MADRID (Reuters) - Prize-winning novelist Ana Maria Matute, who spent a literary lifetime exploring the crushed innocence of her childhood during the Spanish Civil War, died on Wednesday of a heart attack, her son told Reuters.
She was 88 years old and lived in Barcelona.
Her novels spanning the 1940s to the 1960s depicted the devastation of rural, war-torn Spain from a child's perspective.
In her 1959 novel "School of the Sun", a girl named Maria comes of age while the war divides her family and her town on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, with a doll named Gorogo her sole confidant.
Maria's gradual abandonment of the doll and of fairy tales, and her friendship with a boy who is ostracized in the village, mark her transition to adulthood.
Decades later, when Matute won Spain's highest literary award, the Cervantes - she was the third woman to receive the honor - she spoke of her own Gorogo, a doll her father brought her from London when she was five, who became her only friend.
"I take it on all my trips and I still tell it what I can't tell anybody," she said in her acceptance speech in 2010.
Matute and other writers scarred by the 1936-1939 war - Juan Goytisolo, Ignacio Aldecoa, Carmen Martin Gaite and Carmen Laforet - were dubbed the generation of the frightened children.
"You know how horrible it is to be 11, and go from being a little middle-class girl ... to finding yourself in a world divided, even brothers were divided ... Going through a war with atrocities, discovering the ugliest things in life," she said.
Born in Barcelona, northeast Spain, on July 26, 1925, Matute was one of five children. Her father owned an umbrella factory.
She almost died of a kidney infection when she was five years old. Aged 8, she was sent to live with her grandparents in a small town, Mansilla de la Sierra. Later, she attended a religious school in Madrid.
She was surprised in adulthood to find that her mother, who did not encourage her writing and with whom she had a cold relationship, had saved a box filled with her early stories.
Matute described herself as a baby-faced 19-year-old in knee socks when she took her first novel "Little Theatre" to a publisher.
Childhood, isolation and paradise lost are her three big themes, playwright and literary critic Pedro M. Villora said.
"Her favorite age, from the point of view of the creator, is adolescence, youth, the moment in which some children are no longer children," he said.
Suffering from depression, Matute did not write for most of the 1970s and 1980s, and when she started again she produced a trilogy of medieval fantasies - legends of fairies and demons and a child who becomes a knight.
She said she related best to 11-year-old girls and in her books she strives to recover the childhood dreams that shaped her character. Her last published novel, "Inhabited Paradise", dealt with a child unable to understand the selfish adult world.
During the Franco dictatorship, which ended in 1974, much of her work was censored and she was blacklisted from writing in newspapers and magazines.
"They called me irreverent, immoral, they twisted everything," she said in 2011 at the inauguration of an exhibition that showed how official censors changed her work.
She won almost every Spanish literary award: the Nadal, Planeta, National Literature award and others.
Matute's first marriage, to writer Ramon Eugenio de Goicoechea, also a writer, ended after 11 years.
At the time the couple separated, divorce was still illegal in Spain and Goicoechea got custody of their son. Matute left for the United States where she worked as a visiting professor in several universities.
She was married to her second husband, French businessman Julio Brocard, for 28 years before he died in 1990.
(Additional reporting by Blanca Rodriguez; Edited by Sonya Hepinstall and Louise Ireland)