Franco's Crypt: Spanish Culture and Memory Since 1936 by Jeremy Treglown

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Franco's Crypt: Spanish Culture and Memory Since 1936 by Jeremy Treglown

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Category: History
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Liz Green
Reviewed by Liz Green
Summary: An interesting and complex analysis of public works, culture and collective memory during and after Franco's period of rule.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: March 2015
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 9781784701154

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With Franco’s Crypt Jeremy Treglown has taken a highly charged subject – life in Spain under Franco – and placed it under what to some might appear a somewhat revisionist microscope. His aim appears to be twofold: to consider the nature of collective memory, particularly in the light of the exhumations of mass graves that commenced earlier this century, and, secondly, to examine – and celebrate - Spain’s cultural output during Franco’s years as dictator.

The first section of the book, entitled Sites and Sights, looks at exhumations, before moving swiftly on to the public works programme under Franco (dams, monuments and Franco’s own eponymous mausoleum, the Valley of the Fallen). Treglown skates over the nastier aspects of some of the building programmes, like shady business deals and the fact that forced labour was used on many public construction projects. That is not to say, though, that Treglown is immune to the worst excesses of Nationalism; he just doesn't dwell on them.

The second section of the book, entitled Stories and Histories, focuses primarily on culture in the form of film, novels and art, and feels almost like a companion to the arts rather than a historical analysis. That said, Treglown does give an interesting overview of various works, particularly films, which may be little known by modern foreign audiences.

What Treglown doesn’t do is consider what didn’t get published or screened, the authors whose books were burned, the lack of Catalan literature (use of the Catalan language was banned under Franco). Yes, he points out the successes, if successes is the right word: the books, films and works of art that survived censorship, whose authors curried favour, and there were a fair few. But it seems wrong not to pay homage in absentia, as it were, to novels by writers who slipped abroad, to films that were banned, to works of art that were never painted.

Franco’s Crypt is well-written and informative, but does overwhelm with detail from time to time. For this reason, it may prove to be a book lacking in popular appeal. And you’d be advised to read a decent account of the Spanish Civil War before embarking on it, unless you are already well informed. However, for those with good background knowledge and an interest in Spain’s history and culture, and a willingness to put up with the author’s lack of attention to the difficulties of life under the Nationalists, then this is an excellent introduction to construction and culture during Franco’s rule, and to subsequent collective memory.

For a fictionalised account of life post-civil war, try the excellent Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom. And read (or re-read) George Orwell's personal account of the civil war in Homage to Catalonia.

Buy Franco's Crypt: Spanish Culture and Memory Since 1936 by Jeremy Treglown at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Franco's Crypt: Spanish Culture and Memory Since 1936 by Jeremy Treglown at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Franco's Crypt: Spanish Culture and Memory Since 1936 by Jeremy Treglown at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Franco's Crypt: Spanish Culture and Memory Since 1936 by Jeremy Treglown at Amazon.com.

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