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Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and its Silent Past

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  2,720 ratings  ·  291 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, 386 pages
Published February 6th 2007 by Walker & Company (first published January 1st 2006)
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Roy Lotz
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 wa

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.
Jul 14, 2007 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
Anna Hiller
Aug 27, 2011 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
Apr 18, 2009 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
Lisa Heminsley
May 08, 2008 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
Jun 27, 2008 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
Aug 15, 2010 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
Jun 05, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommended to Jason by: Alex Chang
Shelves: travel, history
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 02, 2012 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.
Feb 15, 2016 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
Anna Rubingh
May 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Bought this book as a previous hispanic studies student with an urge to further expand my knowledge in the subject. This is a very thorough and broad overview of Spain’s old and new history, covering all imaginable topics from la transición, its gypsy community and Spain’s booming real estate and modern architecture. Found the perspective of an Englishman particularly interesting and helpful for the narrative in order to show an outsider’s perspective. It is perfect for anybody who is wanting to ...more
Prina Patel
Feb 21, 2013 rated it did not like it
Couldn't even finish was like a slow, painful death
I decided to bail partway through, as I was honestly forcing myself to go on, finding the book dry.
Oct 29, 2012 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
Adrian Fingleton
Dec 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I very much enjoyed this book. Written by an English journalist and a longtime dweller in Spain, it does offer a very good insight into the Spanish way of thinking and how many events in the 20th and 21st century have shaped that. Obviously the bitter, brutal Civil war of the 1930s hangs over much of the way Spanish people react and the divisions are still deep.

The book is dense - it's not one you can skim through. But each chapter deals with another aspect of Spain or, in many cases, how a par
Jun 21, 2010 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
Dec 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has taught me a lot and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, Giles writes extremely well and I wish I was living back in Spain where I spent a year after university.

I am a Spanish teacher and was given an assignment to complete in which I had to identify a point of weakness in my subject knowledge and exploit it. I chose the The Civil War and figured this book, which has been on my wish-list for a while, would be a nice introduction to it.

My bisabuelo fled to England sometime during The C
Jun 03, 2012 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
Jul 19, 2007 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
Peter Corrigan
Mar 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
I've read a lot on Spain, but mainly on older history, the Reconquista, The Peninsular War and of course the Spanish Civil War, a subject that was apparently off limits as a topic in post-Franco Spain up until around the time of this book (2006-07). That was about when the last participants in that cataclysm were dying off and it became permissible to start dragging up the past. Overall, this is an interesting snapshot and tour of the 'new' Spain of about 15 years ago by a British transplant jou ...more
Cormac Healy
Jun 15, 2020 rated it liked it
This is an interesting and detailed look at the recent history of Spain, and how a country that was under a dictatorship as recently as 1975 attempts to come to terms with that past, and its place in modern Europe. I did have some issues with it though.

It is written in relatively long chapters with no breaks or different sections, which means it is hard to keep track of what his overall point is, as the narrative seems to jump aimlessly around in long chapters with no real direction. Also, ther
Dec 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good introduction to Spain and it psyche. A pleasant, easy read and recommended to anyone who wants a first x-ray of this marvelous country. It gives you 'ganas' to go discover the country for yourself. The author shares anecdotes from his own life - at times very recognizable for anyone who has lived in Spain - and interesting historic background of certain cultural and political phenomenons. The first chapters about the Civil War are very insightful.
The book also contains plenty of references
Graeme Purves
This book is a bit of a journalist's rag-bag, and a lot less insightful than I had hoped. It is particularly weak on the nationalities question, which poses an existential challenge to the Spanish state. One might have expected an author with a background in the United Kingdom to have a rather better grip on that. The particularly troublesome ghost which Tremlett neglects to subject to critical scrutiny is Empire. He is partisan in his support for the haughty Castilian imperialism of Madrid.
Jul 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent - I now have a reasonable understanding of post-civil war Spanish politics, and the reasoning behind the reticence to discuss, or deal with the problems created by the Franco regime.
I also now know why I upset an old lady on the Madrid to Segovia train some years ago, by trying to discuss the subject - I would like to have had the opportunity to apologise to is just not talked about.
Linda Greenwood
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. I don’t often read non-fiction and of the novels read, if they are about 194 pages in length that’s perfect. So Giles Tremlett did well to keep me interested. Very occasionally I would have like a bit of editorial control to have been exercised to avoid the repetitions, but overall that is a minor cavil. I found it informative, entertaining and at times laugh out loud and I also found out a lot more about my favorite country
Rod Innis
Jul 30, 2018 rated it liked it
There are a lot of interesting things about Spain and its history in this book. It does at times seem to dwell a bit more on the obscene than I would have liked but it is probably quite accurate in its descriptions.

I visited Spain (mostly Barcelona) years ago and have often wanted to go back. That desire has been enhanced by this book.
Christy Esmahan
Jun 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Very well written. I learned much about the Spanish Civil War and more recent history of Spain.
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
Jul 06, 2009 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
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Giles Tremlett is 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
“They were going away to spend three days with their teachers and lots of farmyard animals at a ‘granja escuela’ – ‘a school farm’. This had been sold to us as a further, intensive round of group-formation training and, therefore, key to their education. I felt a pang of envy as I watched my child go. He already belonged to that noisy, congenial mass known as Spaniards in a way that I – with my innate, sometimes awkward, anglosajón individualism – find impossible.” 0 likes
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