This Ghosts of Spain summary takes a look at a book that goes into depth about the country’s recent history which includes the Civil war and the reign of General Franco.
I lived in Spain for two years from 2015 to 2017. It’s a fantastic, diverse and interesting country and it was an experience that I will never forget.
Before I lived in Spain, I thought I knew what it was like. My thinking diverted to stereotypes about the country. I thought it would be a land of sun, sea, sand and sangria.
While there is merit to this, the country is much, much more than that. It is a culturally and geographically diverse country that is much more than just a stereotype.
It also has an interesting recent history. Until the death of Franco in 1975, Spain was under the grip of a fascist dictatorship. Regions such as Catalunya and the Basque country were marginalised and their local languages were suppressed.
Although a lot has changed since then, the country has struggled to come to terms with the legacy of the Civil War and wounds have not healed despite the length of time that has passed.
Ghosts of Spain is a fantastic overview of the country and its recent history through the eyes of a British immigrant. I highly recommend it to anyone who plans to move to Spain or is curious to learn more about Spanish culture.
Ghosts of Spain summary
Takeaway 1 – Spain is a diverse country
My impression of Spain when I initially moved there was one of a country of siestas, sun and beaches. This was built on what I had encountered during previous trips to the country and stereotypes of Spain.
What I encountered was very different.
Spain is a diverse country, culturally, geographically and politically. Living in Barcelona, I soon realised that language is one area where Spain has a lot of diversity. Catalan is the main language in Catalonia, and although Basque is not as ubiquitous in the Basque Country, it is still prominent.
Galicia and Aragon even have their own languages too, however, they are not as widespread as the other two.
Geographically speaking, Spain is a vastly different country depending on where you go. Head to the north and it is mountainous. Andalucia is mountainous too, with beautiful beaches. The East Coast is the tourist hotbed, with beaches stretching all the way down the coast.
The interior is hilly too and there is even a desert close to Andalucia! Another fact that shocked me is that Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe after Switzerland!
The image of Spain that is often portrayed does not match up to the reality on the ground. It’s a much more interesting and diverse country than it is given credit for.
Takeaway 2 – The country has never come to terms with the Civil War
Until the death of the Fascist dictator, General Franco, Spain was a dictatorship until 1975. It may seem like a long time ago, but it is still relatively recent and despite transitioning to democracy, the shadow of Franco lingers in Spain.
One of the biggest shadows is in regards to the Spanish Civil War, which saw anywhere between 149,213 to 2,000,000 people killed. George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia gives an account of what Spain was like during the war if you want to do some further reading.
The war deeply divided Spain along ideological lines. The fascists led by Franco committed numerous atrocities and a lot of the dead were placed in mass graves that have only recently begun to be dug up.
The reason Spain struggles to come to terms with the aftermath of Francoism is that there was collective amnesia about his reign. It was felt at the time that it was better to forget what had happened than to reflect as a society.
As time has gone on, this policy has not worked. Resentment has lingered and old fault lines still run through Spain. It is one of the reasons why the independence movement in the Basque Country and Catalunya are so prominent.
They were hit hard by Franco as he suppressed their cultural identity amidst his totalitarian rule. Despite the passing of time, they have never forgotten what happened and that has been passed down through the generations.
It may seem to the outside like Spain is a monolithic country, but once you live there and travel around, it becomes clear that there are a lot of people who don’t buy into the idea of being Spanish.
They feel as if they have had this forced upon them. This is truer in the Basque country and Andalucia than most other places, but there is no doubt the sentiment is palpable.
The furore over the exhumation of General Franco’s body shows that despite the civil war and his reign belonging to the past, the divisions are still as raw today as they were back then.
Takeaway 3 – Tourism may have saved Spain
One of the downsides for Spain is that it’s in an awkward position compared to the rest of Western Europe. As the brilliant book, Prisoners of Geography explains, a country’s geography can have more influence on its standing in the world than we realise.
Spain’s geography has meant it suffers in comparison to those countries above it. The lack of long rivers and fertile soil to grow crops means it can’t export as much as other countries.
The size of the country is another hindrance to trade, as is the Pyrenees which criss-cross the border with France. As such, Spain has suffered in economic terms compared to Western Europe.
One area where it does shine, however, is tourism. It is the main industry in Spain, and the country is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
This is nowhere more evident than on the East Coast. I remember travelling from Barcelona to Valencia on the train during the Easter holidays. The train passed towns such as Tarragona, which are based on the coast.
As it was not tourist season, the tower blocks we hurtled past were lonely figures, devoid of people and activity. It was a stark reminder of just how much Spain depends on tourism.
Benidorm is the archetypal Spanish beach resort and is popular with many north European tourists. Prior to the tourist boom in Spain, there wasn’t much activity. It was a modest beach-side village where fishermen, sailors and farmers made up the bulk of the people, not tourists.
A cautious acceptance of tourism by Franco laid the seeds for the development of the industry in Spain and the rest, as they say, is history.
Had Franco not agreed to the revolution and acceptance of foreign tourists, the age of package holidays could have passed Spain by.
Today, it provides an income for a large part of the population and is the driving force of the economy. Without a strong manufacturing or agricultural base, tourism provided Spain with a lifeline, one that keeps on giving to this very day.
Ghosts of Spain review
I read Ghosts of Spain during my second year in Spain. After reading it I felt I had a greater understanding of the country, which explained many things I had come across.
The book goes into depth on a variety of topics about Spain. The civil war is an illuminating one as I didn’t know much about it before I moved there, and a lot of people were reluctant to talk about it.
The book explained why and made it clear that the divisions are still present in society today. Something I experienced first-hand from living in Barcelona.
As someone with an interest in learning more about the country, Ghosts of Spain was a great book to read. the fact it’s written by an Englishman, Giles Tremlett, helped as it presented the issues from an outsider’s perspective.
This helps to make sense of the country as there are many things that can confuse you while you’re living there.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and learnt a lot from it. I enjoyed it so much I read it in two days! If anyone is living in Spain as an immigrant, then this book will shed a lot of light on the country for you!
Who should read Ghosts of Spain?
Anyone that is interested in Spain and its history in any way should read this book. You will learn a lot from it and it will open your eyes to the country and its many foibles.
As I said above, anyone living in the country as an immigrant should read it too.
If you’re not too interested in Spain or have never been there before, I would give it a miss as much of it will go over your head without context.
On the other hand, though, it could be a useful guide if you’re visiting for the first time or curious about Spanish history.