For a few heady days it was flying off the shelves faster than any other book in Spain and it has been sitting near the top of the country's bestseller list for weeks. As Christmas approaches, it is neck-and-neck with a spin-off of the Hunger Games trilogy and is comfortably outperforming Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela.
For most Irish readers the name Costanza Miriano means nothing, but in Spain her book Cásate y sé sumisa ("Get Married and Be Submissive") is rapidly becoming a publishing phenomenon, outraging feminists and delighting its cheerleaders in the Catholic Church.
Packed full of advice for newly wed women, the book, as its title suggests, has a very particular view of a wife’s role.
“It’s true, you’re not yet an experienced cook or a perfect housewife,” reads one passage. “What’s the problem if he tells you so? Tell him that he is right, that it’s true, that you will learn. On seeing your sweetness and your humility, your effort to change, this will also change him.”
Another section suggests the following: “If you only do what is right for you, what you think, then you are not married to a man, you are married to yourself. Instead of doing that, you should submit to him.”
The author is from Italy and the original version of the book has already been a bestseller in that country. The Spanish translation of Cásate y sé sumisa has been replicating that success since its launch last month, but the fact the book has been published by the Catholic Archbishopric of the southern city of Granada has added an extra dimension to the furore surrounding its content.
Cásate y sé sumisa has raised the hackles of many modern-minded Spaniards, who see its old-fashioned tone as a throwback to the days of the right-wing dictatorship that ruled the country until the mid-1970s.
Unusually, it has managed to unite Spain's constantly feuding two main parties. While the Socialists have warned it fuels "inequality, chauvinism and discrimination", the governing Partido Popular has taken a similar stand, with equality minister Ana Mato demanding the book be withdrawn because it shows a "lack of respect for women".
Some critics have gone further. They insist the book encourages violence against women, citing as evidence passages such as: “We [women] like humiliation because it is for a greater good.”
On November 25th, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, demonstrators gathered in the northern city of Bilbao and tore up dozens of covers of the book, before throwing water-filled balloons at a blown-up picture of it.
A few days later, members of a left-wing party staged a parody of a “submissive wedding” outside the Archbishopric of Granada, complete with actors pretending to be the married couple and the priest. Protesters also held up banners reading: “Submissiveness kills: 702 women murdered since 2003” – a reference to the death toll from gender violence in Spain.
Granada City Hall has asked the attorney general’s office to look into whether the book contains material that would justify legal action.
'Ridiculous and hypocritical'
The man at the centre of this controversy, Granada's Archbishop Francisco Javier Martínez, has come out fighting. The outrage over the book, he said in a statement, was "ridiculous and hypocritical", adding that abortion was a more real example of violence against women. Known as a conservative figure within Spain's Catholic Church, he has so far rejected calls to remove Cásate y sé sumisa from stores.
But as the debate over the contentious bestseller rages, others are looking more closely at the relationship between the church and the Spanish state. Philosopher Fernando Savater thinks the case highlights the need to revise the massive state funding the Church enjoys, as well as its perks such as exemption from land tax.
“I don’t know if Catholic marriage truly demands the submissiveness of a husband’s wife,” he noted on Monday. “But it’s clear that the concordat with the Vatican imposes scandalous civic submissions on the Spanish state, which should be secular.”
Meanwhile, the next title the Archbishopric of Granada plans to publish by Costanza Miriano could go some way to defusing the situation. It's a guide to marriage for men, called Cásate y da la vida por ella – or "Get Married and Give Your Life for Her".