The book “Espana” offers an enthusiastic history of Spain by the author who has resided there for more than two decades. A “recently naturalized ‘new’ Spaniard,” the author employs as a unifying theme Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno’s “four winds” theory to illustrate the fertile mixing of diverse peoples who have swept across the Iberian Peninsula for centuries.
As long as those winds have been allowed to blow through—Espana, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and beyond—the country has flourished. However, when the winds have been stifled—e.g., by Isabella and Ferdinand when they expelled the Moors and instigated the Inquisition, or during Franco’s years of totalitarian rule—the country has “withered.” The author is concise yet thorough in his historical journey.
The Iberian Peninsula’s proximity to the coast of Africa and to significant trade hubs in the Mediterranean has dictated much of its geopolitics over the centuries, and the tug of war between the Christian north and Muslim south has resulted in some of Spain’s most treasured cultural legacies. “The always porous frontier across which Muslims and Christians had traded and raided for centuries allowed for the import of cultural riches,” writes the author.
“Toledo was awash with ancient manuscripts of the kind that had filled the magnificent libraries of Córdoba, many of which had been smuggled north before or after the city was twice sacked by Berbers in the four years after 1009.” Following the nation’s golden age of arts and culture, which Tremlett explores in appealing detail, it experienced a protracted period of absolutism, revolution, and civil unrest, culminating in Franco’s dictatorship.
The author then brings us up to the present, which includes ongoing insurgencies in Catalonia and the Basque Country. The many bright photos are a welcome bonus to the well-researched narrative and distinct writing style. The Weekender