Literature options for A Level Spanish
A guide to the set texts for AQA
This guide is based on the set texts from the AQA syllabus for 2023-24.
The AQA A Level in Spanish offers students a hugely diverse selection of books, plays and films on which to base their studies for Paper 2 (Writing). If you haven't yet explored the list of set texts and films, you're in for a treat, as there are some absolutely brilliant works to choose from!
The structure of the AQA Spanish A Level Writing exam
For the AQA Paper 2 (Writing), students choose two of the prescribed literary works and films: either two books, including plays, or one book and one film.
The exam paper features a choice of two essay questions on each of the prescribed literary works and films. The total duration of the exam is 2 hours, and students can make rough notes/essay plans in the answer booklet before writing their answers. All rough work must be crossed out if it is not intended for marking.
Essays should be around 300 words in length; there is no penalty for exceeding the word limit, but students should aim for the recommended word count and keep answers concise and relevant.
Set texts for AQA A Level Spanish
The list of books set for the AQA A Level showcases some fascinating and rewarding works from the Spanish-speaking world.
Here, we take a look at each of the 10 books, including the plays, to help you decide on the best option to study.
Which of them captures your imagination?
Federico García Lorca La casa de Bernarda Alba
Gabriel García Márquez Crónica de una muerte anunciada
Laura Esquivel Como agua para chocolate
Ramón J. Sender Réquiem por un campesino español
Carlos Ruiz Zafón La sombra del viento
Isabel Allende La casa de los espíritus
Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer Rimas
Fernando Fernán-Gómez Las bicicletas son para el verano
Luis de Castresana El otro árbol de Guernica
Gabriel García Márquez El coronel no tiene quien le escriba
La Casa de Bernarda Alba
Federico García Lorca, 1936
The first work on the list for AQA Spanish A Level is La Casa de Bernarda Alba, the last of Lorca's plays, which was finished just two months before he was killed in August 1936, and premiered in 1945 in Argentina. The play is, as its subtitle suggests, a Drama of Women in the Villages of Spain, and it is divided into three acts.
The scenes focus on the interior of a house in a scorching hot town in the south of Spain, during a period of mourning (the so-called "luto" in Spanish). After the death of her second husband, Bernarda Alba, following the strict rules of rigorous mourning, imposes 8 years of isolation on her five daughters, who are locked in the house dressed in black.
The appearance of a man willing to marry the older sister, Angustias - who is the daughter of Bernarda's first husband - causes imbalance within the house. Adela becomes the rebellious daughter who defies her mother and the social norms that are imposed on her.
La Casa de Bernarda Alba is a work that explores the confrontation between freedom and authority, repression and desire, showing a part of the 'deep' Spanish society of the 1930s and the harsh situation of women at that time. As is usually the case with this writer, the text is full of symbols and metaphors that help to accentuate the drama. This last work by Lorca thus becomes a symbol of the repressed passions and the terrible consequences of this repression.
One line from the play: Nacer mujer es el mayor castigo. - Amelia, Act II
Why study this play? La Casa de Bernarda Alba is an intense and moving story, which conveys the characters' feeling of suffocation, their anguish and their desire for freedom. Although it was written in the 1930s, this work contains a powerful denunciation of injustices against women, which makes it very relevant even today.
💡 Tip: If you can find an opportunity to watch a live production, this will really bring your studies to life: Instituto Cervantes is a good place to look for Spanish-language cultural activities and events in the UK.
Crónica de una muerte anunciada
Gabriel García Márquez, 1981
The first of two texts on this list by Nobel Prize-winning Colombian writer García Márquez, Crónica de una muerte anunciada is a short novel taking the form of a pseudo-journalistic retelling of the story of a murder which no one tried to prevent.
From the start of the tale, the reader knows that the central figure, Santiago Nasar, is going to be killed: "El día en que lo iban a matar, Santiago Nasar se levantó a las 5.30 de la mañana para esperar el buque en que llegaba el obispo."
Questions of morality and collective responsibility are explored in this novella, which elaborates a story based on a real-life crime committed in Colombia. The murder itself is not investigated by the narrator; the focus is instead placed on the behaviour of the town as a whole in failing to prevent the crime, and on how the protagonist remained unaware of his fate even on the morning of the day on which he would be killed.
“I did not want the reader to start from the end to see if the crime was committed or not, so I decided to put it in the first sentence of the book.”
- Gabriel García Márquez, from the Prologue to Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Santiago Gamboa)
One line from the book: Nunca hubo una muerte más anunciada.
Why study this book? Crónica de una muerte anunciada is a compact, engaging short text, with plenty of thought-provoking details for the reader. This twist on the murder mystery puts the town itself at the centre of the investigation, raising challenging questions about responsibility, fate, and human nature.
Como agua para chocolate
Laura Esquivel, 1989
The ingredients for happiness, literally and figuratively, are at the heart of this novel.
Set in Mexico during the Revolution (the period of around 1910-1920), the story is structured around recipes from a cookbook written by the protagonist, Tita, who has a deep love of cooking and was even "born on the kitchen table".
Each chapter starts with one of Tita's recipes, and the emotions that Tita puts into her cooking are magically stirred in those who eat her food.
Tita is the youngest in her family, and from an early age she is aware that her life has been decided for her. She is prevented from marrying the man she loves, Pedro, who ends up marrying her sister while Tita must care for her mother.
Food and cooking are shown to be a vehicle for emotions and an influence on them too. Tita's food is a way for her to express her identity and individuality in a way in which she is not otherwise able to do; her role in the family requires her to take on a lot of responsibilites, taking care of her mother and nephew, and she enjoys very little freedom except for in the kitchen.
Against the backdrop of the violence, conflict and politics of the Revolution, this story focuses on the protagonist's emotional world: as well as Tita's love interest, her family life, with all its obligations, expectations and traditions, takes centre stage as she tries to balance her commitments and find freedom.
At the same time as maintaining the family culinary traditions, using recipes and ingredients that have been passed down for generations, Tita tries to break the unfair, repressive traditions imposed by the older generation that would hold her, and later her great-niece, back from finding true happiness.
💡 Tip: The 1992 cinematic adaptation of the book was a critical success: you may find it helpful to look up the Spanish-language version to watch once you have read the novel.
One line from the book: Dicen que Tita era tan sensible que desde que estaba en el vientre de mi bisabuela lloraba y lloraba cuando ésta picaba cebolla. - Narrator (Chapter 1, p. 11)
Why study this text? Como agua para chocolate is an approachable text for the A Level reader and has an appealing and fun structure. Laura Esquivel's narrative style brings the story of this early 20th Century Mexican family to life for the modern reader through the perspectives of the female characters at its heart.
Réquiem por un campesino español
Ramón J. Sender, 1953
Ramón J. Sender wrote Réquiem por un campesino español during his exile in the United States. In the Spanish Civil War, his first wife and his brother had been shot by the Francoist side.
This short book tells the life of Paco “el del Molino”, a republican peasant from a town in the northeast of Spain, killed in the war. Paco was a much-loved character in the town, and a leader in the republican struggle.
The story is told from the point of view of Mosen Millán, the town's parish priest, who had been indirectly responsible for his capture and murder. Mosen recalls the life of Paco, whom he loved as if she were his son, while he prepares a requiem for his death. During the novel, the testimonies of other characters and those attending the funeral are also heard, who are also considered to be indirectly guilty of Paco's death, along with the parish priest.
Mosén Millán symbolises the role of the Catholic Church, and the author makes a fierce criticism of the role it had in the pre-war and Spanish Civil War; in fact, the first title of the book was "Mosén Millán", but it was changed later to the current title. Millán justifies the poverty of those most in need, and defends the 'status quo' of those who have power and privileges. In this way, the priest is complicit in a system that perpetuates misery.
The story is written in a sober, realistic and simple style, but is deep and shocking. The atmosphere reflects an environment full of remorse and also hypocrisy.
One line from the book: Cuando Dios permite la pobreza y el dolor —dijo— es por algo. - Mosén Millán
Why study this text? Réquiem por un campesino español is a short but complex work, and very affecting. The depth in the thoughts of the characters helps to reflect on the contradictions between the conflicting ideologies and forces at work during this period of Spanish history.
💡 Tip: The thematic content of the book links closely with two different sub-themes from the A Level Spanish syllabus: La influencia de la Iglesia Católica and Monarquías y dictaduras.
La sombra del viento
Carlos Ruiz Zafón, 2001
La sombra del viento is a worldwide bestseller, and was the first work published in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books saga. This is a series of four novels, all set in Barcelona, which tell stories from the beginning of the industrial revolution until shortly after the Spanish Civil War: La sombra del viento, El juego del ángel, El prisionero del cielo and El laberinto de los espíritus. Its author, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, was a prominent Spanish writer born in Catalonia in 1964.
In the story, which begins in 1945, 13-year-old Daniel Sempere, an orphan of a mother and the son of a bookseller, is taken by his father to a mysterious place: the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, which will change the course of his life. In this place, which is a kind of library where all kinds of books are stored, his father invites Daniel to choose one, and he decides on La sombra del viento, by a certain Julián Carax. Daniel reads the entire book that same night and becomes obsessed with finding out more about the author of the work.
This novel is a mystery book that mixes techniques of intrigue, historical novel and comedy, as well as magical realism. In it, different plots and enigmas are intertwined that must be opened and deciphered, like Russian dolls. It is also a tragic story of love and unrequited love, all framed within the years of the Franco dictatorship, and with some references to the Civil War.
One line from the book: Es una historia de amor, de odio y de los sueños que viven en la sombra del viento.
Why study this book? La sombra del viento is an international bestseller, with more than a million copies sold. It is an entertaining book which maintains a profound sense of mystery and truly engages the reader throughout. Furthermore, it is a tribute to the city of Barcelona, and a journey through its streets and its deep secrets.
La casa de los espíritus
Isabel Allende, 1982
La casa de los espíritus is the debut novel by Chilean writer Isabel Allende, and was published in 1982. The book tells the story of four generations of a powerful family of landowners in a Latin American country whose name is not specified.
In the first decades of the 20th century, Severo and Nívea del Valle are a well-to-do family who live on a hacienda. Outstanding among their children are Rosa, who is strikingly beautiful, and Clara, who has clairvoyant powers and is capable of communicating with spirits. During her childhood, Clara was able to predict an accidental death in the family. The history of the family is reconstructed thanks to the notes in Clara's notebook, and she becomes the main narrator of the book.
Another crucial character, the despotic patriarch Esteban Trueba, has built an empire that is beginning to falter due to a social context in political turmoil, and due to his own personal decadence.
La casa de los espíritus has a strong political background, which touches on issues such as social classes and the revolution, as well as a clear reflection of injustices against women. In the book, the references to the coup d'état that led in 1973 to the beginning of Pinochet's military dictatorship in Chile are also fundamental, although Allende did not use real names.
One line from the book: En pocas horas el país se dividió en dos bandos irreconciliables y la división comenzó a extenderse entre todas las familias.
Why study this text? La casa de los espíritus is a best-selling book that was also made into a film, starring Jeremy Irons, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Winona Ryder and Antonio Banderas. It is a sensitive and complete work that brings the reader closer to various realities of Latin American society and to the situation of women in that context.
Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, pub. 1871
Rimas is a book of poems by the Sevillian writer Bécquer, one of the great icons of Spanish Romanticism. This work was published after the author's death, in 1871, thanks to his friends and relatives, who collected his poems and helped to publish them.
Bécquer, who was not very successful during his lifetime, had said: "If you can, publish my verses. I have the feeling that when dead I will be more and better known than when alive." He was not wrong: the Rimas became one of the most famous collections of poetry in Spanish literature, and influenced many of the poets of later generations.
The book is made up of 79 short poems, mostly one, two, or three stanzas. Its main themes are typical of Romanticism: the reflection on what poetry is, normally linked to the feminine (rhymes I to VIII), the longing for idealized love that is very difficult to achieve (IX to XXIX); disappointment in love, the sadness of unrequited or impossible love (XXX to IL); anguish, disappointment and death (LII onwards). It has been said that the Rimas are, in short, the story of an unhappy love.
Something that characterises the Rimas is that they mix elements of cultured poetry (poesía culta) with others of popular lyric (lírica popular), which is its most innovative element, making it a precedent for modern poetry.
One line from the book: Volverán las oscuras golondrinas / en tu balcón sus nidos a colgar, / [...] aquellas que aprendieron nuestros nombres.... ésas... ¡no volverán!
Why study this book? Rimas is written in a simple and emotional language, not dark or hard to read, and it can be picked up quickly by the reader. It is also the only poetic book in the A Level Spanish syllabus, and a unique opportunity to get closer to one of the most characteristic writers of the 19th century through poetry.
Las bicicletas son para el verano
Fernando Fernán-Gómez, 1977
The only play written by the acclaimed Spanish actor, screenwriter and film director Fernando Fernán-Gómez, Las bicicletas son para el verano presents the day-to-day lives of a small group of people against the backdrop of the Civil War in Spain.
The play shows the events immediately before, during and after the Civil War from the perspective of families experiencing them, and explores how relationships between people change as a result of the conflict.
Set in 1936, the action of the play focuses on the lives of Don Luis and Dolores, their children, Luisito and Manolita, and their neighbours and maid, who come to rely on one another more and more for essential provisions and for support as the war continues.
At the start of the play, Luisito asks his father to buy him a bicycle for the summer so that he can meet his friends and go out with girls. The purchase of the bicycle is postponed when war breaks out, and by the time the war is over, Luisito's life has changed completely.
Manolita, Luisito's sister, has aspirations of becoming an actress, but by the end of the play, her life has been marked by tragedy.
There is a film adaptation of the play (dir. Jaime Chávarri, 1984), which received critical acclaim.
One line from the play: Pero no ha llegado la paz, Luisito: ha llegado la victoria. - Don Luis, Epílogo, Las bicicletas son para el verano
Why study this play? We see the impact of the war on a personal level as Fernán-Gómez creates a window into family life at the time, giving a close-up portrait of the repercussions of the conflict on individuals and their aspirations.
El otro árbol de Guernica
Luis de Castresana, 1967
Through the eyes of the young protagonist, Santi, this book tells the story of a group of children evacuated to Belgium from the Basque Country during the Civil War.
These children were sent from Spain to live in other countries in order to continue with their normal lives in whichever ways they could during the conflict. The primary reason for evacuation was their safety, but evacuated children could also continue with their studies in some way and retain a sense of community and identity.
Santi, his sister and the other children try to remember their past and their families as they grow up far from home. Friendship and resilience are the key to overcoming the pain and suffering of the situation as they wait for news that the war is over.
One line from the book: Santi había pensado más de una vez [...] que cada criatura humana necesitaba tierra propia en la cual echar raíces muy hondas para crecer y desarrollarse. Tal vez por eso le gustaban tanto los árboles.
Why study this text? In a similar way to Las bicicletas son para el verano, this text will appeal to students with an interest in Spanish history. It is a story told in a completely different style, though, being a novel with a young first-person narrator, and focuses on the experiences of the evacuees rather than those who remained in Spain.
💡 Tip: A Level students report that they find the writing in El otro árbol de Guernica very accessible and easy to follow. Since the narrator is a young person, vocabulary is relatively easy to understand, whilst the narrative style is effective and direct.
El coronel no tiene quien le escriba
Gabriel García Márquez, 1961
The last text in the AQA Spanish A Level list is arguably one of the most powerful and beautiful works of literature in the Spanish language.
Nobel Prize-winning writer García Márquez himself considered this his "simplest work" and his masterpiece:
Yo creo que es mi mejor libro, sin lugar a dudas. Además, y esto no es una boutade, tuve que escribir 'Cien años de soledad' para que leyeran 'El coronel no tiene quien le escriba'. - Gabriel García Márquez
Being a short piece of fiction, around 80 pages in length depending on the edition, it makes for an accessible and hugely rewarding text to study at A Level.
The novella relates the day-to-day life of a retired colonel who is waiting for a pension that never arrives. The colonel is a veteran of the Thousand Days' War in Colombia and lives with his wife, who suffers from asthma and poor health. Every Friday the colonel goes to the post office in the hope of receiving his pension
Universal themes of hope, truth, morality, time, poverty and wealth, life and death are weaved into this deceptively simple story, which begins with the colonel preparing to attend a funeral one morning in October.
One line from the book: El coronel destapó el tarro del café y comprobó que no había más de una cucharadita. - Opening sentence, page 1
Why study this text? El coronel is beautifully written, with easy-to-follow dialogue interspersed with García Márquez's characteristically rich and original prose. As the shortest of the prescribed A Level Spanish texts, El coronel especially suits those students who enjoy close reading, are detail-oriented and like to gain a deep understanding of what they study.
Conclusion: Which book should I choose for Spanish A Level?
The A Level Paper 2 is a wonderful opportunity to connect with Spanish-speaking culture and immerse yourself fully in the Spanish language. Most students say it is a favourite part of the A Level course, and with such a range of works to choose from, you can make it a highlight of your learning experience too.
Ultimately, the AQA Spanish A Level syllabus presents students with an incredibly diverse selection of books, plays and films from which to choose. Although you will need to specify your chosen works in advance of the exam date, as this information is entered on the IRP form prior to your Speaking assessment, you can use the list as a basis for more extensive reading during your A Level Spanish course. Whichever option you choose, you will gain a unique insight into a part of the Spanish-speaking world and come to understand the cultural and historical contexts of each book or film in a new way.
💡 Looking for ways to boost your grade at A Level? You can take a look at our best tips for Spanish A Level essay writing in our blog.
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