This was another of my pre-vacation buys before going to Spain for the first time. Maybe not an entirely planned one as I got it at the airport, so I knew I’d read it in Spain, which happened to be a very good decision, because I could observe some of the things described first hand.
Giles Tremlett has been living in Spain for over 20 years, so he knows the country in and out, he works as a journalist, so through his job he also gets to know different perspectives and opinions. Tremlett is on one hand a foreigner, on the other he lived in Spain for so long and has experienced a lot of recent Spanish history there that he also has the local perspective. The book starts with the pact of forgetting that surrounds Franco times. He tries to explain how it came to be, how Spain has decided on purpose to forget and not discuss 40 years of its modern history, but also how no matter how much we pretend demons do not exist they come back and some people want to face them in order to exorcise them. In this conflict Tremlett tries to be an objective observer, he avoids picking sides, because he feels it’s probably not his place, he has not experienced this dramatic past personally. From this historical perspective Tremlett takes us on a tour through time and space, he explains how Spain has become a tourist destination, the chapters about Benidorm was absolutely fascinating. Then we travel through Spain and its traditions, he describes the flamenco culture, Basque and Catalan sense of autonomy, attitude of Spaniards towards children and other people, crime world, politics, wherever possible he draws on his own experiences or reaches out to people that know things first hand.
I really enjoyed this book, it is a portrait of Spain as seen through the eyes of an immigrant, from outside and yet from the inside. Writing is light and smooth, sometimes funny, but not trying hard to be comic. This book described so many aspects of Spain that I definitely want to see more of the country and as I mentioned in my review of Homage to Barcelona it confirmed that despite spending 2 weeks in Spain I haven’t really been in Spain, or maybe not in traditional core of Spanish culture, as I visited Bilbao and Barcelona.
I don’t read much of non-fiction, but when I do I really like when it’s like this: enlightening but also highly readable and thought-provoking. My Bigger Half was very happy when I finally finished this book, because when I was reading it I’d recount every chapter to him over dinner. It is a book to be discussed with someone 🙂
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska