Scribbler in Seville

Some of my favourite books about Spain

Casting around for a topic for today’s post, I asked for ideas on my Facebook page. And I got a great one, which I’d been meaning to do for a while anyway. Thanks, Tess Stobie!

I love reading books in English, almost as much as I love listening to my Revo WIFI radio. And I devour books about Spain, especially Andalucia and, obviously, Seville.

So here is a list of my favourites. If they’re a bit old, it’s because nothing else that’s been written recently is a patch on these – it’s as much about the style, as the content. Having said that, I firmly belive that you have to understand a country’s history (I’ve never formally studied Spanish history), especially when it’s as traumatic and bloody as Spain’s, to get a handle on how it is hoy en dia.

Duende by Jason Webster
This is a journey into the dark world of flamenco – the author learns guitar and plays with some genuine gitano musicians in the dodgier parts of Madrid. I love this author because he is endlessly curious, he loves Spain, he writes beautifully, and he has cojones.

The Seville Communion by Arturo Perez-Reverte (Published in Spanish as La Piel del Tambor)
A contemporary thriller by this popular Spanish writer, set in the city and based around murders and the Catholic Church. Perez-Reverte also wrote the trashy but highly entertaining Queen of the South, about a Mexican drug baron in Marbella, which aired on TV earlier this year; the twist is, it’s a woman.

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee
Laurie Lee is one of the most lyrical writers I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. He walked over the Pyrenees and across Spain, living in Andalucia (near Malaga) for years until the Civil War drive him out. A poetic view of early 20th-century from stables, yards and horse carts.

South from Granada by Gerald Brenan
I have my Dad’s battered old hardback version of this, from the 1950s, as he’s a big fan. Brenan, an Englishman, lived in the Alpujarras in the 1930s, and the image he describes is of a mountain village that hasn’t changed for centuries. It can only be reached by mule, and lives according to the seasons. He returned after the Civil War, describing a trip through a much-changed land.

The Factory of Lights by Michael Jacobs
A historian who has written comprehensive, authoritative tomes on the history of Andalucia, Jacobs wrote the most authentic story of living in a small town in Andalucia and falling in with the locals. Forget sheep farming, Landrovers and restoring run-down old stone farms (yawn), he creates a cast of memorable local characters which stayed with me for a long time. It’s not about him, or his building project, but the people in the Jaen town, and how they interact. Relatively unknown – Jacobs, an academic, is no self-publicist, which says a lot. The best account of what rural life here is really like.

El Campesino

Listen Comrades: El Campesino by Valentin Gonzalez
Another of my Dad’s – a gripping, melodramatic tale of a respected Communist commander from the Civil War who is sent to Russia. But he doesn’t toe the line, and is sent to a succession of labour camps. Colourful, extraordinary adventures. Just look at the guy – look at that face – you can see he’s got some tales to tell.

Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene
I am a huge Graham Greene fan, especially of his books which are set abroad. More modern (published in the early 1980s, post-Franco) than the other books on this list, it tells of a priest who travels around Spain with a deposed Communist mayor as his Sancho Panza; his Rocinante is an ancient Seat. Greene has a wonderful ear for dialogue.

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
As a vegetarian, I detest bullfighting, but living in Spain and not reading Hemingway is a sin. This account of boozy, sexed-up expats in Pamplona for the bull running is a vivid account of how that set lived. He’s not exactly the most flowery of writer – he makes a good contrast with Lee, in fact – but the spare urgency of his prose takes you right into 1920s Spain. It’s a novel, but is based on real people and real events.

That’s it. What I really wanted to do was to have my favourite quote from each book, but it’s getting late so I’ll try to do that for another installment in A Post A Day later this month.

15 thoughts on “Some of my favourite books about Spain

  1. Rachel

    Great post, thanks Fiona. A few more to add to my ever growing reading list. I also quite enjoyed Jason Webster´s Andalus, not read Duende yet – it is on the list.

    Another one you might like is Spanish Recognitions by Mary Lee Settle an American historian who came over to Spain for a road trip on her own at the age of 80.

  2. azahar

    Have read all but three of these (South from Granada, Factory of Lights, El Campesino) and remember being totally charmed by Monsignor Quixote.

    Am presently trying to get through another Jason Webster called Or The Bull Kills You, a murder mystery that takes place in Valencia, but it’s not gripping me the way it did Annie Bennett (who recommended it).

    And one to miss: The Blind Man of Seville by I-can’t-remember. Awful.

    Perhaps I could borrow your copy of Factory of Lights? Your description of it (no sheep farming, etc) has intrigued me. Would love to read about someone’s experience as an outsider in Spain that doesn’t resort to the usual patronising observations and clichéd caricatures.

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      I loved Or the Bull Kills You. also, he is nice bloke which helps my view of his books! His others, Andalus and Guerra!, were also good (esp Guerra!), but Duende was the one I really loved.Yes, agree re Blind Man of Seville. I am extremely wary of lending books as have lost so many over years (eg, no idea where copy of Andaluz is right now).

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  6. Paul Murphy


    Just found this post, interesting, some books I have not come across before. I hope you will like my take on Laurie Lee, not sure of the state of my cojones though! Happy to do that interview for you any time, book is out in June. I am speaking at a book festival in July with a writer called Kate Lord Brown who has a book out called The Perfumed Garden set in Valencia now and in the time of the civil war.

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