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Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past

3.86  ·  Rating Details ·  1,551 Ratings  ·  183 Reviews
The appearance, more than sixty years after the Spanish Civil War ended, of mass graves containing victims of Francisco Franco’s death squads finally broke what Spaniards call “the pact of forgetting”—the unwritten understanding that their recent, painful past was best left unexplored. At this charged moment, Giles Tremlett embarked on a journey around the country and thro ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published February 6th 2007 by Walker Books (first published January 1st 2006)
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Roy Lotz
Jun 15, 2016 Roy Lotz rated it really liked it
It is still a mystery to me how so many Spaniards can function on so little sleep.

Late one night in Madrid, as my friend and I finished eating our dinner on Spanish time—which means we get home around midnight—we were walking back to our apartment when it suddenly began to rain. First, it sprinkled; then, it drizzled; and soon it was pouring. Without an umbrella (here amusingly named paraguas, "for water") we were forced to take cover in a bar.

As we stood there, looking out at the rain washin

A timely reminder of just how good journalistic writing can be.

Giles Tremlett is a contributing editor to the Guardian and Madrid correspondent for the Economist.

Like a taste of what he does?

I have nothing to add to this fine review.
Apr 18, 2009 Richard rated it really liked it
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
Apr 05, 2010 David rated it really liked it
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
Aug 27, 2011 Anna rated it liked it
Shelves: history, spain
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
May 08, 2008 Lisa Heminsley rated it really liked it
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
Sep 18, 2010 Lisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel, history
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
Feb 25, 2016 Radiantflux rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
10th book for 2016.

Read this in preparation for an upcoming trip to Spain.

Each chapter in the book covers a different aspect of Spanish culture, starting with the recent re-examination by Spaniards of the 1000s killed after Franco came to power, to later chapters dealing with the royal family, sex and feminism, parenthood, the Basques, ETA, the Madrid bombing etc. The book covers similar territory to The New Spaniards , but I found the writing much more engaging. It is written by a British jour
Aug 24, 2008 Jim rated it really liked it
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
Jun 03, 2012 Kunle added it
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
Jun 05, 2011 Jason rated it liked it
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
Jul 09, 2012 Dan rated it it was ok
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.
Aug 20, 2016 Al rated it liked it
Interesting. Well written. It is a bit tough going at times, you need a strong interest and understanding in Spanish politics and of course Spanish history with a good head for names. As somebody with blood from Galicia and ties in the south that part I found easy. Ch.3 is a little long but Ch.4 brings it back with how the bikini saved Spain! It goes off the boil from here, less ghosts, more a personal interest into Spanish society and how it is formed. I started to skim read some. The compariso ...more
Aug 16, 2010 Veronica rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Nov 23, 2012 Dеnnis rated it really liked it
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
Jul 06, 2009 Steve rated it really liked it
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
Jan 01, 2011 Danny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 19, 2007 Jodi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 25, 2015 Sandra Danby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-of-spain
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
Amanda McGough
Oct 15, 2014 Amanda McGough rated it really liked it
This book is chock full of history taken from interviews with first hand accounts people. I was expecting the book to be a bit more objective given the fact that the author is a journalist but I found that there was still quite a bit of opinion sneaked into the sentences. It is definitely about his journey to find out the truth about many important facets of Spanish culture and history. I enjoyed reading about this from the point of view of a fellow anglosajón as it helped me understand the stor ...more
May 29, 2009 Simon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Apr 07, 2016 Gordon rated it it was amazing
I have just finished re-reading this book, being on the verge of traveling to Spain. I thought it a great read the first time through, and re-reading it only confirmed my first impression.

Tremlett is a British foreign correspondent who has lived in Spain for about 30 years (20 years at the time of writing this book, published in 2007). He knows the country well, and not just in a journalist's kind of way, and writes both analytically yet with a story-teller's flair.

He covers modern Spain from t
Nicola Pierce
Jan 03, 2016 Nicola Pierce rated it it was amazing
If you have any interest in Spain this is a wonderful read.

I bought it during my best Christmas ever thanks to finally following our dream - one of them, at any rate - of spending Christmas in Spain. On 22 December 2015 we returned to Malaga for the third time and it really was a dream come true.

And so it was that we were out wandering around in search of a half-empty restaurant when we stumbled upon a bookshop with a small, limited selection of English books. (All of this love for Spain has yet
Stewart Home
Aug 22, 2015 Stewart Home rated it liked it
An extended piece of journalism drawing on the author's own experiences of living and working in Spain as a Guardian newspaper reporter. It has a broad sweep and is rife with generalisations. Ghosts may or may not cover what interests any particular reader. I found the coverage of Valencia (the third biggest city in Spain) to be very scanty (the author has lived in Barcelona and Madrid but apparently not Valencia). Everything from the arguments between 'Valencian' and 'Catalan' speakers about th ...more
Mar 30, 2015 Tom rated it really liked it
The author is an anglosajon immigrant to Spain who has lived there for 20 years & is raising his kids there. The title refers to a certain paradox he noticed about Spain. The people are very social, stay out to all hours partying at tapas bars, and like to talk. The social character of Spain is illustrated in the way that people in Spain prefer to do things en masse, as in the numerous political demonstrations.

But there is one thing they never talked about: What happened in Spain in the '30s
Dec 13, 2015 emma rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book a slog, in large part because of the writing style. It's interesting enough, although I suspect if you have any prior knowledge of the subject matters (each chapter deals with a different theme) then you might find it a superficial book. However, it's rife with generalisations and anecdotal evidence for the author's conclusions. The thing I found most irritating, though, was the author's pompous tone and his insistence on shoving himself forward at every available opportunity, ...more
Brad Dunn
Dec 26, 2015 Brad Dunn rated it really liked it
A remarkable book. It follows several rarely told tales of Spain. The ETA. Do Spaniards respect people in doctors coats? Are they clean? Was Franco really that bad? This book is perfect for someone who knows nothing of Spain, or equally, who thinks they know it all.
John Chiniara
Oct 22, 2014 John Chiniara rated it it was amazing
Wonderful introduction to the recent history, diversity of people and cultures to better appreciate what we call Spain. For anyone wanting to understand some of the regional differences while traveling throughout the country, this book is a gem. Some passages are hilarious like the processions and superstitions, others are profoundly sad, like the toll of the civil war with its impact on people and the treatment of gipsies.
Two thoughts come to mind after reading this book: the first is that I w
Mary Alice
Oct 15, 2015 Mary Alice rated it did not like it
Shelves: reviewed
I read this book because it is required reading for a tour I'm taking.

The book has much valuable history and information, but it is not always presented in an appealing manner, or even in an organized manner. The book is very dense, and at times it comes at you with a steady stream of names and events that are hard to keep track of.

The author, an Englishman who's lived in Spain for twenty years, is very much a part of this book. When he's telling his story, it's easy to understand, if somewhat
Stefan Zak
Aug 15, 2016 Stefan Zak rated it really liked it
82/100. After (finally) finishing this, I have a much better understanding of the Spanish, Basques and Catalonians. I wanted a chronological history of Spain from its beginning from this book. Instead, what I got was a very political mostly 20th century summary of how Spain. Although some of the endless recounting of political disputes could become monotonous, as a whole this book was very readable thanks to it being stuffed full of anecdotes from contemporary Spaniards. There is a small amount ...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.” 2 likes
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