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South from Granada by Gerald Brenan
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South from Granada (1957)

by Gerald Brenan

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234549,373 (3.66)6
  1. 10
    Journey to the Alcarria: Travels Through the Spanish Countryside by Camilo José Cela (caflores)
    caflores: Bajo las descripciones, el cariño del autor por la zona.
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English (3)  Spanish (2)  All (5)
Showing 3 of 3
This non-fiction travel book is as close to literature as travel books can get. Gerald Brenan, after serving in the British army in the First World War, decides to stretch his meagre savings as long as possible by living extremely cheaply in a very small village called Yegen in the mountainous regions in the south of Spain. This book, describing him living amongst these people in the 1920's, captures pretty much every conceivable angle of that village and its surrounding area, along with visits from famous arts figure friends from the Bloomsbury group, including Virginia Woolf.

There are two features that make the book so special. First, it describes a part of the western world that still carried its own unique identity, before the cultural and technological influx from the rest of the Western World homogenised it. Thus, the Yegen people are completely saturated with strange traditions, apparently Christian in many cases, but clearly owing their origins, in the main, to past pagan habits. The Islamic history of the place also plays a part, as does general superstitions. Whereas cosmopolitan places not too far away, such as Madrid, would have largely shed such primitive, but colourful, supersitions, Yegen seems still build on them. They pervade every aspect of life, especially that of courtship, which is even more formalistic and repressed than Victorian English rules of etiquette.

The second feature that makes the book so special is the eye of its author. Brenan was clearly both a tremendously robust, positive and adventurous man, which helped him fall in love with a place where medicine and education were so lacking. But he was also extremely good at both embracing the culture he was living inside, and remaining a distanced observer to it. Nowhere is this more apparent when he walks by a barred window and somehow accidentally seems to become a serious boyfriend of some young woman. This requires him to visit her window every evening from dusk, and spend hours talking with her. Only when he realises she is physically rather squat and unattractive after a possible promenade offer does he make his excuses, weeks later! But he notes carefully all the standard phrases she comes up with, as if she could be one of a thousand courting clones. But his eye for psychological detail brilliantly captures so many colourful characters in his time there that these are what elevate the book far beyond a normal travel book, and almost turn it, at times, into a Dostoyevskian novel (most apparent in his tour guide acquaintance who shows him round all the Almeria brothels - a man that claims he is riddled by STDs, but is still addicted to prostitutes despite this, even to the extent that he can't afford to feed his own children. All this is very dramatic and sad, but then it's revealed that the man is sexually completely non-functional, without any children, and it's all an act!).

Although occasional passages seem a little tedious, reverting almost to text-book level detail about the region's history, on the whole this is very easy and exciting reading. Told at times with a beautiful poetical style, this book is a pleasure to read, and gives a fascinating and immersive glimpse into a vibrant place and time that no longer exists. ( )
  RachDan | Jul 18, 2016 |
Interested in Spain in the 1920's and 1930's before the Civil War then this is a must.
( )
  Tonyh. | Jan 27, 2016 |
This is a fantastic book. It's a description of life in Yegen, the isolated and almost self-sufficient village in the Alpujarra region of Southern Spain where Gerald Brenan lived in the 1920's and 1930's. He describes the everyday life of the villagers and the festivals marking the agricultural year (which although nominally Catholic, have probably been performed almost unchanged since pagan times). He is a keen walker, on one occasion walking 60 miles home from Granada over the mountains in one day, starting at 3 am and arriving in the village at 10 pm. He is interested in the geography, archaeology, history, flora and fauna of the area as well as the people and describes everything in great detail. There are a couple of chapters about Bloomsbury friends such as Virginia Woolf visiting from England, but it is mostly about Spain and the way of life in the Alpujarra. ( )
1 vote isabelx | Feb 20, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gerald Brenanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ziegler, PhilipIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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