Ten books that tell you everything you need to know about Spain

Adam García, founding father of MadRead,shares his high ten important reads with The Local readers.

In some methods, Spain is a really acquainted nation.  The Iberian Peninsular is a typical vacation vacation spot for many Europeans and you will have visited prior to creating the transfer to reside right here.  Yet in different methods, Spain is not like every other nation on earth. 

It has a sophisticated and partly ‘forgotten’ historical past stuffed with battle, be it because of energy, politics, territory, invasion, persecution, household and sure after all, soccer.

This advanced previous ends in refined feedback and attitudes from Spaniards which are obscure with out a good understanding of their origins. 

Reading is the easiest way to realize that understanding, however … ten cuidado (watch out)!  History is simply advised by those that survive it and will be slanted to painting the teller’s private opinions reasonably than truth, however that is human nature.  The solely technique to overcome any bias is to learn extensively, from totally different sources, factors of view and intervals in time.

I’ve been dwelling in Madrid for just a little over two years now.  To a few of you this may occasionally seem to be an eternity, while to others I’m recent off the boat.  Whichever applies, I’ve chosen a collection of books that I hope will enable you to navigate by way of the illustrious previous and current of your chosen vacation spot, Spain, irrespective of how lengthy you’ve been right here. 

In addition to non-fiction titles there are additionally fiction books both set in Spain or initially written in Spanish which are enjoyable for locating new locations and authors. 

If you’ve already lined the important studying my additional studying recommendations gives you just a little inspiration for what to learn subsequent.  Something for everybody. I hope you discover one thing that you simply like and uncover one thing new.


Ghosts of Spain by Giles Tremlett

Giles Tremlett is an award-winning historian, creator and journalist who moved to Spain within the nineties working as a correspondent for The Guardian and The Economist, in addition to writing for a variety of Spanish broadcasters. 

At a second when a variety of mass graves containing the victims of Franco´s loss of life squads had been being found, the “pact of forgetting” started to interrupt. 

This prompted Tremlett to set off on a journey round Spain to collect his analysis for this e book. 

The e book covers a variety of subjects which have formed and influenced Spain over the 20th century, together with the Civil War, Basque terrorism, Catalans dislike for Madrid (to place it mildly), the more moderen terrorist bombings in Madrid in 2004, in addition to some lighter themes such because the invention of the bikini! 

The detailed analysis and insightful interviews with Spaniards young and old from throughout the nation makes this the right eye-opener for these simply off the boat and offers little trinkets of information for the extra established settler. 

I discovered the e book troublesome to learn at first,once I was nonetheless dwelling within the UK.  Admittedly this was because of my restricted funding in understanding the historical past of the nation earlier than I had moved right here.  Once I arrived, I picked it up once more and couldn’t put it down till I had learn all of it.  When you really transfer to a different nation you change into much more invested in understanding its individuals and its tradition.  At occasions I discovered myself saying out loud “Ohhhh I see!”  And you’ll too.

Spain by Jan Morris

Jan Morris is a Welsh historian, a former correspondent for The Times and award profitable travel-writer. She accompanied the British Mount Everest Expedition in 1953 and reported the success of Hillary and Tenzing in scaling Everest.

Described because the ‘most evocative book ever written about Spain’ Morris first wrote this e book in 1967 and it was republished in 2008 with an up to date foreword concerning the post-Franco period.

History, geography, faith, tradition and politics are all lined utilizing extremely descriptive language to painting the chosen scene that takes the reader proper there,to that second, as if standing within the plaza together with her as she sips a restaurant con leche taking within the environment.

“The first characteristic of Spain”, Morris writes. ´Here all is sol or sombra, solar or shade, as they name the 2 halves of the bull-ring. You are seldom half manner in Spain. It is both fearfully scorching or frightfully chilly.  You are both a very good man or a foul one, both very wealthy or very poor, both a trustworthy church-goer or an out-and-out disbeliever.´

Regarding Spaniards themselves, Morris speaks of the variety of the areas (or Kingdoms) of Spain and the sturdy feeling of patriotism they’ve for his or her territory.

Written in 1967, the e book captures what it meant to be Spanish in the course of the Franco period but it surely additionally goes on to say how a lot Spain has modified since then.  More tourism, extra motorways, small villages misplaced as individuals flocked to the cities. 

But the sensation of being Spanish hasn’t modified.  ´So once I say this e book is a few explicit Spanish time, maybe it’s about all Spanish occasions actually´

This e book is for individuals who benefit from the romanticism of Spain and the attract of its historical past, battle and fervour.

Fear and Loathing in La Liga by Sid Lowe

Football.  You can’t keep away from it in Spain.  Any tapas bar you end up in will both have the tv on within the background with a replay of an previous Classico (the well-known twin between the 2 largest largest and most well-known staff in Spain, Real Madrid and Barcelona) or a gaggle of individuals arguing concerning the present state of play in La Liga, the Spanish high tier soccer league.

“It’s Messi vs Ronaldo, Catalonia vs Castilla.  It’s the nation against the state, freedom fighters vs Franco’s fascists. It’s the best two teams on the planet going face to face and toe to toe.  It’s more than a game.  It’s a war.  It’s Barcelona vs Real Madrid”.

Whilst that is primarily directed at soccer followers this e book has an attention-grabbing mixture of soccer historical past and Spanish historical past. It’s fascinating how the 2 intertwine to clarify extra than simply the soccer rivalries however the place they stem from and why at 17 minutes and 14 seconds into every Barcelona recreation the followers start to chant.

This isn’t just pleasure for the aptitude on the pitch, it’s recognition of the lack of Catalan independence in 1714, a subject that’s extra alive right now than ever and offers a pleasant segue manner into the subsequent e book…

The Struggle for Catalonia by Raphael Minder

In mild of the latest Catalonia independence referendum held in October 2017, it is a very well timed e book to be studying and has been quoted as ‘Deeply researched, fair-minded and empathetic’. 

Raphael Minder is a Swiss journalist working because the New York Times correspondent for Spain and Portugal since 2010 protecting points together with the monetary disaster and the territorial battle over Catalonia.  

In his e book, Minder dives into Catalonia’s history from 1714 and progressively brings the reader again to the current day to supply a complete understanding of the place Catalonia’s deep rooted sense of id is derived from. In protection of the referendum a typical query requested was ‘What defines a country?’

According to rock musician Frank Zappa, the reply was it has to have a beer and an airline!  However, worldwide regulation consultants establish 4 essential traits.  A individuals, a territory, a authorities and the flexibility to conduct relations with different states on a sovereign foundation.  Minder covers many of those themes and extra in his e book. 

Whilst the violent clashes between protestors and the Civil Guard following the October referendum subsided, the underlying points grew to become extra sophisticated than ever following the momentary reassertion of management over the autonomy by the central authorities.

With ongoing uncertainty in Catalonia, one factor is for certain. Living in Spain, you can be questioned about this matter from family and friends again residence. 

This e book will allow you to fend off these questions and likewise, maybe, decide the place you personal opinion lies, which can have already got been influenced just by what a part of this peninsular you’ve settled.  Right or improper? In or out? More questions are positive to come up in your thoughts, however you will see some solutions right here and that’s a begin.   

The Santiago Pilgrimage by Jean-Christophe Rufin

I do know what you’re considering.  A e book about Spain, written by a Frenchman? Well I’ll come to that.  But first think about this.  The Road to Santiago or El Camino is essentially the most well-known pilgrimage in Spain, if not the world.

The journey ending on the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, north west Spain, and the reputed burial place of Saint James the Great, one of many apostles of Jesus Christ.

Also often called ‘the Way of Saint James’, though there is no such thing as a single manner, solely a single finish level.  This is one other ingredient of Spanish tradition and historical past that you just can’t escape from, be it photographs on Facebook of some good friend of a good friend who has determined to stroll it, with an enormous smile as they set off with their model new tenting gear piled excessive on their again. Or a day journey to a close-by city and coming throughout a easy scallop shell on the bottom with an arrow.  Or driving alongside a street and passing what seems to be somebody in fancy gown going to a Lord of the Rings themed social gathering with a cape and a stick. 

My level is that any e book about ‘El Camino’ can solely be written by any individual who has walked it and that’s what Rufin did.

Whilst clearly a big enterprise for anyone to embark upon, what struck me most about Rufin’s account was how mundane a lot of the route is. 

Needless to say there it requires numerous strolling(!),however I had at all times imagined the route as being ‘off road’ alongside picturesque coastal routes or alongside the ridge of hills and mountains with spectacular views. 

An opportunity to flee fashionable life, clear your thoughts and meet attention-grabbing individuals.  Due to the shortage of any single route, the route you select will be no matter you make it, however from the story on this e book there have been very lengthy stints alongside unremarkable roads.

This is probably unavoidable.  Along an eight hundred kilometre trek I’m pretty sure that I’d attain a degree the place the short route alongside the principle street vs the slower scenic route would win out.

While Rufin walked there, this isn’t the one choice and lots of additionally cycle. For a extra humorous story of ‘El Camino’ why not learn Tim Moore’s ‘Travels with My Donkey’, which wants no additional rationalization.

Rufin chooses the ‘Northern Way’ as his route and encounters a bunch of fellow pilgrims, monks, locals, robust terrain and hostile wildlife.  

Each 12 months increasingly individuals take up the problem and in 2017 over 300 thousand individuals accomplished it.  If you determine you need to give it a go then this e book is a should. Or when you favor, like me, you may also uncover the route from the consolation of you favorite armchair.

This e book combines the romanticism of assembly attention-grabbing individuals, breathtaking views of sunsets, self-fulfilment and reminding your self what stillness feels like, with the truth of lengthy slogs alongside black tarmac with nothing however your ideas to maintain you firm.  Insightful, thought-provoking and provoking.

Further non-fiction suggestions

If you’ve learn these already, then worry not.  There is extra the place they got here from.  The MadRead cabinets are stacked excessive with extra fascinating reads about Spain.  Here are just some extra to fulfill your curiosity…..

‘The Train in Spain’ by Christopher Howse; ‘Travellers in Spain’ by David Mitchell; ‘The Spanish Holocaust’by Paul Preston; ‘The Basque History of the World’ by Mark Kurlansky and ‘Driving Over Lemons’by Chris Stewart.  

Let’s not additionally overlook essentially the most cherished of all issues Spanish…..the meals!  If you’ve a style for cooking up a couple of Spanish dishes at residence, why not strive these cookbooks: ‘Barrafina’ by Sam and Eddie Hart and Nieves Barragán Mohacho; ‘Morito’by Sam Clark and‘Basque Country’by Marti Buckley.

READ ALSO:  The 14 best books about the Spanish Civil War


Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes

I did say this text was about important studying and it doesn’t get extra important than Don Quixote.  Written by Miguel Cervantes and first printed in 1605 (the Spanish Golden Age of flourishing artwork and literature) that is thought to be the world’s first fashionable novel and one of many funniest and most tragic books ever written.  It has been translated into 145 languages and the Cervantes Institute says it’s the most translated e book after the Bible.  Furthermore, this e book has not been consigned to historical past however is extra prevalent in right now’s society than ever.

Spanish kids throughout the nation know this story inside out, rather more so than an English major faculty youngster can relay any story by Shakespeare.  They study it at college, carry out it in performs and skim it at residence.

The noble knight errant and his well-known adventures of bravery and braveness alongside his trustworthy squire, Sancho Panza, as they journey by way of sixteenth century Spain are legendary. 

There are many translations into English and whereas the interpretation from previous Spanish into fashionable English makes the language at occasions just a little tough, the story is simple to observe and offers leisure, giggle out loud moments and evokes empathy for the protagonist.  What’s extra, the story of Don Quixote is seen throughout us.

Cervantes Week takes place across the author’s baptism date on 9 October 1547 and performs host to a variety of occasions, lectures, theatrical performances, concert events, gastronomic occasions and markets. 

Go to Alcalá de Henares, the birthplace of Cervantes, simply outdoors Madrid, and you’d be forgiven for considering this was a worldwide phenomenon, because it takes over the city.  Stop by the barrio de Las Letras in Madrid and on Saturdays you’re sure to be knocked over by vacationer teams strolling down Calle de Cervantes to take a selfie outdoors Cervantes´ residence, as if a modern-day movie star within the Hollywood hills. 

The Plaza de España hosts an enthralling statue of Don Quixote driving his stallion Rocinante alongside Sancho Panza. 

You may even observe within the footsteps of Don Quixote’s route round Spain and joust with the windmills if it pleases you. Spain is suffering from statues of Cervantes and his well-known characters. It doesn’t even cease there.At each location referenced on this e book, they’ve erected or present proud Cervantine references from as distant as Panama and San Francisco.

If you’ve learn it or if this looks as if an apparent selection, then please settle for my humble apologies.  If you haven’t, decide up a replica now as a result of …. it’s important.  Any article with out this e book because the primary e book of fiction to learn when dwelling in Spain can be against the law towards literature that might immediate Don Quixote to take up his sword and struggle to the loss of life to revive honour.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

This is the primary e book within the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ collection and what a e book it’s!  10 12 months previous Daniel is taken to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his father, a bookseller in Barcelona, the place he chooses The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax.  As he grows up, he finds individuals turning into serious about his chosen e book, main Daniel to seek for the reality concerning the life and loss of life of Julian Carax. 

Set within the 1940’s throughout a darkish interval in Barcelona, along with the gripping plot that retains you awake late at evening to learn ‘just one more chapter’, this e book additionally provides you a way of what Barcelona was like in these occasions.  The uncertainty, worry and oppression which are dropped at life by way of the characters.

This is one in all my favorite fictional books set in Spain. What I loved most about ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ was how my opinions of every of the characters modified all through the e book as Zafón progressively reveals just a little extra of their pasts. Once I obtained to grips with the parallel tales of previous, current and the e book inside the e book, I used to be fully hooked on discovering out how every storyline progressed and seeing how they weaved collectively.

There at the moment are three extra books within the collection, beginning with the ‘Angels Game’, ‘The Prisoner of Heaven’and not too long ago printed ‘Labyrinth of the Spirits’.  Once you get hooked on the primary, you can be positive to need to learn the remainder.

Winter in Madrid by C.J.Sansom

Winter in Madrid is about in the course of the Spanish civil conflict and is the story of three English faculty mates who all discover themselves in Spain throughout this horrific interval of the nation’s historical past. This e book is packed stuffed with sub-plots with romance, friendship, spying, surviving and struggling that basically provides the reader a really feel for the way it will have been prefer to reside within the Spanish capital throughout these occasions.

The descriptions on this e book are vivid and immerse you within the second, feeling the chilly and the uncertainty round you. In the epilogue we study that the prisoner of conflict camp in Cuenca was fictional, albeit primarily based on accounts of different related camps. The circumstances had been actually terrible and the prisoners worry of the guards was very obvious, flinching as they anticipate to be hit and understanding their limits with every particular person guard.

There are many references to establishments in Madrid which are nonetheless there right now, comparable to Cafe Gijón, the place I often take pleasure in a menu del día. For anybody dwelling in Madrid, this e book will make you have a look at town in a really totally different mild and helps a terrific deal to grasp its previous.

Sansom has clearly taken each measure to painting historical past precisely and discovering the pockets the place he may enter the fictional components of his story. Again, studying the epilogue was fascinating to see how he admittedly moulds a couple of historic information to suit the plot. Something I really like about historic fiction is the way you study extra about one thing or any individual that you already know out of your historical past classes at college and get a better perception into their behaviour and traits by way of the storyline as if you’re there in that second in time with them. A very nice learn, a should for anybody dwelling in Madrid or with an curiosity within the management of European energy in the course of the 1930´s.

Fatal Sunset by Jason Webster

Jason Webster was born in San Francisco, educated at Oxford University the place he studied Arabic and Islamic historical past, and has lived in Spain for a few years.  He has written a variety of novels and ‘Fatal Sunset’is the newest in his Max Cámara crime novels.  The first on this collection, ‘Or the Bull Kills You’was longlisted for the CWA Crime Thriller Awards  New Blood Dagger in 2011.

Set in Valencia, the proprietor of a well-known nightclub is assumed to have died from a coronary heart assault.  Cámara is pulled away from his investigation to look into what gave the impression to be a pure loss of life, when an nameless tip off suggests in any other case.  Meanwhile his journalist girlfriend is pursuing an enormous story that leads her enquiries to the identical nightclub to uncover a authorities secret and places each of their lives in peril.

Webster has one thing for everybody.  If you take pleasure in a very good crime novel, there are 5 previous books within the Max Cámara collection.  He has additionally written non-fiction books about Spain together with ‘Duende: A Journey in Search of Flamenco’; ‘Andalus: Unlocking the Secrets of Moorish Spain’; ‘Guerra: Living in the Shadows of the Spanish Civil War’; ‘Sacred Sierra: A Year on a Spanish Mountain’and ‘The Spy with 29 Names’,the story of Juan Pujol, the person with the fame as essentially the most profitable double agent of World War II. That ought to hold you going for some time!

Happy as a Partridge by Kate Boyle

To end off, I like to recommend one thing just a little extra light-hearted and present.  A terrific e book a few life altering journey everybody ought to expertise. Evie Fuller is fed up of her life in London, so strikes to Madrid. This e book saved me very entertained as a result of numerous examples of adapting to Spanish life that I can relate to. From the sensation that your Spanish by no means will get any higher and that absolutely you have to be fluent by now, to the hysterical mispronunciations the Spanish make when talking English, which Evie has to appropriate as a part of her job as an English instructor.

There are many giggle out loud moments however my favorite was when she spots “the crazy old man cutting some serious shapes whilst listening to his headphones, oblivious to those watching and laughing”. I’ve seen this man within the park and he makes me smile each time!  Who wouldn’t need to be him of their previous age?

One of the factors I famous was how Evie was unimpressed with Madrid upon her arrival. It’s not Paris or Rome. However, as Evie spends extra time in Madrid and struggles by way of the difficulties of adapting to her new life, she involves see the element in on a regular basis issues she by no means seen at first that finally enchants how she views her new residence.

The debut novel from Boyle is a enjoyable, entertaining and extremely relatable expertise of life and love in Madrid.

A model of this text was first printed in October 2018

READ MORE: The ultimate binge-watch bucket list of Spanish box-sets

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