Mexico and Yakuza of Japan.
We caught up with the author, who has sold more than 20 million books worldwide, to ask him to reflect on the role of the writer in these trying times.
As one of the most popular writers 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 in 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, which, 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 or not.
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—today and historical times—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 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.