Monday, October 1, 2012

Ghosts of Spain-Giles Tremlett

Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past-Giles Tremlett

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 454
gender: M
nationality: UK
year: 2006

"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, Giles 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."

So what was this? A book on Spanish culture or a book on Spanish silence? I was never quite sure and the dodging back and forth to these two ideas of what a book could encompass really weakened my opinion on Tremlett's book. As a book on silence, this was actually quite good if you took out several of the middle chapters. As a book on culture, it was pretty lacking. The overall thesis was pretty weak and really, there was far too much emphasis on terrorism and Madrid. If you're going to talk about Spanish culture as a whole and claim that you give an outsider's objectivity then really, don't give me yet another precis on Basque terrorism. That's Madrid I hear, not objectivity.

Also, the chapter on Galicia was absolute rubbish. Tremlett seemed to have only gone to Á Coruña once and maybe stopped over in Santiago de Compostela-hardly the comprehensive travel he'd obviously done on the Mediterranean coast. The chapter was too confused and bemused and lost to really warrant inclusion into the book at all. Way to just propagate the Spanish stereotype that Galicia is a weird, otherworldly place that can't be understood so don't bother with it. Since I'm half-Galician, I don't really understand why Tremlett even bothered to talk about Galicia if the treatment was going to be so poor. It was actually worse than the Basque chapter focused entirely on terrorism with a few diversions.

Nevertheless, there were interesting anecdotes and I got directed to a few good references. Some of his insights were also very good such as his chapter on group mentality which is when I thought he shined.

But there was too much hair pulling from this semi-Spaniard to deal with so overall dissatisfaction.

If you want a book that portrays Spanish culture better, may I suggest Hopper's The New Spaniards? That also lacks a nuanced view of minority cultures in Iberia but it also doesn't aspire to be more than it is. 

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