What to Read – What to Do – Spain.
“This route, it seemed, had been a good decision, and the extra walking to the east of the area that had been most heavily patrolled had been worth the effort. But the real test always came at the river, and Dodo had planned to cross some six or seven miles upstream of Béhobie. There the slope was gentle and protected by woods on the French side, and although there were guard stations at intervals on the Spanish shore, bends in the river created gaps in the lines of sight at some places…no German patrols had been seen.” – Guernica (p342)
THE BOOK: Dave Boling’s novel Guernica takes us into the world of the Basques in the 1930s – focusing on a family living in Spain’s market town of Guernica, the center of Basque culture and history. It is a time of growing persecution for the Basque as the Spanish Civil War begins to bite and the Ansotegui brothers and their offspring are desperately trying to cling to their identity. On April 26, 1937 Guernica was bombed in an attack which to this day is held up as one of the world’s worst examples of the horrors of war and its impact on civilians. This novel look at that attack through the eyes of the Ansotegui family.
Image courtesy of Jean Michel Etchecolonea via Wikimedia Commons
WHAT TO DO: While most of the novel is set in Guernica itself, there are several scenes in the Pyrenees mountains on the border between Spain and France. As the Basque area straddles both countries, it was ideal for the smuggling of goods and people from one country to another – and the Basque themselves, with their knowledge of the land were perfect for the job. Now – in far more peaceful times for the two countries, you can experience something of what that was like.
The Pyrenees were a place for shepherds and smugglers, and as a result there’s an abundance of fantastic walking trails. A quick google will bring up a number of people offering guided walks, but if you want to know more about the Basque, you might want to consider The Pyrenean Experience which will also give you a taste of traditional Basque mountain life, from the walks, to the food and Basque rural sports, like wood-chopping and stone lifting – something else which features in the novel. You can even meet people who once smuggled allied airmen out of the country and still do a bit of poaching with their children to “keep up the family tradition”.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND: Late winter and early spring is ‘Carnival Time’ in this part of the Pyrennees, so while the weather may not be perfect, you can experience a UNESCO recognised event which brings out the depth of Basque cultural traditions. In the towns of Ituren, Zubieta and Auritz the carnival is held in the last week of January, when groups of men dressed as ‘Joaldunak’ march between the towns clanging bells, in an ancient ritual of which no-one really knows the origin. Ituren holds another carnival in September in which the Joaldunak also put in an appearance.
Basque Joaldunak during an ancient bell-clanging ritual during the Ituren carnival
Image courtesy of Jean Michel Etchecolonea via Wikimedia Commons.
VIDEO TO WATCH: Learn more about the Joaldunak and the woman behind the Pyrenean Experience in this video.
One person’s experience of a Pyreanean walking holiday – “I have left a little bit of my heart in the Basque country, and will certainly be back.”
Carnival Time in Ituren – “In short, it was chaos.”
BOOK SOURCE: Own copy
P.S If you have enjoyed this post, then you are sure to enjoy my free online bookclub, in which we are taking a fiction adventure around the world. Read more about it here.
When it comes to reading books set in Spain, I’m finding myself pretty much obsessed with those that have something to do with the Spanish Civil War. I’m sure there are lots of fascinating periods of Spanish history – but none seem to tickle my curiosity as much as this one.
Luckily for me, there are lots of books which explore this subject from various different angles, and I have been hoovering them up over the last couple of years.
Novels inspired by the Spanish Civil War
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway – this classic novel of the Civil War written during Hemingway’s time spent covering the conflict for the North American Newspaper Alliance is considered one of the best novels of all time.
Guernica – by Dave Boling – Harrowing story of a Basque family and the bombing of their town of Guernica, the subject of one of Pablo Picasso’s most famous works.
The Return – by Victoria Hislop – semi chick lit and semi historical novel, this book reveals an engaging story of one family in Granada during the war.
Seven Red Sundays – Ramon J. Sender – A story of workingmen in Madrid during the lead up to the Civil War.
Soldiers of Salamis – Javier Cercas – In the final moments of the Spanish Civil War, a writer and founding member of Franco’s Fascist Party is about to be shot, and yet miraculously escapes into the forest.
Winter in Madrid – C. J. Sansom – Set after the Civil War but with flashbacks to the conflict itself, this novel sees British man, Harry Brett, sent into Spain to spy on an old school friend who is doing shady business deals in Madrid.
The Time of the Doves – Mercè Rodoreda – I haven’t read this short novel originally written in Catalan but it gets a rapturous reception on amazon.com. There is some criticism, however, of the translation and as it looks as if there is a new version coming out next year from Virago Press, I might wait and see if that contains a translation people are happier with.
So what was the Spanish Civil War?
What followed was a period of political instability between left and right-wing groups, with both winning time in power and forming elected governments. But while a left-leaning coalition won an election in January 1936, there was increasing violence between the two sides. On the right the Nationalists included monarchists, Roman Catholics and the fascist-inspired Falange, while the left included urban workers, agricultural labourers and the educated middle class.
By mid-1936 the country was so politically unstable that a military coup led by Francisco Franco on July 17 led the country into a war which was to last until 1939, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands from the fighting, and many more from starvation and disease. Franco then ruled the country as a dictator until his death in 1975.
The great thing about the list of books available to you is that you can pick just what kind of novel you are after. If you want something light(ish) and accessible (bordering on chick-lit) then The Return will be ideal. For something a little more intense, then Guernica would work. If you prefer a spy drama, then there is Winter in Madrid, and if you really want to get to the heart of the battle and those who fought in it, then you can’t go past the Hemingway.
Let us know if you have decided to delve into Franco’s world for this challenge, or if you’d prefer to explore something far from the horror of war…there are plenty of other books set in Spain you can choose from.
I look forward to reading your comments and reviews….
One of the best ways to keep an eye on current trends in literature is to take careful note of what people are reading on your daily commute.
I live in London – and it takes over an hour each way for me to travel to work and back. And while I often wish I hadn’t somehow ended up living at the opposite end of the city from the office, one thing it does do is give me some dedicated reading time each day.
AND it gives me plenty of snooping time.
I just can’t help having a good look around the train (or Tube, as we Londoners say) and check out what everyone else is reading. And if you do it often enough, you will see there are definite trends.
I remember a few years back I couldn’t get in a carriage without seeing at least one person glued to their copy of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. That was then followed by a long spell of people reading one of my favourite novels of all time The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – making me want to sit down and have a good chat with them about it, which as anyone will tell you is a definite no-no on the London Underground. Friendly conversation is much frowned upon!
But lately the clear winner in the ‘Reading on the Tube’ stakes is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. While I enjoy the odd crime novel it is rarely at the top of my To Read list, but after seeing Dragon Tattoo three times on one journey this week, I fear I couldn’t ignore the signs any longer. I have just placed my order with Amazon.
I will let you know if it lives up to its promise once I have devoured it.
But perhaps the most heartening picture to emerge from this extensive and highly scientific study of Tube Reads is that they are all great examples of Packabook books – those that transport us to another land. The Da Vinci Code gives us Paris, Shadow of the Wind takes us to Barcelona, and Dragon Tattoo sends us off to Sweden.
Is there some connection between foreign countries and what people like to read on trains I wonder? Does being crammed into a crowded carriage with hundreds of other commuters make us crave escape to somewhere exotic?
If you too would like to find great novels set in foreign lands then head over to our gorgeous collection at Packabook’s main site. Just click on the country of your choice and you will soon be far, far away…
I am off to read in the sunshine….
P.S. If you have read Dragon Tattoo we’d love to hear your thoughts. Let us know if it lives up to all the attention it has been getting…