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The Culture Vulture

About cultural things: music, dance, literature and theatre.

My Top 5 Writers about Spain
Friday, November 26, 2021 @ 5:38 PM

The Culture Vulture started learning Spanish at the age of 18. Now 53 years later he’s read a fair few books about Spain, his adopted home. Here is his list of his five favourite writers…

Laurie Lee

Writer of the best non-fiction book about Spain ever, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. The book tells of Lee’s walk from La Coruña to Malaga armed with very little but his fiddle. We learn of his adventures en route, the kindness of strangers, and we can smell the poetic descriptions of the food he samples. His trip is cut short by the onset of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and he is repatriated to the UK, only to return later to fight against Franco in the International Brigades. His other books about Spain are A Moment of War, I Can’t Stay Long and Rose for Winter.

Jason Webster

His first books about Spain were Duende (2003) and Andalus (2010) which gave fascinating insights into flamenco and life in Andalucia. Two later non-fiction books on Spain by Webster are Guerra (2007) and Violencia (2020). I enjoyed this Californian's take on Spanish History.

Chris Stewart

Chris Stewart shot to fame with Driving Over Lemons in 1999. Funny, insightful and real, the book told the story of how he bought a peasant farm on the wrong side of the river, with its previous owner still resident. No sooner had Chris Stewart set eyes on El Valero than he handed over a cheque.  Now all he had to do was explain to Ana, his wife that they were the proud owners of an isolated sheep farm in the Alpujarra Mountains in Southern Spain.  That was the easy part.

Lush with olive, lemon, and almond groves, the farm lacks a few essentials—running water, electricity, an access road.  And then there’s the problem of rapacious Pedro Romero, the previous owner who refuses to leave.  A perpetual optimist, whose skill as a sheepshearer provides an ideal entrée into his new community, Stewart also possesses an unflappable spirit that, we soon learn, nothing can diminish.  Wholly enchanted by the rugged terrain of the hillside and the people they meet along the way—among them farmers, including the ever-resourceful Domingo, other expatriates and artists—Chris and Ana Stewart build an enviable life, complete with a child and dogs, in a country far from home.

His sequels – A Parrot in the Pepper Tree, and The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society – were also international bestsellers.

In an earlier life, Chris was the original drummer in Genesis (he played on the first album), then joined a circus, learned how to shear sheep, went to China to write the Rough Guide, gained a pilot’s license in Los Angeles, and completed a course in French cooking.

Ernest Hemingway

The journalist turned novelist wrote two first-class books about bullfighting, The Sun Also Rises (also published as Fiesta), a novel, and Death in the Afternoon, a non-fiction work.

Bullfighting was his passion. He would go to the bull-running and bullfights at the Fiesta de San Fermín in Pamplona (Navarra) every July, and he spent a lot of time in Ronda, the birthplace of bullfighting on foot, and has a street in the town named after him, Paseo de Hemingway, which runs round the back of the Parador.

He also wrote a novel about the Spanish Civil War: For Whom the Bell Tolls.

The Sun Also Rises is generally regarded as his best novel.

I was recovering from an appendix operation in Germany, aged 21, when I was introduced to Hemingway. His books about bullfighting kindled an interest in bullfighting which remains to this day.

After Germany I subsequently went to San Fermín in Pamplona two years running.

When I ended up living in Ronda 35 years later I got the opportunity to follow in Hemingway's footsteps, so to speak.

Giles Tremlett

A historian, author and journalist based in Madrid, Giles Tremlett had his first taste of Spanish life when he lived in Barcelona for two years in the mid-eighties. After a period in Lisbon and then in London, he returned to live in Spain in the mid-1990s. He was The Guardian’s correspondent for Spain, Portugal and the Maghreb for a dozen years. He was also Madrid correspondent for The Economist for a decade until 2016. He has been a regular current affairs commentator for various Spanish broadcasters, including state-owned TVE television, La Sexta and the country’s biggest radio station, Cadena SER, as well as writing for several Spanish newspapers, including El País and El Mundo.

His seminal work is Ghosts of Spain.

The appearance, more than sixty years after the Spanish Civil War ended, of mass graves containing victims of Francisco Franco’s death squads finally broke what Spaniards call “the pact of forgetting”- the unwritten understanding that their recent, painful past was best left unexplored. At this charged moment, Tremlett embarked on a journey around the country and through its history to discover why some of Europe’s most voluble people have kept silent so long.

In elegant and passionate prose, Tremlett unveils the tinderbox of disagreements that mark the country today. Ghosts of Spain is a revelatory book about one of Europe’s most exciting countries.

Would the person who borrowed my copy of Ghosts of Spain please return it? 10 years is way beyond a normal library loan period. Also my Chambao CD.  You know who you are and so do I!

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