on 31 August 2009
This is so informative about the Spanish psyche and the various disparate groups that make up Spain. The section on the Spanish Civil War is so topical and relevant as right now the Spanish are in the process of digging up their war graves and re-claiming the bodies of their loved ones that were murdered, after a long era of purposeful forgetting about the horrors of that period. If you want to understand the Spanish and what makes them tick, this is the book.
on 18 March 2006
Tremlett is a witty, trenchant and astute observer of modern Spain. Being an outsider will forever condemn him in the eyes of Spaniards wishing their past would go quietly into the night; and yet it is just his outsider status that allows him to couple the telling quote with the ascerbic-yet-loving anecdote. His chapter on flamenco is an outsider's paean to his adopted country. The chapter on Benidorm combines high-comedy, bathos and despair in equal measure. His writing is at its best when his natural wit and humour come to the fore, traits which lift this book well-above the usual 'foreign correspondent does foreign country' diatribe. Highly recommended.
on 10 April 2006
An indispensable introduction to the complex politics and fast-shifting culture of Spain over the last thirty years, Ghosts of Spain presents an engaging and highly readable account of the country's remarkable transition from stagnant authoritarianism to vigorous democracy. The opening chapters on the partly hidden legacy of the Civil War and Francoism are quite outstanding as Tremlett gives reasons for Spain's extraordinary lack of either reconciliation or recrimination. Recent scandals and the often-related construction and tourist booms are smartly handled and the detour to the heart of flamenco is genuinely moving. The author is much less sure-footed on the chapters on Basque and Catalan nationalism, revealing an unfortunate and disappointingly clichéd Madrid metropolitan bias. Although the book also suffers from what seems to have been hasty editing, the recompense is Tremlett's a fine journalistic sensitivity for place and people and a genuine love for his subject.
on 12 June 2007
This was the book I had been looking for for a long time; something that would give me an insight into what makes the modern spain and the spaniard 'tick'. I knew a little about recent spanish history but didn't want to delve headlong into book after book about the moors, the civil war, franco etc. This book provides a perfect summarisation of all of these and a whole lot more. An incredible amount has happened to Spain in recent times and the future promises a lot more. This book will hopefully provide a useful insight into where Spain has come from and where its heading in the future. Not a book that can be rushed through. Take your time and digest as one would with a good meal.
on 16 September 2006
Having spent a week travelling around the north west coast of Spain I found this book to be the perfect companion. The Spain of popular imagination is highly seductive to the English but Tremlett reveals a country that is culturally and politically more like a federation. It is a vast country by European standards and the author takes us from the verdant and windswept Galicia to the arid plains of Castilla-Leon to the sun drenched paradise of Seville. Along the way, he encounters a people who suffered the torment of losing an empire, a civil war and lived under a dictatorship until a little more than a generation ago. The book's strength lies in Tremlett's hybrid status - he is an Anglosaxon down to his bones but is obviously an Hispanophile who has found a new identity in a country he loves. This coupled with his journalistic eye results in the first book since John Hooper's The Spaniards to really try to get under the skin of a country that fascinates, confuses and irritates in equal measures.
on 6 March 2006
This book is a balance between an accurately researched and passionately personal account of Spain past and present. Having lived in Spain for a short while - I felt it captured precisely the atmosphere of this fascinating and multi-levelled culture which eludes so many of us. Tremlett has obviously met this Herculean task of unveiling a complicated history and multi-facetted culture with great sensitivity and compassion. He covers complicated and sensitive isues such as the Franco era, ETA and Basque culture and history aswell as flamenco and the history of tourism and the Spaniard's relation to all these issues today.
The author's compassion for the Spaniards and their past is offset by the precision of the journalist's eye for the politically explosive and important issues which have come into the public eye recently. He delves deeply with great passion and understanding into a culture he has adopted as his own but to which he will never belong. At times I felt I was reading a scintillating novel and at others I was reading a political account. The author manages to synthesise these beautifully! If you have ever been to Spain, want to go to Spain or are just interested in the country, read this book!
It will deepen your compassion and expand your understanding of a culture that has had so many ties with our own over the years.
on 3 August 2006
I disagree with much of what has been said in the previous reviews of this book. This book is anything but boring. It should be compulsory reading for anyone interested in more than just the beaches of the Spanish costas.
Giles Tremlett is a great story-teller, and yet at the same time he manages to give a nice overview of Spanish history, politics, social and cultural life. There is not a single theme of importance not covered by this book, and his fine writing skills allow the author to deal with his various subjects in style.
The overarching theme is to show how Spanish history still weighs heavily in today's society. And while there is a lot more to say about modern Spain, Tremlett's book is short enough to be read at a nice holiday in Spain. To a certain extent, it replaces a travel guide because it manages to raise the interest of the visitor in many of those wonderful places that exist in Spain.
It is beside the point to argue about the views held by the author. And although he sometimes doesn't hold back his opinion, Tremlett always argues his case well.
This is not propaganda-style writing (as is the case in many Spanish-language books on the topics covered by the author). The book is well-researched and well-written, and above all: balanced.
on 18 August 2014
Tremlett for me has helped fill the spaces of those rolling-eyes and exasperated-sighs that my Spanish friends have given me everytime I have interrogated them about Basque or Franco. He has helped me put that ace cinematic auteur Almodovar's forcefully subversive dramas into better perspective, as Almodovar himself would rather give up film-making than insert a reference to Franco or his repressive regime, focussed as he is in cinematically determining the new, post-Franco Spanish reality.
In times when Scotland and factions in Middle East are increasingly campaigning for independence and self-determination, to contemplate the complexities and interests constituting a "nation" in contemporary times, this comprehensive journalistic account of different areas of Spain, Galicia, Catalonia and Basque, each rivalling for attention, supremacy and autonomy with Madrid in sequentially increasing decibel level of campaigners and body count over the years offers an unlikely miniature of current global theatre. In setting it within this biggest nation of the Iberian peninsula, Tremlett sincerely tries to record and summarise all the assent and dissent surrounding the history, the linguistics, the definition of peoples, the agendas of the vacillating politicians and their parties, and if somewhere in all this torrent of chatter, he fails to synthesise an overarching thesis for each, then it's more a mirror to the insatiable egos and unresolvable grievances of those in power.
While the essays on these rivalling autonomous or autonchthous peoples take up the latter part, our author is in much better form when exploring the political amnesia and a parallel cultural schizophrenia practised by most of the populace around the mass murders and other atrocities committed under the Franco regime. The book since it's last publication has created an impact in relatives from far seeking out their long dead in the mass graves sprinkled around the Spanish landscape, and has added firewood to a quiet movement of digging up and exhuming these bodies resulting in an organised movement, and one can see how Tremlett would have this impact. His original prose exposes the regime's humanitarian crimes for exactly what they are. He denounces the coat-changers, the vacillators, the myth creators as fiercely as the apologists, the deniers and the silent. Being a non-Spaniard and employed by a left-wing broadsheet in UK gives his pen, politics and perspective the objective force and an incredulous query a native writer would have struggled with.
This book, which is essentially a collection of objective, unflowery essays teeming with Tremlett's travel reportage and quotes, is as compelling as the reader's interest in these things Spanish: the Franco times, the abrupt transition to democracy, the post-Franco times, popular trends on television, Madrid 2004 bombings, the various political failures since transition, the status of different regions, Flamenco and gypsies, attitudes towards men, women and sex, the construction boom, the corruption, the favours, the politics and the opinions. Being a journalist and not an anthropologist or historian or sociologist, his interpretations of the new Spanish reality when not deriving from his own quotidian observations as a Madrid-resident journalist, dad to two Spain-born-and-reared kids and a native spouse are reliant on other experts' quotes or pat summaries. He manages the sweep and the breadth exceedingly well but what's sacrificed here is an attempt at a deeper, refined analysis of the peoples, replaced as it is by sometimes interminable quotes and summaries of quotes. He is curious no doubt, has a vested interest in knowing better his adopted land but reducing a country and its people to a few adjectives is a tricky thing. You get cramped by giving voice to the populists and the nationalists, by those in seats of power, hogging the limelight and those giving and producing news-bytes. For the things left unsaid by him and for a better exploration of the Spanish psyche, I'll be returning back to fiction emanating from the country, some more Almodovar and my Spanish friends.
on 9 April 2014
My British friend, Steve (aka Esteban), a Spain 'aficcionado', suggested this book to me a while ago. After checking it out on amazon and reading a few reviews I thought to myself...'who would want to read a book about your own country written by a foreigner...' didn't appeal much to me at the time.
Time went by and Esteban, having finished the book long ago, passed it on to me after we met for a bike ride.
Out of curiosity, and mainly humoring Steve's kind gesture, I decided to give it a go.
It is absolutely fair to give it 5 stars. The amount of research done for the book and the topics covered is a great feat on its own. But what is more, Mr Tremlett puts his analytical mind, curiosity, common sense and a bit of humour to the readers advantage along the way.
Topics range from a brief history of The Spanish Civil War, the modern unearthing of abandoned corpses, victims of the conflict, to religious-political beliefs and its conundrums in the old Spain, to the all seen and popular 'puticlub' (road brothel) to Flamenco and gypsies, children's upbringing, Eta, nationalists beliefs in catalonia, Pais Vasco and Galicia, the 'ladrillazo' (brick whack!) bubble economy and a long etc.
The greatest thing about the book is that it is based on a massive wealth of factual information put together by Giles. In fact, I remember some of the issues discussed in the book as they happened 'live' when I was still living in Spain and they have been explained and analysed very truthfully...and with great care not to offend anyone.
Some Spanish readers accuse the book of bias towards one side (as per Civil war and the two Spains divide (left-right) which still reigns in Spain) but I didn't find that to be the case. Giles is just putting in front of you a pile of facts, and some people may just not like that kind of thing.
In fact, only a British writer could have been so skillful at writing about such complex issues without offending anyone...or very few, and that is probably the success of the book. Giles doesn't have any natural patriotic inclination towards one side or another when analysing any of the topics...after all, he's a 'guiri' or a foreigner, just observing the facts...and trying to make sense of it as a rational human being. You can tell he actually makes an explicit effort on this.
So, because of that, I have liked it very much. It is hard to find as a Spaniard any book written by a countryman/woman about these issues that doesn't feel as if someone wants to convince you of their views.
If the book is good to explain 'Spain for Foreigners' I think it is even better to explain 'Spain for Spaniards", or simply. 'Spain Explained" Well done Mr Tremlett. Thank you for your huge effort here.
Just a couple of things I actually do not agree much with (as the good Spaniard I am...);
It is mentioned in the book something along the lines of 'Spain hasn't yet known how to love its gypsies..' or something like that...
I do not find that to be the case. Gypsy music and culture are everywhere, and mostly 'adored' by the regular Spaniard. Gypsies are on always on TV on New years eve, on every music festival and on movies galore...However, living close to a gypsy 're-location' neighbourhood or a drug supermarked shanty town, supplied and run by gypsies like the old La Celsa or Las Barranquillas, south of Madrid, would make you despise that side of the gypsy culture as much as anyone would do. One can read Mr Tremlett lives in leafy Retiro district of Madrid (an area I know very well) so perhaps he has developed a somewhat romatic view on this issue and has not fully got the whole picture, despite his genuine efforts.
Two great topics Giles missed on his book are:
'La Mili' (or the old compulsory Spanish Military Service until 2001) This would have been a great subject for Giles to compile loads of equaly tragic and comic situations and pure mad-cap conflict and cohabiting between the pacifist civilian regular Spaniard and the military driven few. I could have even handed him a few anecdotes about mine.
The late great comic Iva' used to write his 'Historias de La Puta Mili' comic strips that would not be as hilarious as they are, were they not based on pure simple 'truths' of the mad Mili.
The other one, 'La Corrida', or 'La Fiesta' (Nacional), 'Los toros'...bullfighting.
Oh boy!...how can Giles be brave enough to talk about ETA and the Catalonian Nationalists and Francoism, and not be daring to talk about the Bull Fight?? He does mention it briefly and adds that he will not getting into the stuff, but, why not? Such an important all defining matter of the Spanish world!! I can't be the only one missing this on his book!
It's either Giles likes it, which I kind of doubt, or Giles does not want to offend a large chunk of the population here that still loves the Corrida.
The fact is, the Bull fight is a pretty barbaric stuff, in whichever packaging you would want to present it...and I was raised as a child watching the 5 o'clock afternnon corrida on TV with my Grandma Antonia. A thing of the past...
I would have liked to read Giles analitic and humorous take on it, and I almost dropped a star on this review for his decision not to rip into it on his book. But I respect his decision.
Los Toros have such tradition and quasy-religious symbolism in Spain, that he would have been slagged off instantly had he dared to criticise it. What he doesn't perhaps appreciate is that he would have also been 'embraced' by as many if he had knocked it (If so he feels...) Giles Britishness definitely helps him navigate through all these issues unscathed...but may leave some Spaniards a bit cold in the end...Perhaps that would have been his ultimate test of 'Hispanidad'...he would have almost finally become a Spaniard had he joined fearlessly into the wrangle!!...haha! Well done Giles. Thank you for a great book.
Amazon have a habit of dumping reviews from different versions into others. To be clear this review is for the 2007 Paperback and sections may differ in newer books
Having an interest in Spain, but very little knowledge of its history I thought I would have a try of this book. It is broken down into sections that can be read as a standalone text, but the whole book can be read cover to cover as a story. It is written in a clear and concise way and doesn't labour on. For someone like me that has little understanding of the country it is a good place to start. If you are looking for a reference book, then it may help, but won't be detailed enough.
As a tourist I found the section on How the Bikini Saved Spain to be the most interesting. It was fascinating to read that a local Mayor had to approach General Franco to obtain permission, and that they both had the foresight to see the profit that could be gained from this. Without that decision being made, Spain may not be the tourist trap it is today.
The sections covering the Civil war, Moors and Christians and the Machismo of Spanish men also give an understanding of how Spain has become shaped and kept my attention throughout each section.
Not all sections were for me and I did get a bit bored reading about Verdaguer, but that isn't to say it wasn't well written, just a topic that didn't interest me.
This version has dated now, not that the text is no longer relevant (history doesn't really change) but the new version has probably some minor corrections and a new chapter. For a few pennies more I would suggest that one if you are interested in reading this ( 0571279392 )