Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through a Country's Hidden Past
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Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through a Country's Hidden Past

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  1,024 ratings  ·  145 reviews
60 years after the Spanish Civil War ended, the appearance of mass graves containing victims of Franco's death squads broke what Spaniards call 'the pact of forgetting'. This book questions the cause of the Civil War, why Basque terrorists kill and why the Catalans hate Madrid.
Paperback, 437 pages
Published January 1st 2007 by Faber & Faber (first published January 1st 2006)
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Anna
I admittedly haven't finished this book. When I first started it, I was very impressed with the author's understanding of Spanish history (in particular, the continuing trauma of the Spanish Civil War). I enthusiastically read the book up until about Chapter 6, when I became aware of the fact that the author's observations were dissolving into gross generalizations and blatant hyperbole -- which isn't to say that there isn't truth there. But the blanket characterizations of "the Spanish people"...more
Lisa Heminsley
If, like me, the conundrums of modern spain by turn frustrate and delight you, then you must read this book. Why are the spanish so noisy? Why do they chose to live on top of each other in high rise blocks depsite boundless empty spaces surrounding their overcrowded cities? Why are spainsh kids so spoilt? How can a country wth so much history be rushing headlong into the future?
I read it in 2 sittings, I've lived in Spain for 2 years and laughed out loud at the familiar situations described, and...more
Richard
On a trip to Spain a few years ago, I needed to make a change to my train ticket from Madrid to Malaga. The ticket agent, a man in his 50s or 60s, barely listened to my request, looked at his watch, and without ever looking up growled, "No". Just the one word, without explanation and never looked at me. Sort of expecting that, I looked to see if another agent could help me. This time, the agent was a vibrant 20-ish girl, who took my question and made the change in about 45 seconds, smiling and c...more
David
Books about Spain -- #2 : Ghosts of Spain : Travels through Spain and its Silent Past by Giles Tremlett (2006).


[This is the second of several inter-related reviews for the books listed below:

1. The New Spaniards by John Hooper, 2nd edition, 2006.
2. Ghosts of Spain : Travels through Spain and its Silent Past by Giles Tremlett, 2006.
3. The Ornament of the World : How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by Maria Rosa Menocal, 2002.
4. Spain in Mind (an Anth...more
Lisa
It’s sobering to read Ghosts of Spain and read about the Spanish Civil War. After decades of silence about it, witnesses and descendants alike are now asserting the right to examine its history. Mass graves have been exhumed; archives are being explored; witness statements are being made. Most significantly, memorials to the Republican dead are emerging while those of Franco’s supporters are shunned. All this takes place in a country where the emphasis has been resolute about looking forwards no...more
Jim
I liked parts of this book more than others, but overall it was an interesting look at a society that has gone from semi-fascist dictatorship to liberal democracy in just a few years. Partly, this is down to the leadership of Franco's chosen heir, King Juan Carlos, who threw his authority behind Spain's new democracy and undercut rightwing attempts to overthrow the government. Also, the transition was made easier (perhaps possible) by a widespread practice of letting the past remain in the past....more
Kunle
If you have ever wondered why the Spanish civil war rarely get's scrutinized to the same extent as others, then this book explains it by examining Spanish society from the recent past to the present; the Franco years to the explosion of repressed social and cultural development after his death that affected everything in the country, from its central government to the emergence of terrorist group ETA.

Tremlett talks about the establishment of a left - right compromise not look to closely at the b...more
Jason
Jun 05, 2011 Jason rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jason by: Alex Chang
Shelves: history, travel
Tremlett is a journalist who lives in Spain. That is a good thing. He is in touch with real people and this gives his writing an immediacy and directness that goes beyond the common judgemental Briton abroad. He also has some great chapter titles, such as "How the bikini saved Spain".

The premise of the book is that there is a story to be told around the secret histories of people who have simply refused to talk about their experiences under Franco. I know someone whose uncle was denounced then t...more
Veronica
An impulse buy in the FNAC in Barcelona, galloped through in a couple of days, this was a good book for me to read at this point. Every time I go to Spain I am more intrigued and curious about its recent past. This book, by the Madrid correspondent of the Guardian, gives a journalistic overview of a vast range of topics. If you already knew a lot about Spain, you'd probably find it irritatingly superficial. But when you don't, it's interesting and diverting, opening up all sorts of avenues for f...more
Dеnnis
4.5 stars actually. I can’t give it 5 because couple of chapters were quite difficult to wade through. I finished the book in several takes, first two being botched by these unfortunate chapters. I mean I’m not interested in flamenco or construction boom and ensuing machinations. However even in these cases I learned something curious, for example about larger than life cult singer I’ve never heard of - Camarón de la Isla. I persevered and was ultimately rewarded with excellent insights which on...more
Steve
How did Spain become a 'normal' country in Western Europe? In 1970 it was isolated (along with Portugal), a decaying fascist state. Yet, somehow, within Spain there existed enough independent life and thought that after Franco's death, the country quickly and relatively painlessly (one nearly tragic but ultimately comic coup attempt aside) became part of Western Europe. The author provides vivid details on small matters of life, especially the distinctions (not just Basque and Catalan) that make...more
Danny
I've lived in Spain for 5 years now. I found this book highly enjoyable, mainly because Tremlett is very well informed about the country -- this is by no means an outsider's take on Spain, but rather a person who is obviously well immersed in the language and culture of Spain. I found myself marveling at his observations about the idiosyncrasies of Spanish culture, mainly because I've had those same observations over the years. But what makes the book great is his ability to weave a lot of histo...more
Jodi
Jul 19, 2007 Jodi rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in modern Spain
Shelves: nonfiction
The first few chapters are a little slow but this is a comprehensive look at Spain and it's people and the history that shaped who they are today. My personal views after living here in Spain for nine months sometimes contradict Mr. Trimlets views (i.e. he claims Spaniards are almost OCD in their addiction to cleanliness and yet there is dog crap all over every sidewalk, people stop to pee in the street here on a regular basis and if you find a public restroom with SOAP in it - you should win a...more
Sandra Danby
Madrid correspondent for the Guardian newspaper, Tremlett’s authoritative voice brings to life the secret history of Spain’s Civil War. This was the first book I read about the ‘pacto de olvido’, the pact of forgetting. Tremlett puts this pact in context by explaining how Spanish history is riddled with division, religious, political, geographical. Why do the football supporters of Real Madrid and Barcelona hate each other quite so much? Why, it is rumoured, there are no signs to Barcelona from...more
Simon
This feels like an Iberian equivalent to Tobias Jones' The Dark Heart of Italy; a British journalist describes the often traumatic events of a country's recent history (in this case the Civil War and Franco's reign) and then goes on a bit of a road trip, analysing regional differences, cultural quirks and the national psyche. There are chapters on the development of the Costa del Sol, flamenco, Pedro Almodovar, and the Basque country.
Like Jones, Tremlett doesn't shy away from the horrors of the...more
Dan
This book couldn't decide if it wanted to be a history book, sociology report, memoir or political recap. I understand that all of these need to be taken into account when writing a book on how Spain has ended up where it is, but I felt like the author rarely managed to find the right balance.
Whitaker
A really great book shows us how everything is great and worth to die for
Paul
Part of my MA dissertation concerns Basque and Catalan nationalism, so I only read this to refresh myself with an overall feel for the country as a whole before delving into the regional histories. What I found was good: even those two nationalist movements got a chapter each to themselves, both of which were nicely informative (if a bit superficial). We even got a chapter on Galicia too, so hats off to Giles for that.

As for the rest of the book: it's a bit quirky, for example one chapter focuse...more
Prina Patel
Couldn't even finish it...it was like a slow, painful death
Alex
This book was of great value to me before I moved to Spain. It illuminates many things about my now second home - most importantly the ever-looming memories from 1936 til 75. His style, journalistic, isn't very impressive nor is it the most important aspect of the book. The breakdown of such a diverse nation, contemporary reasons behind seemingly enigmatic relationships, and all of it through the seasoned gaze of an acculturated "giri" all make this book a good companion for those going to Españ...more
Louise
Whether you know nothing about Spain and its history or you have travelled the country widely and studied its background, this book will still inform and entertain you. I fit somewhere in between those categories- I've now been to Spain twice and have studied the Civil War and surrounding events in some depth.

Giles Tremlett is a British journalist based in Madrid, married to Spanish woman and now with Spanish children. As he says himself, he is neither an insider nor a complete outsider so this...more
Xander Ring
Usually I am suspicious of books written about other countries by foreigners. Paul Theroux and Jan Morris being a couple of exceptions to the rule. Ghosts of Spain is excellent. The author clearly has a love and affection for the country that he has decided to make his own. He also has a curiosity that allows him to dig deeper and do more than just scratch the surface of Spain's past. I was looking for a book to help explain some of the contradictions of Spain. How did a country go from a fascis...more
Rachael
An interesting balanced look at modern Spanish history and culture with occasional reflections on it's ancient past and development. It also gives a brief comparison of culture in the various regions and the impact of Franco's regime on modern Spain. My only criticism which admittedly is hard to avoid in all sociological works is the tendancy to assume all Spaniards are politically involved of slot in into on the two Spains which is a running theme of this book. Due to the vast time frame and th...more
Ruth
It is interesting to read a book that (although it looks back at how Spanish history has shaped modern Spanish society) is giving a snapshot of the country 8 years ago. Spain has undergone a dramatic change of fortune since this was written. I wonder how many Spaniards might view his observation “There is an essential optimism to modern Spaniards, a belief that life is always going to get better -….” in the light of the economic crisis and the indignado movement? I suspect many would take a very...more
Leftbanker
I have heard nothing but praise for this book since I arrived in Spain not long after it was published. Since I have so much to learn in Spanish and French I don't read many books in English. I have made exceptions over the years so I didn’t hesitate to pull this off the shelf while I am staying at a friend’s flat in Barcelona. I knew little about the book except that it dealt with the Spanish Civil War to some degree, a subject about which I probably know more about than most Spaniards who have...more
Daniel Silveyra
I thought this book might be Spain's version of "The Oracle Bones" - a well-written account of the experiences of a correspondent's long sojourn in the exotic abroad. Rather, this book is a systematic description of more than a dozen important trends in modern Spain's identity.

The best part of the book is its long, careful treatment of Spain's relationship with its past, in particular that of the Civil War and the Francoist years. I found the telling was balanced, empathetic, but not completely...more
Donna
Oct 10, 2010 Donna rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: travellers
Recommended to Donna by: myself
This is a book written by a man who knows his stuff. It's clearly well-researched, as well as being packed wih lots of personal experiences too.
This covers a wide range of subjects from Spain's history and culture: from the Civil War to national seperatists, the sex trade to package holidays - this book is very informative, and very useful for me as someone who has recently moved to Spain and wishing to understand a bit more about the culture and the history of the country I live in.

Quotations...more
Adrian
Mar 13, 2007 Adrian rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History Buffs
Very readable, concise account of modern Spanish history. The author travels around Spain to different places of varying historical import and analyzes the changes and local histories as a way of commenting on the broader trajectory of modern Spain.
It is especially informative about the transition between Francoism and the democracy that took root after. Spaniards entered into an almost unconscious pact of forgetting, they collectively refused to talk about the past so as to make sure that th...more
Niamh O'connor
Gave a fascinating insight into Spains history, social culture and current politics. The book is largely unflattering at times but while Spain may have a turbulent (and brutal) history, with lingering, suppressed seams of distrust among its people, it is nonetheless a colourful and interesting place.
Frannie
Very interesting reporting on several key political issues in Spain today: the silence regarding the Franco years, Basque & Catalan separatism, the development (destruction) of the coasts, the March 2004 terrorist attacks, the role of women, drugs, gypsies, flamenco, etc. The author is the Spain correspondent for The Guardian; he knows his material. As he tells his topic-based stories (each chapter could - for the most part - stand alone as a summary of a particular piece of history/culture)...more
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Giles Tremlettis the Guardian’s Madrid correspondent. He has lived in, and written about, Spain for the past twenty years.
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“Calzada de Calatrava, as Almadovar's brother once put it, 'is the sort of place where people spend their whole life saving for a decent gravestone in the cemetery.” 1 likes
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