March 12, 2010 / 3:26 PM / 7 years ago

Spanish veteran rural novelist Delibes dead at 89

MADRID (Reuters Life!) - Miguel Delibes, who dominated Spanish writing for more than 50 years with his mastery of the language, sensitive but realistic portrayal of downtrodden farm workers and love of nature, died on Friday.

He was 89.

Politicians set aside fierce squabbling over Spain's crisis to join in praising Delibes, whose career spanned the country's painful recovery from a devastating civil war and its transition from a grim dictatorship to a modern European democracy.

"One of the great writers of the Castillian language in the 20th century has left us," said Carmen Caffarel, director of the Cervantes Institute, which teaches the Spanish language and culture around the world.

Delibes' frank reporting of rural life brought him into conflict in his early years with the censors of Francisco Franco's regime, and in his own words taught him that "I had to say as much as possible with as few words as possible."

Delibes also criticized the despoliation of the countryside often wrought by hectic urbanization of Spain and construction booms in recent decades.

The hallmark of his writing was the purity of the language as spoken in his native Castille, the region which gave birth to Castillian, the dominant language in Spain which is spoken by some 450 million people worldwide.

He is best known for "El Camino" (The Road), a coming of age novel which has been required reading for generations of Spanish schoolchildren, and "Los Santos Inocentes" (The Holy Innocents), a brutal portrayal of rural poverty imbued with a deep love of flora and fauna.

FILMS, TV, THEATER

His ability to set down everyday speech on paper allowed many of his novels to be successfully filmed or televised, and "Los Santos Inocentes" won Best Actor at the 1984 Cannes Film festival.

Delibes also wrote one of the most successful stage monologues in Spanish theater, "Cinco Horas con Mario" (Five Hours with Mario).

In all, he penned more than 50 titles, including travelogues from journeys across Europe and Latin America, and countless essays and articles as well as his novels and plays.

Born in 1920, Delibes first began writing as a journalist to supplement his earnings as a lecturer in commercial law. He abandoned writing altogether for several years after the death of his wife Angeles in 1973, with whom he had seven children.

He picked up the Nadal Prize in 1948 for his first novel "La Sombra del Cipres es Alargada" (Lengthy is the Shadow of the Cypress Tree), the first of a string of awards including the Cervantes Prize, the most coveted for writers in Spanish.

Miguel Delibes Setien was born on October 17, 1919, in northwestern city Valladolid, where he died on Friday after a long illness.

Writing by Martin Roberts, editing by Paul Casciato

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