Book review: Sketches of Spain

LAST UPDATED: 30 Nov, 2012 @ 17:58
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Book review: Sketches of Spain

By Ian Gibson

I confess to having a soft spot for Lorca’s first book, Impresiones y Paisajes (1918), published, thanks to the vision and generosity of his father, when he was just 20.

When I began my research on the poet, in 1965, the complete text of the book was not included in the expensive, single-volume edition of his Obras completas (Editorial Aguilar), the only one permitted by the Franco regime.

Thanks to the kindness of the French Hispanist Claude Couffon, however, a photocopy of the incredibly rare edition was soon in my hands.

It proved what I had already suspected: that the reason for the undeclared mutilation of the original was that the young Lorca’s violent hostility towards the Catholic Church must not be generally known (any more than the true circumstances of his assassination in 1936 at the hands of fascists in his native Granada).

To render into readable English Lorca’s early prose, deeply in debt to the vocabulary and tics of modernismo, is a daunting task, and it seems to me that Peter Bush has risen splendidly to the almost impossible challenge.

The result is that Lorca’s Anglo-Saxon, non-Spanish-reading admirers now have the opportunity to accompany the adolescent poet and playwright, poised to take the world by storm, on his trip through Old Spain with a group of fellow university students, and to savour a text (with some Andalucian brushstrokes for good measure) that heralds in many ways the more mature work soon to come on its heels.

The reader will notice at once to what extent Lorca’s musical vocation and training shape the imagery of the book (a few too many chromatic ‘modulations’, for example).

Also his eye for the small, telling detail, whether of a landscape or a monument, and his deep empathy with a suffering humanity embodied above all in the cloistered monks of Castile, deluded, in his view of things, into believing that by shutting themselves up in a convent they can necessarily escape from the imperious claims of the flesh (Lorca would have agreed with Voltaire: Chassez le naturel, ça revient au galop!).

Perhaps the most memorable instance in this connection is the scene that takes place in the organ-loft at Silos when the poet-musician dares to challenge the monastery’s sole recourse to Gregorian chant and embarks on the allegretto of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony…with an unforeseen and touching outcome.

The book is enhanced by Julian Bell’s delightful drawings of some of the corners highlighted by the youthful author.

Publishers, translator and artist have done a great service to Lorca-lovers.

¡Enhorabuena!

Sketches of Spain is £7.99 (€9.90) on Books4Spain (free shipping to the UK)

© This review was undertaken exclusively for Books4Spain by Ian Gibson and may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without the permission of Books4Spain.

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