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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A greatpiece of social history,
Without doubt Brenans books on Spain are a unique insight to the Spain of those days - in Face of Spain he has returned in 1950 (with a huge pre civil war knowledge of Spain) and tours around various provinces chatting with a variety of Spanish people. He recounts their views in detail as well as describing the scenery, buildings etc and the book paints a vivid picture of those difficult, for many, times in Spanish history. He also expresses his views on the Spanish political and social climate of the day based on his vast experience of the country.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The prodigal's return,
Brenan's story of his brief return to Spain with his wife Gamel Wolsley in 1949. His reflections - and sadness - of the changes caused by the Civil War which led him to leave the country in 1936. Strangely Brenan remains impartial to the different parties in the conflict, but his impartiality enables him to give a fair assessment of society and government (and the coruption and appalling poverty caused by both) which still remains non democratic, regressive and still church orientated so long after the end of the SCW. The woes and passive acceptance of the working class Spanish people at this time and their total inability to better themselves due to the restraints imposed by those either in power or with powerful 'friends' is something which was not - and still perhaps is still not general knowledge. He diverges somewhat in the last chapter but that is Gerald Brenan.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A minor-key journey in post-war Spain,
"Face of Spain" lacks the polemic of "The Spanish Labyrinth" - it lacks, too, the thematic treatment and supportive detail. Instead, it's essentially a travelogue, of G Brenan's return to Spain in 1949, and his journeys from Madrid back towards Andalusia. During the narrative, he capably describes what passes by the rail carriage's window, and what he finds in the hungry towns. He also recounts several vox pop chats with frustrated fascists and pensive democrats. Quixotically, he goes in search of García Lorca's grave, and constantly admires the passing countryside, while noting, with a strangely resigned tone, the pervasive poverty of that time. This is a better book than Laurie Lee's "A Rose for Winter", being far less introspective, but shares with it a sense of passive dismay.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Aftermath...,
Gerald Brenan was a British writer who survived the trench warfare of the First World War, and decided to seek solace, as well as stretch his limited financial services, in Spain starting in 1919. He was an astute and perceptive observer of his adopted country. His most famous book is The Spanish Labyrinth: An Account of the Social and Political Background of the Spanish Civil War (Canto), which is a careful and balanced examination of the Spanish Republic in the period 1931-36, with the focus on the causes of the civil war that would be its downfall. Brenan and his wife fled his home near Malaga two months into the war, and lived in England throughout Spain's war, and the subsequent Second World War. He returned to Spain in 1949. The country was exhausted from the civil war, and what Brenan calls the genocide and white terror that occurred during the Second World War, while other countries were otherwise engaged, and Franco could finish score-settling from the civil war, and ensure an iron grip on the country.
Brenan confirms his Republican sympathies, no surprise, since he is a reasonably sentient being. He does report however, and even acquiesces to the assessment made by the vast majority of Spaniards that he met, that the country was so exhausted by continued strife and violence over a decade that Franco's rule was preferable to continued fighting.
The title to his book is "off" by three-fourths. On his 1949 return, he traveled only in the southwestern quadrant of the country, the area available if one drew a straight line from Madrid to the Portuguese frontier, and another one from Madrid to the Mediterranean. Unlike some other travel writers, and Robert Bryon's The Road to Oxiana (Penguin Classics)immediately comes to mind, the strength of Brenan's narrative is his scholarly knowledge of the historical antecedents to a particular locale coupled with a strong empathy for the individuals that he meets in that locale today. An unusual and valuable combination.
In terms of those locales, there are several that are described so evocatively, that they can easily be placed on a reader's "must see list," or for some of the fortunate, the "must see again list." This would include the Great Mosque at Cordova, "the most original and most beautiful...one gets a feeling of peace and harmony which is quite different from the mood of religious holiness and austerity imparted by Christian cloisters." Then there is Aranjuez, "the Spanish Versailles," which he recommends to "all serious dendrophils," (a word that I would have had to look up, but fortunately he added, "all lovers of trees," and it turns out I am one! There are abundant literary references, from, "...if one agrees with Stendhal, he collects those promissory notes of happiness which give a precious fraction of their value when they are pocketed," and calls Juan Valera "the Spanish Jane Austen."
The political assessments are definitely also included. For example: "Such is the old rigid type of bishop, brought into being by the liberals when they closed the chairs of theology in the universities...For them the whole duty of man may be summed up as death to the liberals, suppression of sex, and frequent attendance at divine service." Brenan reports the views of a fellow traveler, who reports on starving workers on the Duchess of Osuna's estate: "The Reds didn't shoot the right people. They left the landowners alone, and now we have to pay the price for it."
It had been 13 years since the Brenan's last saw their house in Malaga, in 1936. In the interval, it has been tended by two caretakers, Antonio and Rosario. What would it look on their return? They were amazed to find the garden in better shape, and all their possessions, including books, safe, and moved into one wing of the house. In the other lived five families (!); who had caused no damage. It sounds like their money did go a bit further in Spain! Brenan's assessment of the caretakers: "Such fidelity to a foreigner was deeply touching and I wondered if under similar circumstances an English labourer's family would have given it to Spaniards."
A knowledgeable, perceptive and empathetic portrait of Spain in the immediate post-World War II period. A solid 5-stars.
(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on December 03, 2010)
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must to read,
A superb insight into Spain during the Civil War and after.
An easy history lesson.
Gerald Brenan is sorely missed.
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The Face of Spain by Gerald Brenan