This book is a nice, concise look at the Spanish Civil War. I used it for revision purposes, to remind myself of some of the details of heavier tomes that I have encountered on this subject. The author’s analysis of the causes of the War are precise and factual, without noticeable bias. The account of the war itself focuses on the political changes and has an underlying reasoned account of why events transpired and their implications on the outcome of the wider conflict. There is an inevitable tragedy to the Spanish Republic, with bitter infighting plaguing all their attempts at retaining democracy. The lurch to the left from within is seen as an inevitable result of the lack of full international support and the Republicans’ heavy reliance on Soviet Aid. Franco’s luck and expert conciliation of his own individual powers can be seen as gifted by not only the over Italian and German military aid but also the insistence on non-intervention by the Allied powers of Britain and France. The different policies of either side, especially in relation to the peasants and working classes and the depth of internal conflict and terror is a shock to any reader’s system. This book covers the principal details of the gruesome conflict that was the Spanish Civil War very well and is a good guide to the key events and a nice summary of the causes, conflict and its outcomes.
My journey through Hemingway’s works continues and ‘Men Without Women’ was no let down. The testosterone is flowing in this collection of short stories and the author’s narrative is constantly catching the macho emotions amid the standard Hemingway vivid scene description. We move from bullfighters, to gangsters, to boxers, to road trippers. Often the stories are based in the romance of continental Europe, a place for which, it is clear, Hemingway has a special affinity. very often we leave the story abruptly with a typical open-ended cliffhanger, allowing us to ponder the future development of the characters. Each of the stories could quite easily become a novel in themselves and in that sense ‘Men Without Women’ leaves us thirsty for more.
The Dutch author is, most certainly, an admirer of Spain. He writes passionately about his travels across the land, traversing history, culture, and the role of Spain in the modern world. The style is erratic and it takes a while to get used to the author’s jumpiness, but it all seems to weave together nicely. There are deep forays into the world of art and I found the detail on Velasquez most interesting and it is clear that Nooteboom holds a special place in his heart for the work of Zurbaran. There is a constant flicker of images of old rustic villages and a barren landscape as the author makes his undulating way in a series of neverending detours in his quest to reach Santiago de Compostela. I think one of the giveaways in the book is when our Dutch narrator reveals how he almost joined a monastery. He obviously has deep religious feelings and these manifest in his detailed depictions of the art and architecture of the religious buildings which seem to dominate the direction of his meanderings. The history of Spain can be detailed in the construction of these temples. From the deep antiquity of the Romans through to the Visigoths and Arabs and on into the post-reconquista emergence of a unified state under Ferdinand and Isabella and future Habsburg monarchs up to the tragedies of the Civil War and Francoist Spain and its post-Franco entrance into modern Europe. I think that the translator from Dutch has done a wonderful job and the book reads most freely. It has a deep elegant manner, is of the most floral and descriptive prose and it never fails to produce a deep impression on the imagination of the reader. This genuine work of literary art embeds the image of Spain on the mind and one can feel and breathe the deep-seated knowledge and embracing love that the author has for this mysterious land.
I studied Chinese language for a couple of years and am constantly on the lookout for books about China and its culture. When this jumped out at me from a charity shop bookshelf, at first I thought it was just another dictionary. But I read the back and thought that it would make a good present for my partner and as I had recently bought her the cult erotic tale, ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’, I thought she could trump all her friends by encountering the Chinese version.
I decided that although I’m not a great lover of fiction and no virtually nothing at all about erotic fiction, because of the cultural aspect, I would give it a go myself. I immediately got drawn into the main character. I loved the way the book was presented. For a student of the Mandarin tongue I fully embraced the way the English was written, in a ‘Chinglish’ fashion, and many references were made to the linguistic differences between East and West. Sex in the Orient is often seen in the West as a taboo subject and it is certain that it is viewed in very different terms throughout the globe depending upon one’s culture. I was shocked in a way to hear this young Chinese girl talk so open about her sexual desires and experiences. It was a real eye-opener. Her journeys across Europe and her liasons were very much down to earth and frank, and to be honest very believable. She didn’t experience the Hollywood romances, other fictional writers may depict. Her boudoir was really rather more grounded in the reality of sex, with disappointment, less than perfect partners and a real animalistic edge to the carnal desire, which did seem rather shocking coming from a woman’s mouth, even if she was from the Orient.
The book wasn’t all about sex and I found the travel side of the tale very interesting. The clash of cultures, of civilisations, the differences between East and West were fully explored. Not since I read Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, have I read such a good description of how an alien immerses themselves in a totally foreign culture. For anyone who has travelled abroad, especially travelling solo, it is very easy to relate to the findings made in this book. It’s not the grandiose elements of travel that form the memories of the experience, it’s the little details, the trivial elements that make travel what it is. Here was a woman struggling with her own emotions, cast out on her own in a journey of self-discovery. I think she found herself on her journey and her story was really an interesting and very readable one. For any sinophiles this is a great read and for people who want to know more about Chinese cultures and perceptions especially from a sexual perspective, I would highly recommend this book.