South from Granada is one of the early new-life stories set in the 1930’s the young Brenan lived in a very rural mountain village on the south flanks of the Sierra Nevada’s in Andalucía.
His first visit to Spain was in 1919 after being demobilized, his only thought being that Spain was probably the cheapest Mediterranean country to live in therefore he could live there longer on the money he had. His aim was to spend a few years reading the books he’d accumulated and enjoy some leisure time for as long as his funds lasted.
Arriving in the north of Spain he walked and took the train down to the south where, from looking at a map, he thought that between the Sierras and the sea would be a good place to hunt for a house to rent – The Alpujarras was his destination.
In the years between 1920 and 1934 Brenan lived in Yegen for around 6 years, one of the poorest villages in the Alpujarras. He tells his tale of daily life among the local and very poor villagers showing us the difficulties and hardships the people of the time faced.
The majority of the book is his account of festivals, folk-lore, lively characters and traditions. It’s a fascinating account of how the poor of the day lived, without which our knowledge of Spanish history and our understanding would be sadly lacking.
Brenan also takes us on his explorations to other parts of the region, he gives us an archaeology and history lesson on the region and introduces us to his visitors and friends Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf, David Garnett and Roger Fry.
The book is a bit of a mixed pot but makes an excellent, interesting and educational read. Brenan certainly did in that time achieve the education he desired and in more ways than just reading his library collection.
This account of rural Spain in the pre-civil war years is a must read to lovers of Spain, it’s his first autobiography and a fascinating account of a way of life long gone.
Brenan went on to write several further books on Spain and his obituary in The Times dscribed him as “ a gifted writer whose best books arose from his lifelong concern with Spain and an understanding of its ways.”
A definite space on my shelf is reserved for this book, it’s one for dipping into.
Gerald Brenan's wife Gamel Woolsey wrote the poignant Death's Other Kingdom
South from Granada