Ghosts of Spain – Giles Tremlett


Subtitled Travels Through a Country’s Hidden Past, this is a fairly weighty 400 page tome that’s interesting, heavy on detail, and possibly a little short on entertainment.

Giles Tremlett is an Englishman based in Spain and so is able to view the country with a little more detachment than might be possible for a Spanish author.  He takes as his starting point the legacy of the Franco regime, and the way the transition to democracy was managed.  His view is that there was never any resolution to the problems and divisions of that time, unlike in South Africa where the transition to democracy was handled more openly.  Consequently there are many wounds that have not yet been healed.  He gives detailed historical and personal accounts of the unburied dead who haunt Spain, showing that the impact of Franco’s brutal regime can still be felt today in the many unresolved cases of disappearances and deaths.  He describes the attempts of relatives to discover where the bodies are buried, and the resistance of the authorities.

Tremlett goes on to identify a series of aspects of buried or forgotten Spain, exploring related social and moral issues that affect the country today.  Amongst others he looks at corruption in Marbella and the consequent destruction of the coast, the marginalisation of the gypsy and flamenco community, the legacy of the Moslem retreat from Spain, and the impact of minority language and cultures in the Basque country, Catalonia and Galicia.

Throughout Tremlett combines academic research with personal experience, travelling the country interviewing and meeting varied and interesting characters.  The sections on Franco, Flamenco and the Moors were able to cast light on aspects of modern European culture and history that I had never really considered from a Spanish viewpoint, and were the most interesting.

The Guardian Review


3 thoughts on “Ghosts of Spain – Giles Tremlett

  1. I started this book quite a while ago and haven’t been able to make it all the way through yet. I’m motivated by the subject matter but have found it a difficult read. Should I try and pick it back up again? Thanks for the review.

    1. I wrote “not much entertainment” in the review, then thought I’d deleted it – but I hadn’t. It’s hard work, lots of detail. It’s one man’s view of Spain and its history. I started out completely ignorant, and the Spanish Civil War was a bit of a mystery to me – only had a general idea of what happened. Maybe skim and pick the bits that interest you?

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