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The Face of Spain Paperback – 11 Feb 2010
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The book is a travelogue and over 60 years old, great for those who want to understand an era in the recent past, but for an in depth analysis of the history of Andalusia up to the current time, Michael Jacob's Andalusia is more useful and informative.
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)
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