If these recommendations were to be organized in the form of a ranking, I think there is little doubt about which is the most relevant biography published in these first months of the year: Un cor furtiu. Life of Josep Pla (Destino, which will also publish the Spanish translation in May) by Xavier Pla. It is monumental – 1,533 pages –, ambitious and rigorous, the result of long years of research into the life and work of the Empordà writer. His most notable merit is that he manages to portray in all his complexity a character full of edges and a master of confusion. Here appears the great prose writer, the political schemer, the elusive lover, the man of a thousand masks capable of adapting like a chameleon to changing times. Without a doubt we are facing a milestone of the biographical genre and in all probability before the definitive book on Pla.

In this league of definitive biographies with a thickness close to a thousand pages, two other titles should be highlighted: Byron. Life and legend (Taurus), by Fiona MacCarthy, about the romantic poet who was a kind of 19th-century rockstar, and Kierkegaard. The philosopher of anguish and seduction (Tusquets), by Joakin Garff, about the Danish thinker. In both cases, documentary rigor is combined with expository amenity and the aim is to seek approaches that go beyond the trite, without avoiding or glossing over the less edifying aspects of those biographies, who are able to be portrayed in all their complexity. Regarding the character of Byron, whose bicentenary of his death is celebrated this year, the rescue of a classic about his figure has also just arrived in bookstores: Byron in love (Cabaret Voltaire), by Edna O’Brian , much shorter than MacCarthy’s proposal and focused above all on the intimacy, passions and excesses of the biographer.

A very worthy female figure is Élisabeth Louise Vigée Lebrun, Marie Antoinette’s main painter, whose public image she helped shape through her portraits. Marc Fumaroli dedicated a brief and exquisite biographical essay entitled Mundus muliebris to this artist. Élisabeth Louise Vigée Lebrun, painter of the female Ancien Regime (Cliff), in which she vindicates this relevant figure often ignored.

Also important was, in her case in the field of Latin American literature, the Chilean Gabriela Mistral. The first literary figure from that continent to win the Nobel Prize –in 1945–, he is the subject of study by the specialist Elisabeth Horan in Gabriela Mistral. Only those who love me find me (Lumen). The book delves into her literary career, her political struggles, the circles she associated with, and her intimate relationship with artist Laura Roding. Another high-flying writer, Mercè Rodoreda, is profiled by Mercè Ibarz in Bee Furious of Her Honey / Portrait of Mercè Rodoreda (Anagrama / Empúries), which explores the years of exile, the intimate conflicts and the determination above all to forge an enduring literary work.

For her part, Julià Guillamon investigates, with her usual meticulousness, the adventures of El jove Palau i Fabre (Galaxia Gutenberg), a multifaceted figure that the author places precisely in the context of his time: a youth marked by the Republic and the outbreak of the Civil War. A few years later, in the midst of Franco’s regime, Con corazón de fuego / Amb cor de foc (Galaxia Gutenberg) begins, which brings together the correspondence between Joan Brossa and Antoni Tàpies from 1950 to 1991, preceded by an extensive and erudite study by Manuel Guerrero Brullet. Without leaving the Barcelona of Franco’s regime, Until the last breath (Tusquets), by Manuel Calderón, winner of the Comillas prize, tells in a kind of parallel lives the story of Salvador Puig Antich, without the usual hagiographic overtones, and that of his victim in the September 1973 shooting, the young police inspector Francisco Anguas.

In those times of counterculture, in New York one of the nerve centers of the artistic world was Andy Warhol’s Factory, evoked by the actress and Warholian muse Mary Woronov in Swimming underground (Reservoir Books). Her autobiography has the merit of providing a vibrant and chiaroscuro account of that nest of artists, alleged artists and geeks. She knew that environment well Luc Sante, admirable chronicler of the urban cultures and subcultures of New York and Paris, who now, transformed into Lucy Sante, tells of her gender transition in She Was Me (KO Books).

Also belonging to testimonial literature is I don’t know if I explain myself (Espasa), the memoirs of the controversial and debatable film critic Carlos Boyero. If his fame as a critic is due to the fact that he says what he thinks without cutting corners, let’s say that he applies the same criterion of raw sincerity when evoking his life in these memoirs in which he speaks openly about his addictions, detoxifications and use of paid sex , in addition to his arrival in Madrid from the provinces, his beginnings in journalism and his famously bad relationship with Almodóvar.

In an obviously very different register, Pope Francis tells in Life. My story through History (HarperCollins) – written with the collaboration of journalist Fabio Marchese Ragona – his origins, the awakening of his religious faith, his experience of violent historical events – from the Second World War, when he was a teenager, to the times of the Argentine dictatorship – and his arrival at the Vatican with the aim of changing many things. In addition to reviewing his biography, he also reflects on poverty, war conflicts, the environment, the need for an ethical commitment and faith.

From the legendary journalist and New Yorker contributor Janet Malcolm, who died in 2021, we now receive Still Photographs (Taurus), a suggestive fragmentary memoir constructed from a succession of snapshots. From her birth in Prague and her arrival as a child to New York to her brilliant journalistic career and the controversy in which she was involved when a person portrayed in one of her reports sued her for defamation and manipulation of her words, calling into question her long and prestigious career.

For its part, We are all missing something (Three Sisters) is the fourth volume of Laura Freixas’s diaries, focused on the years 2000-2002 and in which the marital crisis occupies a prominent place. The secret diary of John F. Kennedy (Vegueta) belongs to the same genre, which actually brings together two diaries, that of the future president and that of Lem Billings, his traveling companion on the journey that the two young Americans made through Europe in the summer of 1937. A year later, in 1938, a group of admirers and disciples launched a plan to remove the octogenarian father of psychoanalysis from Vienna, as Saving Freud tells it. A Life in Vienna (Review) by Andrew Nagorski.

And to finish, a couple of literary classics: on the one hand, Verlaine (Cliff) by Stefan Zweig, in the line of the classic informative biographies of the author, which in this case focuses on the French poet. He has the added value that this work written on behalf of a Berlin publisher is the first of the many biographies that he undertook throughout his life. And finally, The Noise of Time (Elba), the precious childhood memories in the form of short vignettes by Osip Mandelstam, a sublime poet who years later had the audacity to write some satirical verses about Stalin and paid for it with his life.