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The First World War had a powerful effect on many of its participants; Gerald Brenan was one of those. Brenan came from an Anglo-Irish military family. He had the usual public school education, hated it and was bullied. He was expected to go into the army, but at 18 elected instead to walk to China with a friend John Hope-Johnstone. They made it to the Balkans, but events intervened. Brenan served in the army for the whole of the war. In 1919 he decided to move to Spain and chose the remote Alpujurras district in southern Spain. He also selected an even more remote village, Yegen. He stayed there on and off for some years and here he recounts his experiences.Brenan was a good observer and documenter; his descriptive powers are excellent. The 1920s in Yegen were in time before the disruption of the civil war. Its very remoteness meant that modern life had not reached it and the lifestyle and culture had remained the same for centuries. Brenan wanted to write and he transported (by mule) several hundred books to his remote hideaway. His plan was to immerse himself in the classics and learn to write properly. He had a small amount of money and a small pension from the army and had to live frugally. His journey was difficult and he had no set destination, stumbling on Yegen by accident. He immerses himself in village life and is accepted by the local inhabitants; a willingness to learn the language and to be hospitable and accepting all helped. The lifestyle was agricultural and the only food imported from outside was fish from the sea, a day’s mule ride away.It has been argued that Brenan’s choice of home and his exposition of its life and culture was an implicit criticism of what he had left behind. Unlike the reserved “my home is my castle” middle class British, everyone knew everyone else’s business and life took place on the street. The only other expat in the area was an embittered Scottish alcoholic, who despite having a Spanish wife, refused to learn the language. Although he was only nine miles away, Brenan only visited once. Brenan was on the edge of the Bloomsbury group. He was a close friend of Ralph Partridge and had an affair with Dora Carrington. Brenan describes various visits to his new domicile. Lytton Strachey, Carrington and Partridge visited and really didn’t enjoy themselves; Strachey in particular missing “mod cons”. The Woolfs were better guests, not minding the asceticism and loving the countryside and also providing intellectual stimulus.Brenan provides vivid portraits of local residents. He describes rather than judges; Brenan’s landlord was a particularly reprehensible character, especially in his attitude to women. There are descriptions of relationships between the sexes which depended heavily on long established ritual before and after marriage. Village society depended on the rules being kept and generally they were. There was little local justice and those who crossed boundaries tended to be the local landowners/worthies (twas ever thus). However collectively the community did force some recompenses as with one woman who had been taken advantage of who received her olive oil in larger quantities than anyone else. It is an odd story, but Brenan as he usually does, leaves the reader to make their minds up about the characters described. Brenan also describes in detail the local plants and animals, the topography, archaeology and the perils of travelling. He describes visits to Grenada and travels in the local area. All in all it is an engaging account, written by someone who loved Spain. Brenan wrote a great deal more about his life in Spain and the civil war. He was only allowed back into Spain in 1953 because of his criticism of the Franco Regime. He lived in southern Spain for the rest of his life.

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