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Review: A History of Spain

A History of Spain by Simon Barton My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is a concise, comprehensive history of Spain which reads very easily and seems to cover most aspects of Spanish history, if only glossing over parts without going into heavy detail. It does recommend further reading and as a general work I found the text very accessible. It provokes interest in further study of specific areas. I found that sometimes the author Barton, could be a bit imposing and over-generalistic in his views. I have read certain parts of Spanish history in detail and sometimes, in particular, regarding the Arab conquest and the Spanish Civil War, I feel that his views and general summary of events was a bit over-vague and inconsistent with the facts that have been presented by other authors. Having said that, with such a vast history to take on in such a short space, this History of Spain does work and fills the necessary gap of knowledge that newcomers to Hispanic Studies require. Whilst reading the book I made use of literary references to dig out future reading in specialist areas of Spanish history. the book concludes nicely with a well-written glossary and chronology that will be very useful for reference. View all my reviews

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Review: Roads To Santiago

Roads To Santiago

Roads To Santiago by Cees Nooteboom My rating: 4 of 5 stars The Dutch author is, most certainly, an admirer of Spain. He writes passionately about his travels across the land, traversing history, culture, and the role of Spain in the modern world. The style is erratic and it takes a while to get used to the author’s jumpiness, but it all seems to weave together nicely. There are deep forays into the world of art and I found the detail on Velasquez most interesting and it is clear that Nooteboom holds a special place in his heart for the work of Zurbaran. There is a constant flicker of images of old rustic villages and a barren landscape as the author makes his undulating way in a series of neverending detours in his quest to reach Santiago de Compostela. I think one of the giveaways in the book is when our Dutch narrator reveals how he almost joined a monastery. He obviously has deep religious feelings and these manifest in his detailed depictions of the art and architecture of the religious buildings which seem to dominate the direction of his meanderings. The history of Spain can be detailed in the construction of these temples. From the deep antiquity of the Romans through to the Visigoths and Arabs and on into the post-reconquista emergence of a unified state under Ferdinand and Isabella and future Habsburg monarchs up to the tragedies of the Civil War and Francoist Spain and its post-Franco entrance into modern Europe. I think that the translator from Dutch has done a wonderful job and the book reads most freely. It has a deep elegant manner, is of the most floral and descriptive prose and it never fails to produce a deep impression on the imagination of the reader. This genuine work of literary art embeds the image of Spain on the mind and one can feel and breathe the deep-seated knowledge and embracing love that the author has for this mysterious land. View all my reviews

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Review: Roads To Santiago

Roads To Santiago by Cees Nooteboom My rating: 4 of 5 stars The Dutch author is, most certainly, an admirer of Spain. He writes passionately about his travels across the land, traversing history, culture, and the role of Spain in the modern world. The style is erratic and it takes a while to get used to the author’s jumpiness, but it all seems to weave together nicely. There are deep forays into the world of art and I found the detail on Velasquez most interesting and it is clear that Nooteboom holds a special place in his heart for the work of Zurbaran. There is a constant flicker of images of old rustic villages and a barren landscape as the author makes his undulating way in a series of neverending detours in his quest to reach Santiago de Compostela. I think one of the giveaways in the book is when our Dutch narrator reveals how he almost joined a monastery. He obviously has deep religious feelings and these manifest in his detailed depictions of the art and architecture of the religious buildings which seem to dominate the direction of his meanderings. The history of Spain can be detailed in the construction of these temples. From the deep antiquity of the Romans through to the Visigoths and Arabs and on into the post-reconquista emergence of a unified state under Ferdinand and Isabella and future Habsburg monarchs up to the tragedies of the Civil War and Francoist Spain and its post-Franco entrance into modern Europe. I think that the translator from Dutch has done a wonderful job and the book reads most freely. It has a deep elegant manner, is of the most floral and descriptive prose and it never fails to produce a deep impression on the imagination of the reader. This genuine work of literary art embeds the image of Spain on the mind and one can feel and breathe the deep-seated knowledge and embracing love that the author has for this mysterious land. View all my reviews

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Review: The Spanish-Speaking World

The Spanish-Speaking World by Cl Mar-Molinero My rating: 3 of 5 stars This is an introductory text to sociolinguistic issues in the Spanish-speaking world. As part of my Spanish Studies classes I felt this would be a good text to introduce me to the importance of Castillian Spanish as a global language. The book never goes into much depth and in that sense I was a little disappointed. It does, however, introduce you to many of the key themes and provides a lot of wider reading. There is a big focus on the situation of minority languages within Spain, ie. Catalan, Basque and Galician. I found this interesting and the relationship between these tongues and Castillian Spanish is interesting, in particular within the context of the Diglossia which develops in minority language areas, particularly within the educational environment. The book details the role of Spanish in Latin America and with the growing population there, this is the largest Spanish-speaking area of the world. I found it interesting looking at the role of Spanish in Latin America in terms of post-colonial studies. It was nice to see the resurgence of such important indigenous languages such as Quechua. The book has many questions interspersing the text. The are exercises which aim to further study and provoke response in the student. Some of them were very useful and did indeed provoke thought. However, on the whole, I found these interruptions to be counter-productive and slightly annoying. I felt that when they offered useful information, this could quite have easily formed part of the main text. The book is useful as an introduction to some of the key themes and ideas relevant to the global status of the Spanish language. It could be a useful textbook for a undergraduate course although I feel that it’s lack of depth in general doesn’t assist in the development of the true knowledge of the topic at hand. View all my reviews

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Review: Tudors

Tudors by Peter Ackroyd My rating: 4 of 5 stars The second volume of Ackroyd’s history of England, this work covers one of the most astonishing and exciting periods of English history. Two of the most revered and famous monarchs existed in the Tudor period, that of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The whole reformation and what it entailed, really separated our Isles from continental history and led to our definition as a modern race. Henry’s time was defined by his cataclysmic relationships with two wives fouling foul of the executioner and he became also a pioneer of the use of divorce. It is interesting to see how the Tudors interacted with other European powers, always on the dividing line between the struggles of France and Spain. I found the Elizabethan period to be the most interesting. The Virgin Queen was truly a great monarch and it is interesting to see how this mysterious woman steered our country onto a great imperial path. It was the time of the early explorers and the start of Empire and the infamous defeat of the Spanish Armada is a highlight as is the conflict with Mary, Queen of Scots, who was ultimately dispatched at Fotheringay castle, a place I once visited as a child and a whole story that was most inspiring. I look forward to see how England progresses beyond the Tudors. It, for sure, can be said that they were a dynasty set apart from others and that their influence can still be felt today. It was a fascinating period of English history and I eagerly anticipate to see how history develops from here, as Peter Ackroyd’s six volume history continues to progress. View all my reviews

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Review: The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation

The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation by Mark Kurlansky My rating: 4 of 5 stars I live in Wales and there are similar issues here as in the Basque country – We have a certain regional autonomy after devolution, there is a strong national feeling and independence movement, it is an industrial heartland and there is a strong tradition and language, populated by a fiercely proud people. I felt that it would be interesting to study the Basques as their struggle tucked in a small borderland between France and Spain is most certainly an interesting one. This book is well written and has a lot of variety, covering history, culture, traditions, political events and even cookery. The more ancient history of Euskadi I found particularly thrilling and most of the information was new to me. As a language student I found the details on the Euskadi language and its history and development fascinating. The struggles against in particular the Spanish state are well-documented and the independence movement culminating in the rise of the infamous ETA can be understood from a Basque perspective, though without being overly biased. Franco’s commitment against regionalism is contrasted with the autonomous areas which came about through democracy and accession to the European Union. The differences and similarities between the French and Spanish sides of the region are well covered, with their great historical characters such as Ignacio Loyola well mentioned. The importance of their land as an industrial and commercial centre from its days as a great fishing community to its rise through the industrial revolution. The occasional Basque recipes thrown in for detail are pleasant interjections and show that the author is a accustomed to writing about this topic in his other works. It’s a shame the book hasn’t been updated to cover the last decade where there have been developments in the Basque land, with more autonomy granted and ETA having declared a permanent ceasefire. The book is a great overall study and introduces plenty of further cultural refeneces which I may take an interest in researching. View all my reviews

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