West and Grand

Exploring Spain Through Literature: Three Books to Take You Away

A balmy Mediterranean evening. Late night tapas at Quimet & Quimet.

A narrow path leads to the heart of Barcelona. To the west of the city lies a row of buildings. Studying the architecture — an amazing mix of classic European, super experimental modern, and some crazy Gaudi thrown in. As you look up at the buildings, you will see cream, then pink, then yellow, then green facades next to each other.

To the east, you see luxuriant palm trees mixed in with classical statues and buildings. Toward the north, an aromatic open-air café is serving cortados, café con leches, and espressos.

As you sit back and take a sip of your espresso, the view turns into a panorama of the Mediterranean Sea. With so much to take in, all you really want to do now is grab a book and immerse yourself more into this fascinating culture.

Here are a few authors who will whet your appetite while visiting (or planning to visit) the diverse country of Spain.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (1988)

Brazilian author Paulo Coelho writes about a young adventurous Andalucían Shepard named Santiago who is searching for his personal legend. The novel starts when Santiago has a dream every time he sleeps under a sycamore tree that grows out of the ruins of a church. During the dream, a child tells him to seek a treasure at the foothills of the Egyptian pyramids.

After consulting a gypsy and the self proclaimed king of Salem, Santiago is convinced to pursue his journey. He finds himself in Morocco and crossing the Sahara Desert in a caravan to attain his treasure.

This book beautifully describes the countryside of southern Spain and journeys into Spain’s African neighbor – Morocco. If you find your self reading this book while you’re in Andalucía, please take the ferry from Spain to Morocco and experience at first hand how southern Spain’s architecture and culture was heavily influenced by 400 years of Moorish rule.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)

“In Pamplona, a white-walled, sun baked town high up in the hills of Navarre, Bull fight fans from all of Spain jam into the little town. The Cafes under the wide arcades that run around the Plaza de Constitucion have every table crowded.”

No other person can describe Spain with so much artistry than Hemingway himself.  Hemingway’s brilliant spare but powerful writing style gives the reader a poignant look into the brutal sport of bull fighting, scenes of café life, heavy drinking, great conversations among friends, and some really cool bar fight scenes along the way. Before you know it, you got yourself Hemingway’s first masterpiece.

In a beautifully written prose centered around the life of World War I veteran named Jake Barnes who is left with a very unfortunate wound that left physical love a utter impossibility for him, and because of his injury, is unable keep the love of his life Lady Brett. The story follows the free-spirited Brett and the ill-fated Jake as they trek from the debauched nightlife of 1920s Paris to the bullfighting rings of Spain with their expatriates friends. The novel is a quintessential example of the Lost Generation’s feelings of vanishing illusions, moral corruption, and unrealized love. This book will make you fall deep in love with the hilly sun baked countryside of Spain.

English Man in Madrid by Eduardo Mendoza (2013)

Mendoza couldn’t pick a better city in Spain. Madrid is touted as New York’s revival of “The city that never sleeps.” If you want to read about spies, communist, and back street taverns all set during the violence that was exploding around Spain as a civil war was brewing, this book is perfect while you visit the beautiful city of Madrid.

The novel talks about an English art historian who goes to Madrid to value a picture for a grand ducal family. The family is glamorous and charming but dangerous as the art historian is drawn into a web of lies and seduction that puts his life at stake.

This part crime, part comedy will make anyone who enjoys a little bit of history come to understand the political strife in Franco’s Spain.

If you end up strolling through El Prado Museum, you can begin to appreciate this Englishman’s love for Velazquez paintings and how Mendoza vividly describes Madrid on the verge of civil war.

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