The Tomb in Seville is one of the books I bought and read in preparation to this year’s vacation in Spain. As I write this we have the first really, really cold day in London (t 8 degrees Celsius) and it is difficult for me to believe that four weeks ago I was still on the beach.
It is also my first book by Norman Lewis. What I found very interesting is that it is his last book, that he wrote in his ninth decade, but it is about his first travel. It is fascinating what distance time gives. In 1934 Lewis with his brother-in-law Eugene travel to Spain at the behest of Eugene’s father, Ernesto. Their mission is to find family grave in Seville. As Ernesto pays for two months of their travelling they embark on a train, initially destined to San Sebastian they end on the French border in Irun, stopped by the unrest starting in Spain. They do find their way to Spain and from there their erratic journey south starts.
They travel using all sorts of transportation, walking, taking a bus, train, anything that is available. I am not sure if it is the effect of time that passed since those events or whether Lewis generally was of cheerful disposition, but they seem to be taking their adventures pretty lightly. As if by the fact of being tourists and foreigners they are untouchable and the local escalation of violence cannot touch them. I found this a bit odd, then blamed it on ignorance being bliss.
They experience both city and rural Spain, the incredible poverty but also kindness of people. At some point it turns out that the easiest way to Seville is through Portugal, so that’s where they venture, only to struggle to get back to Spain as the State of Alarm is reintroduced. In the end Ernesto has to come to Seville to help them get back home.
It was an interesting book, from the perspective of memory and travel writing, but probably not the best book I read about Spain. I enjoyed Lewis’ style, so probably will give him another chance in the future, because I do not think this was the best he could do. It was also an interesting addition to my reading about Spain, showing the perspective from just before the Civil War, with Jan Morris’ book describing the Franco’s Spain and then the Ghosts of Spain by Giles Tremlett bringing the story to our time. It is fascinating how some things changed and others are mentioned by all three writers, clearly lasting for generations and becoming general Spanish traits.
I’ll leave you with few quotes, to give you an idea about the atmosphere of the book.
The slower the train the better is it for the digestion, they tell you.
…to appreciate the only too often tragic beauty of the Spanish south. Here the old-fashioned social conventions survived under the protection of poverty. Men still bowed low to women, acknowledged favours with hands pressed over hearts, and slipped a small coin in the sleeve of a beggar whom they addressed with the formality due to a member of middle class.
‘Please excuse me,’ he said. ‘I’m turning my back on modern times.’