The New Spaniards
A masterly portrait of contemporary Spain—fully revised, expanded, and updatedUnputdownable . . . A must for anyone . . . who wants to know what Spain is really like. (New Statesman, London)
Modern-day Spain is a country changing at bewildering speed. In less than half a century, a predominantly rural society has been transformed into a mainly urban one. A dictatorship has become a democracy. A once-repressed society is being spoken of as a future “Sweden of the Mediterranean.” John Hooper’s outstanding portrayal of the new Spanish society explores the causes behind these changes, from crime to education, gambling to changing sexual mores. This new, up-to-date edition is the essential guide to understanding twenty-first-century Spain: a land of paradox, progress, and social change.
Hooper . . . not only knows where Spain has been in recent decades and centuries, but he also has an impressively authoritative view of where exactly it is today and where it is headed. (The Washington Post)
New Spaniards – Q&A
Q. The first edition of The New Spaniards (then just called The Spaniards) was published in 1986. Looking back at that version, is there anything about it which surprises you because it proved so obviously wrong?
A. There’s nothing in the original book that would, I think, make me cringe today. But then I was pretty careful to avoid prophecy. It’s hard to believe now just uncertain the future appeared then. When the book first appeared, it was only five years after an attempted military coup in Spain.
Q. Were there ways in which Spanish society then was so absolutely different from today that there were not visible in 1986?
A. Yes. There have been two changes in particular that I would point to. You could see then that the status of women was going to improve, but not, I think, to the extent that it has. I reckon I’d have said that las españolas might by 2011 have almost caught up with le italiane. Instead – and this is clear to me living, as I do now, in Italy – Spanish women are ahead of their Italian sisters on pretty much any measure of equality you care to name. Twenty five years ago, I think I’d also have assumed that Spain was destined to become a more ethnically varied society, but I doubt if I or anyone else for that matter would have predicted such a vast number of arrivals in such a short time (nor, I would add, that the Spanish – exceptions notwithstanding – would cope with this change as well as they have done).
Q. It is clear from the book that you liked and admired contemporary Spain - is this a feeling that you still maintain today, or are there aspects of the country now which you regret? Has anything serious been lost in the past 25 years?
A. I certainly liked and admired contemporary Spain. But my relationship with it has always gone a bit further than that. My wife, Lucy, summed it up nicely once when we were having lunch with a half-Spanish friend who asked her which we preferred – Spain or Italy. Her answer was: ‘Italy enchants your heart, whereas Spain grabs your soul’. There is still something about the place that is unique, which has elements of conviction, commitment, grandeur and perhaps a sprinkling of insanity, too. But economic progress has undoubtedly taken the edge off it. You don’t catch your breath at an undulating Castilian steppe that melts into distant, purple mountains in quite the same way when the steppe has a red-brick housing estate on it. That said, I have absolutely no doubt that the people who live in the housing estate are a lot happier as a result of its construction, and, as I said at the end of the original The Spaniards, Spain is not a concept, however inspiring; ultimately, it is the sum of the people who live there.
Q. King Juan Carlos was a much admired figure in the 1980s and, because of its peculiar political history, Spain suddenly found itself embracing a form of monarchical government abandoned long ago in much of Europe, and indeed in Spain itself. As we are now clearly in the 'late period' of his reign, do you think he has kept up his promise? Is monarchy now established for the indefinite future as integral to Spain's identity?
A. By and large, he has been a splendid monarch and his likeable and capable son should ensure Spain remains a monarchy while its King is called Felipe. But for the indefinite future? I’m not so sure. Spaniards are still more convinced of the usefulness of the restored Bourbons than of monarchy itself.
Q. In a free association exercise the two things which would immediately occur to anyone in relation to the word 'Spain' would be 'bullfighting' and 'Catholicism'. Are you surprised by the speedy collapse of both of these? Would you see these huge (in their different ways) changes as coming from roots within Spain, or are they more a response to Spain's rejoining of the post-War mainstream in Europe?
A. I think my first comment would be that bull-fighting is not collapsing as fast as you might imagine on the basis of the reporting of bans and closures in parts of the country that have long been inimical to it. In fact, I’m rather less surprised by its undoubted difficulties than by the fact that it remains a feature of life in the Spain in 2011. The decline in the importance of the Roman Catholic Church can also be overstated – it still exerts a significant influence on the Partido Popular, for example. But there’s no doubt today’s Spain is fundamentally secular and that’s a vast change from 50 years ago. As for the origins of these two developments, well, there’s a link, of course: Roman Catholicism has traditionally been very anthropocentric and it’s not entirely coincidental that the retreat of its influence should have coincided with growing concern for animal welfare. Both the changes you mention are essentially the outcome of forces inside Spain, but perhaps that is more true of the decline in support for the church, which became fatally associated with Franco-ism, than of the growing criticism of bull- fighting, which I think owes something to a desire to be seen as more ‘European’.
Q. For many thousands of people, The New Spaniards has become the essential book for understanding the modern country. Does its huge and continuing success surprise you? Has it reached the sort of audience you were hoping to reach - and with the desired effect?
A. Well, I felt I had written a good book but, yes, I was taken aback by the enthusiasm of the reviews and then by its rise into the bestseller lists, first in hardback and later in paperback. As for the readership, I was surprised at first that it sold so well to university students doing Spanish or Hispanic studies: it wasn’t written with the aim of appearing on university reading lists, though I am delighted that it did and, indeed, does. As far as its effect, my aim back in 1980 when I first discussed the idea over a lunch with my then-agent, was to correct a view of Spain which had not altered that very much since the Civil War; to make people aware that there was a new Spain and a new type of Spaniard, and I hope the book has helped to change their ideas about a great country.
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