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

catalonia

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.

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Review: Postcolonial Translation: Theory and Practice

Postcolonial Translation: Theory and Practice
Postcolonial Translation: Theory and Practice by Susan Bassnett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve read a few articles on the subject of postcolonial translation and have found the area to be interesting. I thought I’d delve a little deeper into the subject. This book is a collection of nine extended essays. My first criticism is that there is too much of an emphasis on postcolonial translation in India. Whereas, due to the nature of the Indian multilingual community and its relationship with the British Empire, I can see how it can be an important focus in postcolonial translation, I felt that this book devotes too much to this one region and doesn’t fully explore more exotic regions of the world. There is very little reference to Africa and not much on South America, certainly not the Spanish-speaking part of South America. Thus, the book takes into consideration English as a primary language and the effect of British imperialism. A more varied range of essays with reference to other colonial powers would, I feel, add some spice to the book’s material. The essay on border writing in Quebec, was, I feel, the best essay in the collection. I did also, however, surprisingly, take a lot out of the Hélène Cixous / Clarice Lispector essay. Although, at first glance, the study of a famous French feminist’s obsession with a Brasilian (feminist) writer, may seem a bit trivial, I found that this essay best introduced me to new ideas and ways of viewing postcolonial translation. It is in essence a power struggle of differentials between colonised people and coloniser. When you add in the mix of a feminist outlook into translation, then some truly profound revelations come into play and I felt that the author of this particular essay (Rosemary Arrojo), developed some very interesting and original ideas, which could be applied to the whole field of postcolonial translation. Overall, this book was perhaps a bit too advanced for my tastes and it was rather difficult to maintain elevated excitement throughout the course of reading it.

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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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Review: The Spanish-Speaking World

The Spanish-Speaking World
The Spanish-Speaking World by Cl Mar-Molinero
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is an introductory text to sociolinguistic issues in the Spanish-speaking world. As part of my Spanish Studies classes I felt this would be a good text to introduce me to the importance of Castillian Spanish as a global language. The book never goes into much depth and in that sense I was a little disappointed. It does, however, introduce you to many of the key themes and provides a lot of wider reading. There is a big focus on the situation of minority languages within Spain, ie. Catalan, Basque and Galician. I found this interesting and the relationship between these tongues and Castillian Spanish is interesting, in particular within the context of the Diglossia which develops in minority language areas, particularly within the educational environment. The book details the role of Spanish in Latin America and with the growing population there, this is the largest Spanish-speaking area of the world. I found it interesting looking at the role of Spanish in Latin America in terms of post-colonial studies. It was nice to see the resurgence of such important indigenous languages such as Quechua. The book has many questions interspersing the text. The are exercises which aim to further study and provoke response in the student. Some of them were very useful and did indeed provoke thought. However, on the whole, I found these interruptions to be counter-productive and slightly annoying. I felt that when they offered useful information, this could quite have easily formed part of the main text. The book is useful as an introduction to some of the key themes and ideas relevant to the global status of the Spanish language. It could be a useful textbook for a undergraduate course although I feel that it’s lack of depth in general doesn’t assist in the development of the true knowledge of the topic at hand.

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Review: For Whom the Bell Tolls

For Whom the Bell Tolls
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Farewell to Arms is said to be Hemingway’s best book. Set in the Spanish Civil War, Robert Jordan is an American fighting in the International Brigades for the Republicans. He is tasked with blowing a bridge behind enemy lines and joins a band of guerrillas based in a cave, nor far from the chosen target. He falls in love with a rescued young girl and for three days enjoys true love. The book is feted as the best fictional account of the Spanish Civil War. I feel that Hemingway truly captures the feelings of this conflict. He worked as a war correspondent during the actual war and For Whom The Bell Tolls contains his accurate observations from the field. From the Madrid luxuries of the (primarily Russian) General staff, to the isolation, bonding, disputes and emotions of the guerrilla band, Hemingway weaves a splendid tale of loyalty, betrayal, fear, elation, romance and the horrors of war. I really enjoyed the Spanish language being used in conversation and it really helped to set the scene to hear the people cursing with real Spanish phrases. This work could be used in Translation Studies. It demonstrates the spirit of the Spanish people during their civil war. There is a sense of reality that these people were dealing with many foreigners and it is interesting to see how Robert Jordan, an American or ‘Ingles’, who spoke perfect Spanish, was so well-received and respected by the close-knit band of warriors. For me the ultimate conclusion was disappointing. The tragic twist was quite not as stomach-churning as in that of Farewell to Arms, for example, yet was perhaps the pessimistic outcome that Robert Jordan had envisaged as events conspired against him. Perhaps the book is an accurate description of the desperation of the Republicans as they on the whole unsuccessfully dealt with the formidable fascist foe with all their superior military equipment and force. Farewell to Arms is a great book but I am sure that in the Hemingway archives there is better work still to discover.

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Review: Translation and Identity in the Americas

Translation and Identity in the Americas
Translation and Identity in the Americas by Gentzler Edwin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was the first book I have borrowed and read from Cardiff University library’s Translation section. As a Translation student focussing on the Spanish language, I felt that this book would offer plenty of interest to me, considering that the Americas has the largest hispanic population in the world. The book is subdivided into five main chapters, each directed towards a certain geographic region in the Americas. The monolingualism of the USA, with its vast multicultural population, displays problems in the cultural struggles created by the way it forces minorities to adapt to English, the arrogance of this coming to light very much in the post September 11th world where military action has often been plagued with troubles of mistranslation and at official levels, an overwhelming dependence upon the force majeure of the official tongue. Quebec offers a unique zone in the Americas and its struggles with linguistic identity and its isolation are clearly demonstrated by Edwin. I found the history of Quebec to be enlightening and was new knowledge to me. The way that its patois language, joual, struggles to define itself in a society dominated by colonial English and French, formed a major role in the Quebecois independence movement and has manifested itself in local theatre and the adaptation of translation as a device for the feminist movement. This feminist translation in Quebec has transcended to borders and come to the forefront of translation studies worldwide. The chapter on Brazilian Cannibalism was, for me, the most interesting of the whole book. It truly indicates a unique way of looking at the post-colonial world. How cannibalism itself can be viewed from within Brazil as a positive force yet to the external viewer it is seen as a negative connotation of savagery, demonstrates the Derridaean deconstruction at play in translation to a relatively understandable level for the novice initiate into translation studies. The cannibalist school of thought shows how translation redefines boundaries and how there is a struggle between cultures in the process. The works of Latin American fiction authors and their relationships to Translation was particularly relevant to me, as a student of Spanish. I discovered some new authors here and have bookmarked their work. I also, as a result of this chapter, plan to reread Garcia Marquez’ 100 Years of Solitude, to view it from the perspective of the Translation theme which is not so obvious on a first read of the great novel. The last chapter of the five focusses on border areas and the identity struggle that cultures face there. Mexico and the Caribbean have their own issues with border areas. Criollism in the Caribbean is now on the rise as a fashion and old concepts and prejudices are being redefined by the local linguists. I think the whole frontera issues on the Mexican – US border were very intriguing and analysing the history of the area plus the effects of bilingualism and the culture that arises from it, could be an area in which I would maybe consider focussing an eventual dissertation for my degree.
Each chapter concludes with a deeper analysis by the author and there is a thoroughly wholesome introduction and conclusion. If there was any criticism, then perhaps there is a repetition and over-reliance on the analytical deconstruction models of Jaques Derrida. However, I feel that this book was useful in that it successfully drew me to the attention of this man’s ideas and that had been something that prior to reading this work, I had only skirted over and had not adequately understood.
I found this book to be very readable and interesting. It broadened my mind to some of the wider issues that Translation Studies scholars have to consider. I’m sure that I’ll be returning to the library to reborrow it for reference purposes in my later studies.

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Review: Romantic Revolutionary: Simon Bolivar and the Struggle for Independence in Latin America

Romantic Revolutionary: Simon Bolivar and the Struggle for Independence in Latin America
Romantic Revolutionary: Simon Bolivar and the Struggle for Independence in Latin America by Robert Harvey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Simon Bolivar was one of history’s great characters. His revolutions across South America overthrew Spanish rule in six countries. His empire extended across the continent and was as large as that of Genghis Khan or Alexander the Great. Against all the odds, he was a Nietzchean superhuman, who with mainly inferior forces, defeated a strong European military power. He would race for battles across thousands of miles, often having to deal with the impossible geography of Latin America to do so. He was very sympathetic to the needs of the people, across all races and classes yet he had a vicious streak that was sometimes necessary to curb the power of his enemies and to protect his ideals. His military prowess as a general was unmatched yet he lacked the cut-throat political acuteness in order to rule his legacy in peace time. Bolivar’s romantic notions allowed the rise of caudillos who would nearly all turn against him by the end of his life. His life was semi-divine, mystical and has inspired many to this day yet his failure to govern successfully left him impoverished at the end of his life, seeking exile. perhaps he was too successful and took on too much? Perhaps he didn;t do enough and should have continued to liberate the whole continent? This book is interesting and well-written and gives a good insight into the life of a legendary character.

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