CL- León Arsenal

On Tuesday the 13th of this month we held our favourite event: the CL, which in Spanish literally stands for “Círculo Literario” (i.e.Readingor Book Club, so to speak). We basically pick a book from our library and invite the writer to participate. Vis-à-vis, communication becomes fluent, and we freely can “dig characters, target, story, historical background and motivation out”.  This time the CL was conducted in an Arts & Literature Club in Madrid with León Arsenal and talked about LOS MALOS AÑOS, his latest piece of work.

León Arsenal’s real name is José Antonio Alvaro, but chose to write under a pseudonym simply because when he started writing his career was dramatically different. For many years, León worked as a Marine Pilot. This intensive travelling overseas provided him with plenty of time to be with himself at the gun deck, and the opportunity to convey his thoughts onto a piece of paper. He could then see how this new, unexpected horizon dawned gradually, so he decided to keep both careers strictly separated, and “tug” himself into a new id: León Arsenal. So he keeps at present somehow free-flowing while helping his next project get ripe: the novel for youngsters to which he devotes much of his energy, time and expectations. Because the only thing he expects from writing is, simply and straightforwardly amusing end-readers.

We liked “Los malos años” mainly because of its:

  • Historical background: León chose the later or “low” period of Middle Age that our parents studied, which somehow is quite unknown to our generation. Whereas Houses of Trastamara or Alburquerque do not sound that familiar anymore, understanding this period of History helps us understand present times. Moreover, León interprets this political conflict in Castile as the starting point of further Spanish civil wars.

    Susanna Lindblom, Stefanie Müller and León Arsenal

  • Richness and accuracy of lexicon: whether equestrian, martial, ceremonial, attire or weapon-related, León likes calling things by the right name, mainly because a proper, accurate use of the Spanish language is one of his main concerns.
  • Approach to intriguing: just have a look at “….at the time, treachery and honour commonly boiled in the same pot …”-  chapter 29, page 357- sounds tense, doesn’t it?
  • Tale’s dynamics: León succeeds in adding “animation” in and keeping historical rigueur at the same time.
  • “Cloudy”, unexplained areas: a few characters, fit the profile of illustrious figures of the Spanish History and Literature (i.e. Juan “el Muerto”, es el  Arcipreste de Hita), but it is left up to the reader to decide who is who. Original, isn’t it?


• Type: Historical Novel
• Time Frame: XIV century, first half.
• Place: Kingdoms of  Castile and Aragon (Spain)
• Historical background: in 1350, the whole country is devastated by the Black Pest or Death- so called in the Bible-, one of the worst pandemics all over Europe.The IberianPeninsula comprehends five Kingdoms: Portugal, Castile,Aragon,Navarre andGranada, this latter still Beriberi-owned. King Peter I, known as “the Cruel” for his merciless, impulsive reactions and corresponding far-reaching consequences, imprisons his French newlywed – Blanche of Bourbon – in Toledo Al-Quasar, while sticking to his already existing out-of-wed-lock family. As the Black Death has “severed” half of the population and the country is economically ruined, political expectations do not seem more promising….

SOMETHING TO REMARK:  the “choral” feature of the novel, that is to say, all characters have the same weight in the story. The absence of a main character adds up originality, which is reflected on the structure by the insertion of a Character Roaster. Providing a list of the people involved in the plot works very well as a reference guide: characters are numerous but bear similar names – i.e. the name of the three kings in the book is Peter-which might have been fashionable at the time.

FURTHER  READING: Pedro I el Cruel, by Manuel Barrios. Pedro I el Cruel y Enrique de Trastamara: ¿La primera guerra civil?, by Julio Valdeón Baruque.

READABILITY RATE: C1-C2 – advanced to competent. The readability rate of index tells us about the reading difficulty degree or level for non-native speakers. Native speakers can also benefit from this benchmarking.