Top positive review
15 people found this helpful
on 10 October 2009
I've greatly enjoyed Jan Morris's books on Oxford, as well as some of her travel essays, so when this appeared on an Amazon list while I was looking for books about Spain, I picked it up quickly. It's a short set of pieces about different aspects of that country, written with a characteristic delicate touch that presents the exactly appropriate image in the most memorable way - for example (p94): "In Spanish, the pronoun tu is reserved for relatives, intimates and animals"; on the following page, we learn that, "of the ten thousand varieties of flowers in Europe, more than half are found in Spain".
One of the most striking of these images occurs near the beginning of the book, where the course of Spanish history is likened to a elevation graph formed by cutting an imaginary slice through the country from coast to coast: climbing steadily to the heights of the Iberian central plateau, before sliding down to the sea again. The historical simile sees the fortunes of the country rising to a pinnacle in the sixteenth century when it was, for a brief period, the richest and most powerful nation on earth. Since then, according to Morris, it's been downhill all the way, and she ends with a question about whether the country's fortunes can rise again.
Recent visitors to that pleasant country might be surprised to read about her uncertainty on this point, but it must be recalled that she was originally writing in 1964 whilst Franco was still in charge, and although the book was updated in 1979, this was only four years after his death - still too soon to be able to spot the improvements in the fortunes of the nation that have occurred since then. However in the end, she turns this difficulty to her advantage, likening efforts at peering into Spain's future to looking at - in the memorable words of Jose Ortega y Gasset - "a cloud of dust, left hanging in the air when a great people went galloping down the highroad of history". Just perfect.