Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Andalucía illumined

I have known John Gill since he was a young man, and have enjoyed watching him craft his career as journalist, editor, and author. He is an informed and lively commentator on the modern music and jazz scene, and an accomplished travel writer. In his latest book, ANDALUCÍA: A CULTURAL HISTORY [Signal Books, 2008 – available here] he brings together all the insights, knowledge and enthusiasm he has gathered from eight years’ residence in Spain’s most colourful province – “a garden at the foot of Europe and a crossroads between Spain, Africa and the New World”.

Unlike most foreigners writing about another country, Gill does not assume the superior stance of “us” writing about “them”, but penetrates empathetically into the history, distinctive traditions, and cultural attitudes of the successive inhabitants of this many-peopled south-eastern corner of Spain. Indeed, he – sometimes scathingly - turns the tables on the maldito guiris [damn foreigners], mostly British or American, who – with rare exceptions, such as Gerald Brenan – have written patronisingly, and sometimes fantastically, about Andalucía.

Starting with the earliest hominid invaders of almost 2 million years ago – whose imprints are still yielding fresh insights to contemporary archaeologists - we learn of the early cave dwellers, the Beaker People, the myth of Atlantis, and lost cities and peoples; the visits – sometimes leading to settlement – by Greeks, Phoenicians, and Romans; early Christianity; and the almost eight centuries of Al-Andalus – the tolerant, civilised, highly cultured Muslim regime which lasted from 711AD to the Reconquista by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.

Gill looks back nostalgically to this golden age of Islamic enlightenment, philosophy, and scientific discovery and tends to view the following centuries of stiflingly Monarchic and Catholic Spain as an anticlimax. He writes perceptively and movingly of the social and cultural wounds and personal tragedies inflicted by the 1930s civil war, while taking a cautiously optimistic view of the new, post-Franco Spain. His thoughts and opinions about 20th century Andalucian writers, poets, artists, and musicians are shrewd, candid and illuminating.

A mere catalogue doesn’t do justice to this book, and even more remarkable than the richness of the skilfully deployed knowledge of many aspects of Andalucían history, culture, and contemporary life is the tautly structured and often racy style of the writing – insightful, enthusiastic, witty, allusive, and occasionally waspish. John Gill’s Andalucía is stimulating and indeed essential reading for anyone interested in this fascinating part of Europe, and will I think be warmly welcomed by Spanish and non-Spanish readers alike.


zola a social thing said...

Gimme some quotes.

I am interested.

Merkin said...

Maybe, we can send Jose a copy for his Christmas.

anticant said...

That is already being done, Merkin.

Zola, if you click on John Gill's link on my "Friendly Places" [right hand side of this page] you will find the introductory chapter of his book on the website.

Garnering quotes would take a little longer, and I'm catching up at the mo after my trip to the Aegean to visit him which ended with a 21-hour journey home by early morning ferry and much delayed aircraft...

Like John's other stuff, it's a cracking good read. And you and he are politicsl kindred spirits!

Jose said...

I'm looking forward to reading this promising book. I must say that of all peoples in Spain Andalusians are the final outcome of a mix-up of civilisations, its archaelogy, folklore and speaking accent a real exponent of their idionsycracy without equal.

I must also say I trust Anticant's discernment. He's given me proof of it.

anticant said...

It's winging its way to you, Jose. I know the author will appreciate your comments in due course.

Jose said...

It's very kind of you, Anticant. You put me in a very difficult situation which I'll try to get out of with your leniency.

anticant said...

Knowing your very individual independent-minded 'take' on life, Jose, and your discerningly thoughtful approach to your own country, I am most interested to hear your opinion of this book.

Jose said...

Your wish is my command, Anticant. I'll try to oblige.