Review: Catalonia Since The Spanish Civil War – Reconstructing the Nation – by Andrew Dowling


This book focuses on the study of the important Spanish region of Catalonia in the modern age. Catalonia has a strong claim to being an independent state, dating back to its time as the Kingdom of Aragon. There is a unique Catalan language and the region has a culture of its own, independent to that of the main Castilian Spanish national one. In wake of recent events in Catalonia, that occurred after this book was released, this book becomes ever more important to study in order for us to fully understand the political processes that are now occurring in Catalonia and their causes. Catalonia was a key thorn in the foot of Franco and the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War and during the ensuing Franco dictatorship, he never forgot the Catalan betrayal. Inherent to Francoism was oppression of regionalist identities within Spain. Under Franco, Catalanism went underground. There was suppression of the language and I found it strange how the main thrust of survival of Catalanism was to found within the Catholic church, an institution that, in particular, during the Spanish Civil War, encountered a fierce enemy in the Catalan people and experienced one of the most excessive repressions of the church by any area during its history, with many churches burnt and priests killed. Catalan liturgies and church literature ensured the survival of the language and the culture was empowered by Vatican support. Montserrat and its role in society in terms of Catalan national identity became intertwined. In the post-Franco era, there has been a resurgence in Catalanism. A degree of autonomy has been granted and widespread recovery of culture has developed, with Catalan being taught again and used in schools and an alternative centre of power to the central Madrid government has emerged in the Generalitat, its key figure in its foundation being long term president, Jordi Pujol. In the modern age, immigration of initially non-Catalan speakers from other areas of Spain, and then non-Spaniards, has created issues for integration within wider Catalan society. Catalonia is a powerful and wealthy industrial region that gives away about 10% of its GDP to Madrid with no return. Politically it tends to lean towards bourgeois values although working class organisation and unionisation has played an important role. There has been an ongoing rally for votes within Catalan politics between middle-right Nationalists and Socialists / Communists. The book’s epilogue explores the move for independence and Dowling successfully predicts the events that we have been seeing as Barcelona hits global headlines in its fight for secession. This book is an essential read for anybody who might be interested in the region of Catalonia.


Review: Chav Punk Hobbit – The Quest to The End Of The World – by Jason Phillips

chav punk hobbit

Jason is a Welsh Musician, and in this short book, he details his most recent Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage experience. He takes the Camino Portugués from Porto, a follow up to his previous encounter with the more traditional, and more widely known and popular, Camino Frances. We find Jason alone in his hotel room in Porto in a dusky predawn, a crazed band post-gig, having departed, and left the protagonist with little money and equipment and a pipe dream to escape yet again on pilgrimage to Santiago. This book is a modern pilgrimage, a journey to self. We are not sharing the voyage of a medieval religious monk, we share our modern chav hobbit’s punk desires. He needs not mass, blood wine and body bread, but wifi, bocadillos and plastic auberge mattresses. Our modern day pilgrim needs not God’s guidance, but is savouring the beauty and tranquility of a rustic, muddy countryside, as his mind ventures into the pilgrim spirit and devours itself in questions of self-exploration. A host of characters is met and through the hero’s transcript of muttered profanities as he describes the lurid animals he meets en route we make friends with a myriad of personalities from dotted around the globe. Most notably, German astronomer-theologian Thomaas and later, Irish reveller and journeyman Eoin. Interspersed with Spanish natives and kind Portuguese innkeepers and waiters, our bubbly hero sounds off his thoughts and shares in the rich tapestry of life of his fellow men, all the time progressing his own mind’s journey and in a self-revelatory manner, touching our soul with more profound deeper and wise philosophy. Jason loves his woman in Wales. He never quite transcends and escapes his homeland of Wales. From the murky sacred Ulla river reminding him of his hometown, Newport, to thinking of his absent grandfather having disappeared to Australia on his journey’s End, nostalgia is always a containing force to Jason, preventing him from moving on and getting the success and desires he so craves from life. Is it money he seeks? He answers and affirmative no and sees it as a means to an end in life’s great journey. He does seek Broadband and Wifi, yet after we lose communications and move out of the realm of technological contact with the outside world, our hero is not lost but finds himself again and can let his hair down properly in the taverna and hostels, enjoying more ancient revelry, wine and brandy, guitar-laden five star meals and the warmth of traditional hospitality so frequented by the tourists of these ancient routes over the Millennia. The language of Jason’s book is often shockingly coarse, but equally it is a direct language and the best philosophy succeeds in its directness. We move with the writer along the pilgrimage and as you read the book you can feel the rain pelting down, the books brevity comforting us as each night draws to a close and we settle down for the night on the auberge mattresses. Blankets or not, Chav Punk Hobbit reveals to us our own conflict in a modern age, where religion matters little and journeys of self are replaced by instant gratifications.I feel jealous, having not directly journeyed the route myself, green as I cannot feel the a priori mental revelations that resound in between the fast-flowing narratives. We must all strike out in this world and go on personal journeys to reveal our deepest thinking and to share with others the pleasures of life. Chav Punk Hobbit is an adventure and to overlook the beauty in the book’s touching simplicity means that you are not grasping the Welsh Hemingway’s poetic raison d’être. It is modern day philosophy in its most rawest essence. ENJOY!

Review: The Story of Spain by Mark R. Williams

the story of spain

This is a full history of Spain. It gives a good, full overview of the Spaniards, from prehistory through to the present day. The chapters are neat and easily digestable and each conclude with nice references to museums and locations of interest throughout Spain. I felt the book came into its own when discussing the height of Spanish Royalty. I have read more detailed histories of the Moorish period and also of the Spanish Civil War although the chapters in this book were good summaries of these epochs. The book is fast and flowing, without going into an overload of detail. It is a good compliment to my Hispanic Studies course at Cardiff University.

Review: Spain 1812-2004 – by Christopher J Ross

spain 1812-2004

I have read this book as I am doing a university course next year on Spanish History in the Modern Period. The book is devised for language students and at the end of each chapter excerpts in Spanish are provided, with translations, which are really useful. The book has some great side notes, detailing often Spanish phrases for the various political bodies, organisations and specialist terms one encounters in the text. If I was to be critical of the book it is to say that it focuses very much on politics and maybe goes into too much depth at the expense of wider cultural issues. Certainly the last few chapters make tough reading and are perhaps more intrinsically focussed than say the wider world knowledge of the Spanish Civil War and enduring Franco régime. Spain is often an international anomaly in its history, from Empire to international isolationism through to its modern period of more fiercer European integration. There was a lot of detail on regionalism that I found most intriguing, in particular the cases of Catalonia and the Basque country. I feel that the book is well worth reading and now feel suitably historically enlightened about the state and home of the Spanish language. I am sure that I will find plenty of future use of the book as a reference tool.

Review: Franco and The Spanish Civil War – by Filipe Ribeiro de Meneses

franco and the spanish civil war

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.

Review: Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises – by Ernest Hemingway

Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises
Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My love affair with Hemingway continues and Fiesta is the latest work of his that I have thrown myself into and conveniently it is all about a love affair. The tension of the love between Jake and the wild aristocratic Brett builds up in the city of Paris. We see a high life throughout this book. The chief protagonists certainly understand how best to enjoy their time. Washing machines and home cooked dinners are not on the agenda. We flit from bar to bar, restaurant to restaurant and the mouthwatering selection of food and drink is so succulently described that by the time Jake hit San Sebastian towards the end of the book I could actually savor the taste of his drinks. Hemingway is rich on description and all of his writing very cleverly conjures up mental images describing in detail the environment his characters inhabit. Fiesta is no different and if anything the landscape described in this book is perhaps richer. We can see that the author knows his terrain well. He is passionate about France and Spain and nowhere does this passion manifest itself more than at the Festival of San Fermin at Pamplona. From ‘Death In The Afternoon’ I know that Hemingway deeply admires bullfighting. The sejour at San Fermin allows this knowledge and love of La Corrida to manifest itself in fiction. Jake, an American, is rare as a foreigner, in that he is an initiate of this cultural sport. The relationship with Montoya, in whose hotel they reside, is poignant in the way Jake and Montoya interact as they discuss the intricacies of the weeks long activities centered upon the bulls. The wild partying of the week long fiesta culminates in an anarchic breakup of the group of friends. the boxer loses his temper, there is an excess of alcohol and Brett, who is the center of attention for all the men, decides to run off with the festival’s leading young bullfighter. They split away and head off in their own directions and it is Jake who comes to the rescue of Brett as she winds up in Madrid. It is obvious throughout that they deeply care for each other but their very lifestyle doesn’t allow them to be together. As the book ends with them travelling down a Madrid street in a cab, the accidental bump in the road brings them together at last? But it is only chance, the tension is never resolved and Hemingway leaves it to our own imagination as to where the story continues. The conclusion wasn’t quite as dramatic as I know Hemingway can be. there was no real heavy twist and the book just nicely wound down. I like Fiesta as it describes regions of the world I am familiar with and love. It is a happy book which leaves the reader content and satisfied and feeling as though he has been on the same journey as this group of wild party people.

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Review: A History of Spain

A History of Spain
A History of Spain by Simon Barton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a concise, comprehensive history of Spain which reads very easily and seems to cover most aspects of Spanish history, if only glossing over parts without going into heavy detail. It does recommend further reading and as a general work I found the text very accessible. It provokes interest in further study of specific areas. I found that sometimes the author Barton, could be a bit imposing and over-generalistic in his views. I have read certain parts of Spanish history in detail and sometimes, in particular, regarding the Arab conquest and the Spanish Civil War, I feel that his views and general summary of events was a bit over-vague and inconsistent with the facts that have been presented by other authors. Having said that, with such a vast history to take on in such a short space, this History of Spain does work and fills the necessary gap of knowledge that newcomers to Hispanic Studies require. Whilst reading the book I made use of literary references to dig out future reading in specialist areas of Spanish history. the book concludes nicely with a well-written glossary and chronology that will be very useful for reference.

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