The Disinherited: Exile and the Making of Spanish Culture, 1492-1975
I started by being rather sceptic about some historical judgements, specially in regards to the much stressed influence of Islam's centuries of occupation of Spain. Kamen supports the great historian Americo Castro rather than the other great historian Sanchez-Albornoz on this issue, but the latter's interpretation of Spain must not be dismissed on account of this one issue. Whatever the influence the Moors have had on our historical intolerance toward each other, it doesn't say anything good about Islam: on the contrary, the bigger the influence the heavier the sin we inherited from those Hispanic muslims of yesteryear, I mean, if we count their positive influence on us (art, etc) we must also admit their part of responsibility for making us, Spaniards, as we are: intolerant, arrogant, vain and all the rest that you can guess from the reading of this great book.
Everywhere else the author hits right on the mark, and exposes our hypocritical nature, our Spanish capital sins. Revelatory statements: "Spaniards seem always ... to have acepted little more than the outward forms of the Catholic religion" (p.128). "The image of a fundamentally Catholic Spain was always a fiction". One thing the author forgets to pinpoint is our unending habit to curse everything sacred, our foul-mouths that Sánchez-Albornoz noted so well in his great essay España: Un Enigma Historico deserves a deep analysis, or at least an "honorary" mention. Sánchez mentioned our foul language as a sign of our un-Muslim character. However, I would have interpreted this feature as pointing -paradoxically- more to Muslim influence.
The author cleverly unveils the unending hypocrisy and phoniness of Spanish self-called intellectuals: "To identify themselves as unique, they adopted specific manners of dress. Azorín put on a monocle and went everywhere carrying a red umbrella; Valle-Inclán let his beard grow down to his waist; Pío Baroja wore a cap and dark overcoat; Maeztu dressed like an English gentleman." (p.234) "Unamuno knew no Greek but was given the chair of Greek at the university of Salamanca..."
The best quote, one which works as an epitaph for Spanish silliness whatever the region they come from, goes: "These poor deluded and amiable creatures, who have no notion of who they themselves are and are therefore incapable of making their own future. If they really get around to knowing who they are and why they are, maybe one day they will be able to assume the reins of their own collective destiny." Américo Castro dixit. How true!
About Buñuel: "His public, however, could never be sure whether his message was to be taken seriously, since behind his realism (or Surrealism, or nihilism, or any other ism) it was difficult to find any sustained set of attitudes or beliefs." Brilliant.
This book is a great read, and one of the things which makes it great is that it doesn't go bowing to any cultural figures, it tells things as they are ("al pan pan, y al vino vino"). It portrays a nation always divided against itself, as the great painting by Goya of the two Spaniards beating each other with clubs, this is to me the most representative image of the Spanish soul. I look at it and say, yes, that's us. It's the story of our exiles since 1492 (should have started earlier), exiles due to religious and political intolerance. The victims are all the elite of Spanish society: the rich, the cultured... The author admits there are many more exiles that the book doesn't cover; they too need a book. And it ends with the Franco era. We've had about 30 years of democracy and relative economic progress, but we are at it again, and no mention is made of it. If the author is really honest he should deal with our present times in the same way he dealt with our past.
One thing that left in me a sour feeling was that the author doesn't dare to explain the sad facts by anything but simple intolerance, motivated by religious or political interests. But those are not reasons why, those are rather symptoms of a real spiritual cancer, a cancer deserving another kind of book. Fernando Díaz-Plaja in his great essay on Spain's capital sins El Español y Los Siete Pecados Capitales says it well: "the blasphemer -and in Spain there are many- is deep down a believer. How can you grossly insult what does not exist?" Unfortunately, demons are also believers.