Juan Goytisolo, one of Spain’s most celebrated writers, whose experimental, linguistically audacious novels and stories savaged his country’s conservatism, both religious and sexual, and gloried in its Moorish past, died on Sunday at his home in Marrakesh, Morocco. He was 86.
His death was announced by his literary agency, Carmen Balcells, which did not state the cause.
Mr. Goytisolo (pronounced goy-tee-SO-lo) began his literary career in the mid-1950s with a series of realist novels, and in his 1959 essay collection, “Problems of the Novel,” argued for socially conscious realism.
With “Marks of Identity,” published in 1966, the first novel in a trilogy that explores a fictional version of his own life and 700 years of Spanish history, he broke free from his former manner. Rejecting realism, he developed a stream-of-consciousness, collagelike approach, and, in Joycean fashion, pushed relentlessly against the boundaries of the Spanish language.
“Marks of Identity,” which he called his “first adult novel,” reconstructs the past of an exile who returns to Barcelona after the Spanish Civil War, his life evoked through a swirl of memories, snippets of newspaper articles and police reports and interior monologues rendered in free verse.
Its successor, “Count Julian” (1970), was even more daring. Its narrator, living in exile in Tangier, Morocco, avenges himself on his homeland in a drug-fueled fantasy in which his identity merges with that of Julian, Count of Ceuta, a legendary traitor accused of facilitating the Islamic conquest of Spain.
The Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes, in The New York Times Book Review, called “Don Julian” a “landmark novel of Spanish literature” and “the most terrible attack against the oppressive forces of a nation that I have ever read.”
He added: “Nothing that black has written against white, or woman against man, or son against father, reaches quite the peak of intense hatred and horror that Goytisolo achieved in this novel. That he does it with magnificent beauty and perfect craftsmanship only adds to the power of invective against his ‘harsh homeland.’”
After completing the trilogy with “Juan the Landless” (1975), Mr. Goytisolo, who lived in exile in Paris and Marrakesh for most of his life, went on to explore the themes of alienation, deracination, political oppression and sexuality — he embraced his homosexuality in his 30s — in allusive, difficult novels, story collections, poems, political reporting and two volumes of memoirs.
Like his literary hero and friend Jean Genet, Mr. Goytisolo despised definitions, causes and orthodoxies. He was, he wrote in “Forbidden Territory” (1985), his first volume of memoirs, “that strange species of writer claimed by none and alien and hostile to groups and categories.” He was nevertheless honored in 2014 with the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, the most prestigious literary award in the Spanish-speaking world, for his life’s work.
Juan Goytisolo Gay was born on Jan. 5, 1931, in Barcelona, to Julia Gay and José María Goytisolo, a chemical company executive and an arch-conservative of Basque ancestry.
The family’s comfortable life was upended by the civil war, during which Juan’s father was briefly imprisoned by the Republicans in their ultimately losing fight against the right-wing rebel Nationalists. The family took refuge in the village of Viladrau, about 50 miles from Barcelona, but Juan’s mother, on a visit to the city in 1938, died in a bombing raid by the rebels’ Italian allies ordered by Benito Mussolini.
“I am the son not of my mother, but of the civil war, its messianism, its hatred,” Mr. Goytisolo told The New York Times Magazine in 2006.
After the Civil War, Juan studied at a Jesuit school in Barcelona and made his first forays into fiction, writing a dozen novels between the ages of 12 and 16 — ripping yarns set in exotic locales.
“As I completed each of them, I would seek out some younger and weaker child than myself to serve as an audience,” he told the reference work World Authors in 1975, “and would shut myself into a room with him and read them to him from start to finish.”
His two brothers also became well-known writers: the poet José Agustín Goytisolo, who died in 1999, and the novelist Luis Goytisolo, his only immediate survivor.
Mr. Goytisolo studied law, reluctantly, at the University of Madrid and the University of Barcelona without earning a degree. His opposition to the Nationalist regime of Gen. Francisco Franco and an enthusiasm for Marx led him to embrace Communism, his fervor stoked when he came across begging letters written by slaves on the Cuban sugar plantation owned by his paternal great-grandfather.
His first post-teenage novel, “The Young Assassins,” about a group of revolutionary students who turn on one of their own, took two years to work its way through government censors and reach publication in 1954. It had little impact in Spain but sold well in French translation, and Mr. Goytisolo, after writing his second novel, “Children of Chaos,” and performing six months of military service, moved to Paris in 1956.
He found work as a reader for Gallimard, one of France’s premier publishing houses, and wrote several neorealist novels, including “Fiestas” and “Island of Women,” with diminishing satisfaction. At the same time, his enthusiasm for Communism waned. The French Communist Party reminded him uncomfortably of the Roman Catholic Church, and reporting trips to Cuba gave him a jaundiced view of the Castro revolution.
His works, banned in Spain, were usually published in Mexico or Argentina. He returned on occasion to Spain, the source of two political travelogues describing harsh conditions in Anadalusia: “Countryside of Níjar” (1960) and “La Chanca” (1962), the latter named after a poor neighborhood in Almería.
Not long after arriving in Paris, Mr. Goytisolo entered into a romantic relationship with Monique Lange, an editor at Gallimard and later a novelist and screenwriter. When, in 1963, he acknowledged his homosexuality, he wrote her a letter of confession, included in his memoirs, that he called “the most difficult act of my life.”
He added: “I was afraid her reaction would be to cut our ties. But she knew there was no possible rivalry between the men I went with and her.”
They married in 1978 and lived together until her death, in 1996. A year later Mr. Goytisolo took up permanent residence in Marrakesh.
His many novels include “Landscapes After the Battle” (1982), which imagined his own neighborhood in Paris transformed into an Arab quarter, and two works of political satire: “The Marx Family Saga” (1993) and “A Cock-Eyed Comedy” (2000).
His war reporting from Sarajevo during the Bosnian war provided material for the labyrinthine “State of Siege” (1995), a series of interlocking narratives, one of which transposes the horror of the besieged city to Paris.
His second volume of memoirs, “Realms of Strife,” was published in 1986. In 2004 he appeared as himself in the Jean-Luc Godard film “Notre Musique,” wandering through a bombed-out library in Sarajevo, reading poetry aloud.
Mr. Goytisolo did not mellow with age. In his last novel, a biting Swiftian satire published in 2008, he sent his narrator, blown up by a terrorist bomb, into a cyberkinetic afterlife, where he scrutinizes human folly back on Earth through computer monitors. The title was epitaph-worthy: “Exiled From Almost Everywhere.”