Books Set in Spain – Five Novels to Read Before You Travel

If you are planning a trip to Spain, you might be thinking it is all about the sun, sand and Sangria.

That is the side of Spain that is often portrayed in the popular media, but if you’d like to know a little bit more about the country you are traveling to then it might be time to turn to some books set in Spain that delve into Spanish life and tell us something of the country’s difficult history.

It has not been such a long time since Spain was divided by a bitter civil war and the subsequent years of fascism. It wasn’t until General Francisco Franco died in 1975 after a forty year reign, that the country was able to embark on becoming the democratic country it is today.

You can find out what it was like for Spaniards in those years by reading the following novels.

‘Guernica’ by Dave Boling

The town of Guernica is in the Basque region of northern Spain. In 1937 hundreds of residents were killed when the town was bombed by German and Italian war planes. This inspired Pablo Picasso to create a painting of the event — the horror of the images helping to bring attention to the Spanish Civil War. This novel is the story of that painting and the people depicted in it We become immersed in the lives of the Ansogegui family in the lead up to the war, as well as the devastating years of the war itself — following them as they try to come to terms with the impact the conflict has on themselves and their loved ones. If you’d like to know more about the Basque people and this particular slice of history, then this novel is ideal.

‘The Time of the Doves’ by Merce Rodoreda

Set in Barcelona before, during and after the Civil War, this novel follows the life of Natalia through her suffering and depression. It may be a tear-jerker, but it is also a tale of hope and survival. And when you go to Barcelona, you can visit La Placa Del Diamant, the original Catalan title of the novel, and a crucial location in the novel.

‘A Manuscript of Ashes’ by Antonio Munoz Molina

This novel begins during the latter years of Franco’s reign, in the late 1960’s. Minaya is a university student who has been imprisoned for his role in a demonstration. He flees to the countryside to work on his thesis and becomes absorbed in a story from the past. It’s a mystery, a love story, and a portrayal of the complexities and tumult of the Civil War.

‘Winter in Madrid’ by C.J. Sansom

As the title suggests, the location of this novel is the Spanish capital. Englishman Harry Brett has been sent to Madrid by the British Secret Service to spy on an old friend. It is 1940, and Harry is soon immersed in the political complexities of post-Civil War Spain. There is also of course, a love story or two…

‘The Return’ by Victoria Hislop

This novel is a curious mix of chick-lit and historical fiction. And while the style of the writing could be considered ‘beach read’, the subject matter is not. Told in a mix of past and present, the novel gives a frightening portrayal of the war in the city of Granada. It shows how civil war pits neighbors and even brothers against each other, while the chaos that follow destroys the dreams and relationships of those who are left behind. If you are planning on visiting Granada, then this book is a must.

By all means enjoy the fantastic lifestyle and culture that you will experience on a trip to Spain today, but if you want to really understand the people that you meet on your journey, then any of these books will help you to do that. Immersing yourself in the history of a city or country does much to enhance your travels, so why not read these novels and take that first step. And once you have done that, there are plenty of more books set in Spain to explore….

Sketches of Spain by Federico Garcia Lorca (Translation by Peter Bush)

Ready to experience a profoundly beautiful yet provocative journey through the old towns, taverns and villages of Spain? Sketches of Spain will take you there. Originally published in Spanish as Impresiones y Paisajes, Sketches of Spain, written by the esteemed author Federico Garcia Lorca, can now be savored by English speaking readers as well. Translated Peter Bush, a British professor of literary translation, and illustrated by noted artist Julian Bell, the book is a highly readable rendering of Garcia Lorca’s early twentieth century travelogue.

First published in 1918, the fourteen short essays or “sketches” recount Federico Garcia Lorca’s experiences, reactions and thoughts during four field trips around Spain taken over a two year period with his literature professor at Granada University, Martín Domínguez Berrueta. Federico, the seventeen year old son of a privileged landowner, sees churches and alleys, clerics and prostitutes, passions and poverty through the eyes of a budding humanist and poet.

Fundamentally, Sketches of Spain is as much an excursion of the soul as it is an excursion of the body: “And travel the world so that, when we reach the gateway to the ‘solitary road’, we can drain our cup of all existing emotions, virtue, sin, purity and darkness”. In its pages, the author struggles with the relationship between the spiritual and the sensual: “We must be religious and profane, combine the mysticism of an austere Gothic cathedral with the wonder of pagan Greece.” This struggle is recounted, not with the sophomoric self-consciousness one would expect of a seventeen year old, but with an elegiac beauty foreshadowing the emergence of Spain’s most cherished poet.

Federico Garcia Lorca dedicates Sketches of Spain to his piano teacher:

“To the respected memory of my old music teacher whose gnarled hands so often pulsated on the piano and inscribed rhythms on the air, hands he ran through his twilight silvery hair like a smitten gallant suffering ancient passions invoked by a Beethoven sonata. A saint!”

Federico Garcia Lorca had been destined since early childhood for a musical career. After the college field trip described in Sketches of Spain, however, his own passions turned more and more towards writing. Yet it is the musical disciplines so well learned from this beloved teacher that infuse Garcia Lorca’s writing with such power and rhythm and light.

In his Prologue, Federico Garcia Lorca invites those readers who dare to “walk these pages” with him. I am very glad I took the challenge. I urge you to do so as well: you will be well rewarded. Buen viaje – have a good trip.