Uncomfortable Reading

I collect old travel literature on Europe and the Americas. I can’t explain the appeal, but it combines elements of dusty covers and rifling through damp shops in Hay-on-Wye.

The more offbeat the finds, the better. Two women horse-riding across Andalusia? Ideal. Honduras in the Thirties? Right up my street. However, for all the unearthed gems, there is the odd dud. And sometimes that dud is very odd indeed.

Spanish Journey by Dr Halliday Sutherland is the book in question. Both author and title were unknown to me. Google returns meagre data other than a suggestion he was Australian and also wrote the bizarre sounding Birth Control (A Statement of Christian Doctrine against the Neo-Malthusians). Spanish Journey was written in 1948, the blurb suggested it was a unique insight into Iberia. They all say that of course, but it was a first issue in mint condition. I took a punt on it.

Most recent travel writing on Spain starts with the cities, has a chapter on the south, takes in a bullfight and adds a strained conclusion involving the civil war and selected passages from Cervantes.

Spanish Journey began the same. The opening chapter mentions Communist atrocities and the new era. Well, it was a civil war, atrocities on both sides are well recorded, he’ll probably balance it out later. It wasn’t until 40 pages in that I realised the author was an unapologetic fascist. The Nationalists killed intellectuals in the war? Nah mate, Republican propaganda. Federico Lorca? Well, what did he expect? He was a homosexual!

The chapter entitled ‘When I Met Franco’ really nailed his colours to the mast, ‘I told the General I was English’. The General replied, ‘The English are against me.’ I said, ‘No, the vast majority are with you, it’s only the reds stirring up trouble.’

And that’s where I stopped. I think the shock value is because most modern travel literature takes an even handed or left leaning position. To get the most from a country, you have to be inclusive. In Spain, a country fascinated with sol y sombra, an unbalanced approach skewers it horribly.

Thankfully it is out of print.