The welcome Mexico gave Spaniards who fled after Gen. Francisco Franco's victory in the 1936-1939 civil war was "the only genuine unmitigated joy" for the defeated Republicans, Spanish writer Almudena Grandes said here Friday.

Grandes invoked the exiles' experience in her remarks after receiving the 2011 Elena Poniatowska Ibero-American Novel Prize for "Ines y la alegria" (Ines and the Joy).

The book centers on an October 1944 invasion of northeastern Spain by exiled Republicans serving with the French Resistance who hoped to spark an insurgency against the Franco regime.

"It is a novel that recreates the rage and the bitterness, the sorrows and joys of men and women who did not want to surrender to terror or resignation in the blackest, the most difficult, years in Spain's recent past," Grandes said.

The award presentation marked the start of the 11th Mexico City Book Fair in the capital's giant Zocalo square.

The event included the woman in whose honor the prize was created, Mexican literary grande dame Elena Poniatowska, who called the day an occasion to celebrate how "literature reminds us that we can be happy despite all the evil that befalls us."

"The story of Ines never would have been written if writers like Poniatowska had not written before me," Grandes said.

Also present for the ceremony was capital Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, who reminded the audience that this year's book fair is dedicated to the memory of the Spanish Civil War exiles who settled in Mexico.

"Let us look toward the future and have that same resolute optimism and that same conviction the Republicans had," the 2012 presidential hopeful said. "What the Spanish Republic taught us is that we can do what we want to do."

The award, accompanied by a cash prize of 500,000 pesos (around $37,600), was established in 2007 by the Mexico City municipal government to honor Poniatowska, an acclaimed author and journalist and veteran social activist.