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A Woman Unknown: Voices from a Spanish Life [Paperback]

Lucia Graves
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 April 2000

Lucia Graves, daughter of the poet Robert Graves and his wife Beryl, grew up in the beautiful village of Deia on the island of Majorca. Neither Spanish nor Catholic by birth, she nevertheless absorbed the different traditions of Spain and felt the full impact of Franco's dictatorship through the experience of her education. Lucia found herself continually bridging the gaps between Catalan, Spanish and English, as she picked up the patterns and nuances that contain the essence of each culture.

Portraying her life as a child watching the hills lit up by bonfires on Good Friday, or, years later, walking through the haunting backstreets of the Jewish quarter of Girona, this is a captivating personal memoir which provides a first-hand account of Catalonia, where Lucia lived and raised a family. It is also a unique and perceptive appraisal of a country burdened by tradition yet coming to terms with political change as the decades moved on.

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A Woman Unknown: Voices from a Spanish Life + Wild Olives: Life in Majorca With Robert Graves
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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Virago; New Ed edition (6 April 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860495532
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860495533
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 325,688 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Evidence would show that it is not easy having a famous father. Lucia Graves was 3, her father Robert 48 when in 1946 he moved his family to his house on Majorca. Her brother William wrote his own candid version of their childhood, Wild Olives, which painted the poet-father as a rather foolish, self-engrossed man; those seeking similar titillation here will be disappointed, as Robert glides in and out of the narrative only infrequently, and then for the most part affectionately. Lucia may ignore his more questionable behaviour, but this is her story.

It is at once an account of life and a life in post-war Spain. The book is framed by a trip to Barcelona undertaken by Lucia and her mother Beryl in 1996 for an operation on the latter's eyes (coincidentally, St Lucia is the patron saint of good eyesight). The style is elegant and reassuringly poetic, without the ego that could overwhelm her father's writing; indeed, she has a defensive reflex to use others' voices and lives when one might expect her own. She connects her development with that of Spain, but in fact her situation is more complex, for she occupies a hinterland between two cultures, at times a hybrid, at others a vacuum, inhabiting the space similar to that occurring between a word and its translation. Fittingly, translation became her art, and on the day she finished translating her father's "Wife to Mr Milton" into Spanish, he died. At a time when the confessional seems de rigeur, it is refreshing to read an autobiographical work that is more catharsis than confession, written with a dignified engagement both moving and instructive.David Vincent --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Beautifully evokes the idyll of her Majorcan childhood ... a beguiling book (MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS)

a veritable gem ... in every sense of the word a memorable, beautifully written book (IRELAND EXAMINER)

Although many English writers have opened windows on Spain ... none have done it so intimately and so personally as Lucia Graves. This is a book of high literary distinction and extraordinary humanity. One eagerly awaits a sequel (TLS)

A highly revealing account, not only of a woman's life, but of a whole extraordinary passage in one contemporary European country ... it should be read by everybody interested in Spain and in women's special history in the present century (FINANCIAL TIMES)

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6.30 a.m. Daylight is filtering through the russet curtains of the eye hospital, revealing the details of the weave: the dark vertical lines where the threads are dense. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent, well worth a read 27 April 2009
fantastically written, keeps you interested all the way through. you will enjoy this book if you have spent any time in Spain or the islands. give it a go!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A marvellous look at a bicultural life in Spain 14 Feb 2000
By A Customer
This is an excellent look at what it is like to be in a bicultural environment but more importantly a perceptive look at the changes in recent Spanish history and how it affected (and is affecting) so-called 'ordinary' women. Lucia Graves writes gently and humbly but always interestingly. If you can read Spanish, you should also try her novel La casa de la memoria.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating window on fascist Spain 19 Oct 2011
By SG4
This book builds a troubling, fascinating picture of Spain under Franco's dictatorship and the power of the conservative Catholic church through stories about the lives of individual women. Wonderfully written.
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Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The book is beautifully crafted with the author's own experiences of growing up in an unspoilt Majorca and within this, the weaving of the eternal story of womens' coping and survival, during times of great change. The book is full of evocative descriptions and perhaps each womens passage through life. No matter where their life path is centered. I found the book encouraged me to ponder my own life and the many femail roles we are caught up in.

I truely recommend this book, for it's literary beauty and also it's deeper story.
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Amazon.com: 4.9 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complex and Beautiful, by fermed 17 Jan 2001
By Fernando Melendez - Published on Amazon.com
This is an extraordinary book written by the daughter of one of my favorite writers: Robert Graves (I, Claudius; Goodby to All That). Her prose is lyrical, near poetical. She is truly a woman of letters, a careful crafter of complex and beautiful writing.
It is the story of her life, written not as biography, but more as a long letter to a friend. Her presentation is not necessarily chronological, not necessarily sequential, but always emotionally rich and revealing of the construction of her soul, layer by layer, starting as a child. If the facts of the book skip around, her development from child to young lady to mother to divorcee to woman in love does not vary from its relentless order. Without attempting to be so, it is a truly feminist tract lacking bitterness or resentments.
I found some extraordinary parallels between Lucia's childhood and mine, even if they don't include gender: I too moved to Majorca as a small child, learned the local language (Mallorquín)and so became trilingual with English and Spanish, attended elementary school with nuns, knew the landscape around where Lucia lived, and thus was immediately able to recognize a beach she describes as one I had ofted bathed in (Sóller). These coincidences -of which there are many more- biased me in favor of her book instantly, and perhaps rendered the reading of her work a different and more satisfying experience than it will be to the average reader who has never been to this island; on the positive side, my experience allows me to certify to Ms. Graves's extraordinary capacity to describe the feel, color and culture of the island. She does this better than any other writer I have ever encountered who attempted to speak about Mallorca. The true universalism of her book, however, lies in the description of her interior development, and that is what this work is finally all about. I recommend it highly.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars reviewers: please pay attention to details 28 July 2005
By Sophie Annan Jensen - Published on Amazon.com
Concha Alborg's review of "A Woman Unknown" is riddled with errors.

She leaves an erroneous impression when she writes "Lucia Graves is the daughter of Robert Graves, the English poet who lived in Majorca with his Spanish wife and children for several years." Lucia is the daughter of Robert Graves and his second wife, which "A Woman Unknown" clearly states on page 6. it's also clear from the text that Lucia's mother is English. There's a great deal of information about her in this autobiography,even her maiden name, Pritchard.

Alborg also writes "The reader is left wondering what led to her divorce from her Catalan husband ... "

Not so. The author explains at length that she and her husband, who married quite young, simply grew apart in their interests and activities.

"we know little more than her oldest daughter's name and not even that of her other two daughters" Alborg says. Again, not so. The third daughter's naming is discussed at some length (it's Natalia) in a quite comical scene in the labor room, when the attending nurses urge Lucia to name her daughter Purificacion, in honor of that day in the Roman Catholic calendar.

Emy Louie also errs in referring to Lucia "Roman Catholic upbringings". Her parents were firmly agnostic, a major source of conflict during her girlhood time in a convent school, and of shaping her thought.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful inheritance 9 Feb 2001
By J. Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I've not read another book as lovely as this one in a long time! The estimable daughter of Robert Graves creates in beautiful prose an estimable voice of her own, while wearing warm and honorable traces of her father's literary genius; there's a common clarity, and distinction in the language. There's remarkable writing on every page; the ever so gradual reaching deep into the heart of Franco almost by not mentioning him, the destruction of her Spain from within, the passion of her love for her Catalan self, among her many selves- it's a thoroughly important book in every way. The first and last sections work like bookends and are epsecially right; Graves' subtle reflections on her relationship with her mother. This is English prose of the first order. Of course, one has a natural penchant to want to find wonderful amber things in her writing, given one's regard for the work of her father; the interesting thing is that her own voice presents itself right off, so much so that one ends praising even more the virtue of the inheritance, rather than getting lost in the echos. Her reflections on the work of a translator are beautifully woven throughout the book, and reveal a meticulous care for the possibilities of language. The ways in which she chooses to speak of her father in this memoir are memorable; at the oddest, least unexpected moment the narrative will turn and there is Robert Graves, father. This really is an irrepleaceable work of art. I commend it to everyone to read, there is something for every reader in these slender pages, and that surely expresses the consummate perfection of its parts.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, engaging memoir 13 Mar 2002
By LJM - Published on Amazon.com
I loved this book and, as a writer, I found it very inspiring! Graves writes beautifully of growing up on Majorca and her descriptions of the place and the people there, and other parts of Catalonia, are very evocative. The book caught my eye because I am studying Spanish and this book gave me a great feel for life in Spain, particularly under Franco but also, as described to her by people she knew, during the Spanish Civil War. It also offers interesting thoughts on language and identity, because she grew up speaking English at home, Majorcan/Catalan with neighbors (at least until Franco tried to crush the language), and Castilian Spanish at school. It's no wonder she became a translator.
By the way, if you're interested in Robert Graves (I didn't know anything about him - I guess I missed the whole PBS "I Claudius" series), you won't find out all that much about him here - this is Lucia's story. At least he passed on to his daughter his talent for writing.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ravishing -- A Lyrical Memoir Celebrating Unknown Women 19 Feb 2008
By B. Case - Published on Amazon.com
It was a whim that brought me to Lucia Graves' memoir "A Woman Unknown: Voices from a Spanish Life." I had just finished reading Carlos Ruiz Zafón's "The Shadow of the Wind," and was thoroughly entranced by its soaring lyrical prose. I noticed that the book was translated into English from Spanish and wondered whether the high quality of the prose might owe a great deal to the translator. So, I started investigating Lucia Graves' writings and discovered this exquisite memoir.

I rarely read autobiographies, but once I stared this work, I couldn't put it down--within a few pages, I felt like a spell had been cast. Soon, I was deep into a serene meditation on life--uncommon and fascinating for its vibrant Spanish twist, and subtle feminist slant. Finding this book was like suddenly discovering a refreshing mountain spring after a long summer hike: I had no idea how thirsty I was for a lush literary work dealing with the inner lives of women.

Naturally, most of the work deals with the life of the author, Lucia Graves. She is the daughter of Robert Graves, the famous English poet, novelist, biographer, essayist, scholar, and translator. She was raised on the island of Majorca, a place with a distinct cultural subset from the mainland Catalonian culture of northeastern Spain. She spoke English at home, Majorcan to the village people, and Castilian Spanish in school. Her father taught her a deep abiding love for words and language. There were dictionaries in every room of her childhood home so that the precise word might be found and discussed at any time. Later, as an adult raising her own family in a sterile modern Barcelona suburb, translation became the author's tranquil refuge from the everyday vicissitudes of life.

The book has four distinct themes. First and most importantly, we learn about the interior life and thoughts of Lucia Graves. It is important to note that there is little in this book about the life of her famous father, or the lives of her mother, siblings, children, and husband. The focus of this memoir is personal and inward at all times. Second, we learn about the lives of women who have played important roles in the author's life. She tells us about their strengths--the characteristics that allowed them to make the most of whatever adversity that befell them. Like her own life, she takes the lives of these everyday women and celebrates them. Third, we learn about the author's passion for words and for the painstaking art of translation. Finally, through the stories of the many women that make up the bulk of this book, we learn about the history of modern Spain, from the Civil War to the present day. In particular, we learn about the dynamic culture and people of Majorca and Catalonia.

There is the story of Jimena, Graves' cleaning women when she was a child growing up on Majorca; the story of Blanca, the island's midwife; and Juanita, her cleaning woman a dozen years later when she was a mother raising a family in Barcelona. Graves tells us about Olga, her childhood ballet instructor--a woman who had once achieved prima ballerina status in a major Russian ballet company, but eventually had to settle for a life of ballet instruction in a small Majorcan village. There's the story of Sister Valentina, one of the Catholic nuns who was Graves' teacher and mentor. Graves also delights us with the stories of courageous women from history: Marie Powell, long-suffering wife of John Milton and heroine of a book by her father that she translates into Spanish; and Margarida de Prades, the little-known and nearly forgotten 16th-century Queen of Catalonia. Graves also manages magically to weave into her contemporary life's story, the tale of the Greek goddess Persephone, Queen of the Underworld.

Like bookends holding the work together at the beginning and end, Graves gives us the story of her aging mother as she undergoes a minor operation in Barcelona. Once again, Graves takes this event as an opportunity to celebrate the many lives of the everyday women who were a part of this congenial, gracious, and loving hospital experience.

The Spanish legal term for a divorced woman translates as a "woman unknown." In the early 1990s, Graves became the "Woman Unknown" of the book's title when she and her husband of 26 years agreed to end their marriage. The subtitle, "Voices from a Spanish Life," aptly describe the many stories the author relates about vital Spanish women--unknown women whose lives she honors and memorializes.

This is a remarkable and richly nuanced work of literary prose. I recommend it highly, particularly to women, feminists, and others who may enjoy connecting with the inner dialogue of an astonishing, articulate, and uncommon woman of uncelebrated wisdom.
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