You might already know that Sant Jordi (the 23rd April) is Barcelona’s annual books, love and nationalism day. So rather than getting stuck on what to buy your sweetie, try one of our recommendations. Here are 5 books that the hispanophile in your life will love you for.
1. Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell
‘All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.’
The big daddy of Spanish civil war books in English, Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia was first published in 1938, while the conflict was still raging across the Iberian peninsula. Orwell served as a militiaman for a small leftist party and fought on the Aragon front for several months in 1937, witnessing both brutal in-fighting between supposed allies and the stark reality of a war where soldiers are hungry on both sides of the battle-line. An intriguing glimpse into the Spain of the early 20th century.
2. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
‘Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bullfighters.’
Hemingway’s 1926 foray into Spain, published just a decade or so before Homage to Catalonia, offers the reader a glimpse into the small towns of Navarra and the Basque Country in the years before the civil war, as well as the frenetic excitement of San Fermines. The fiesta now attracts hundreds of thousands of people every year, and the mountain villages mentioned are certainly easier to get to than in Hemingway’s time, but The Sun Also Rises remains a classic read for all lovers of Spain. Nobody has ever managed to capture the essence of the stoical, tragically masculine Spaniard in quite the same way as Papa.
3. The Great Sea – David Abulafia
A 700-page whip through the history of the Mediterranean and the nations surrounding this most lovely of seas, David Abulafia’s epic charts the history of Spain (and the rest of the med) from the palaeolithic to the postmodern.
4. The Forging of a Rebel – Arturo Barea
Another Civil War classic and autobiography of the singular Madrid-born journalist Arturo Barea. This trilogy recounts Barea’s childhood in the Lavapies neighbourhood of Madrid, his army career and service in the War of the Rif and, most famously, the siege of Madrid during which Barea himself fought during the brutal two-year siege waged on the capital by General Franco’s forces. Highly recommended by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and George Orwell among others although Spanish readers had to wait until the 1970s for a translation of Barea’s masterwork.
5. Crematorium – Rafael Chirbes
“There is no innocent wealth.”
This book holds the distinction of having publicly denounced the hidden spider’s web of corruption (surely not!) that permeated the era of Spanish premiers Aznar and Zapatero, not to mention the famous (and sadly mistaken) slogan ‘España va bien‘ (‘Spain is doing well’). The bubble burst and the after-effects still resound on almost every street in the country. Crematorium was later adapted for television, and actor Pepe Sancho did a sterling job of bringing to life that everyman of the Spanish boom years, the crooked builder Rubén Bertomeu.