1 May 2012

DOMINGO'S ANGEL


 – a novel about the Spanish Civil War

I asked for contributions on interesting things about history - and
Jenny Twist responded: thank you Jenny.... 
so, let's go to Spain:

I retired and moved to Spain eleven years ago and I am ashamed to say that before I came to live here I knew nothing of Spanish history other than the stuff we were taught at school. I knew that it was the Spanish Ferdinand and Isabella who financed Christopher Columbus and so conquered the Americas. I knew about the Spanish Inquisition and I knew about the Spanish Armada.
But I had no idea, for example, that Spain was under Moorish rule for hundreds of years and had a rich heritage of Moorish architecture and culture. I had not realised that the same Ferdinand and Isabella finally drove the last of the Moors from Spain and instituted a harsh and repressive regime which kept the Spanish people in feudal  poverty right up to the twentieth century.
And nobody told me about the war.
I was horrified to find out about the dreadful atrocities committed by both sides during the Spanish Civil War and the appalling cruelty perpetrated against the Spanish people under Franco's fascist dictatorship – which lasted from 1939 till his death in 1975. I had actually been to Spain on holiday while he was still in power!
I didn’t set out initially to write a novel about it.
What happened was I wrote a short story and it grew. But as it grew I realized I had a lot to say.
The first chapter is essentially the original short story and tells of an English woman who came to Southern Spain in the early 1950s. Tourism had barely touched the country at that time and the people were only just beginning to recover from the deprivations of the war. She arrived in a remote mountain village and caused some consternation amongst the inhabitants, who had never met a foreigner before. But Domingo, the goatherd, fell in love with her. When she introduced herself, he believed she was saying she was an angel (‘Soy Ángela’ in Spanish can either mean ‘I am Angela’ or ‘I am an angel’). Hence the title of the story.
I entered the story for a competition and it was short-listed, which was encouraging, but didn't win. In the meantime, I had become more and more intrigued by one of the characters, Rosalba, the shopkeeper, and I found myself writing a sequel and then another, and before long it came home to me that I what I had here was an embryo novel.
Because it was initially a series of short stories, the first few chapters, to a large extent, stand as individual stories; and I did, indeed, publish them as such in a local magazine.
But it wasn't too difficult to go over them later and make them into a more homogeneous whole. And as I learnt more and more about the history of my adopted country, I incorporated it into the novel, introducing past events through the memories of the major characters.
I had huge difficulty researching the history because there is so little written about it. You can find out a great deal in the way of historical background from books like 'The Spanish Civil War' by Anthony Beever, which has a lot of (some might say rather too much)  information about what went on in the major cities. But there is virtually nothing written about what went on in the little villages, and the people are very reluctant to talk about it. It was a nightmare for them. Brother fought against brother, and in Spain the family is everything.
I relied on what I knew about my own friends – the story of Salva the Baker, for example, who was imprisoned for years for giving bread to the starving children, is true. I also transposed some of the real events from the history books to my own imaginary village.
But then, after I had finished the novel, I discovered a wonderful book by David Baird – ‘Between Two Fires,' which is the history of his own white village of Frigiliana. It contains the actual testimony of those who survived. Most of these witnesses were already old men and women when they told their stories and many of them had died before the book was published. If I had known about it when I was writing Domingo's Angel, it would have saved me months of work. As it was, it proved invaluable to me as a way of checking that I had got it right.
I wrote to David when my own book was about to be published and asked whether he would mind me referring to him in my acknowledgements. He was, as I expected, very approachable and courteous. I hope a lot of people read his book. It is unique.

Some of the events in this story are bloodthirsty and shocking, but there is a lot of love in it too. I hope that I succeeded in portraying for my readers the cheerfulness, humour and exuberance of the Andalusian people. And it would be nice to think that it might do something to dispel some of the ignorance about this fascinating period of Spanish history.

If you would like to know a little bit more about Domingo's Angel, here is the blurb: 

DOMINGO’S ANGEL

When Angela turns up in a remote Spanish mountain village, she is so tall and so thin and so pale that everyone thinks she is a ghost or a fairy or the dreadful mantequero that comes in the night and sucks the fat from your bones.
But Domingo knows better. “Soy Angela,” she said to him when they met – “I am an angel.” Only later did he realise that she was telling him her name and by then it was too late and everyone knew her as Domingo’s Angel.
This is the story of their love affair. But it is also the story of the people of the tiny mountain village – the indomitable Rosalba - shopkeeper, doctor, midwife and wise woman, who makes it her business to know everything that goes on in the village; Guillermo, the mayor, whose delusions of grandeur are rooted in his impoverished childhood; and Salva the Baker, who risked his life and liberty to give bread to the starving children.
The events in this story are based on the real experiences of the people of the White Villages in Southern Spain and their struggle to keep their communities alive through the years of war and the oppression of Franco’s rule.

Published  by  Melange Books  10th July 2011

Available on  Amazon.com 
ISBN: 978-1-61235-202-2

EXCERPT

The next day he took his goats to the top of the ridge near the pass and looked down on the smallest casita of Guillermo the mayor. There was a mule tethered outside and a string of washing had been hung between two almond trees. Otherwise there was no sign of life. Halfway down the slope was a large algarrobo tree. He decided it would be an ideal place for lunch.
But although he sat and watched the little house all the time as he ate his bread and cheese and olives and drank his wine, nobody came out and nothing happened. Only the mule moved along the side of the house to keep in the shade as the sun moved round. So he went to sleep.
When he woke up, someone was calling him. “Hola, goatherd!”
He squinted up into the sun and there, standing before him was an angel. It was very tall and thin and there was a fiery halo round its head. “Hello,” it said, "Soy Ángela - I am angel. I am delighted to meet you! Who are you?”
In absolute panic, Domingo shot up into a sitting position and shuffled backwards into the algarrobo tree. His head hit the hard trunk with a resounding crack and he subsided and slumped back down, feeling a little stunned.
The angel came forward into the shadow of the algarrobo tree and he realised that the halo was, in fact, hair - very long hair - falling in waves down beyond her shoulders and almost to her waist. It was exactly the colour of oranges that have dried on the tree. Her skin was so white it was almost blue and her eyes were so pale they had no colour at all. “How could they think she was a dead person?” he thought in a confused fashion. “She is obviously an angel.”


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Thank you Jenny - that was interesting 
(Domingo's Angel is duly downloaded to my Kindle - added to the To Be Read pile!)

If anyone else would like to contribute something that is history based - or interesting to talk about.... email Helen



13 comments:

  1. Thank you so much, Helen. I do appreciate you hosting me on your lovely site.

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  2. Excellent post, Jenny - although I'm an historian and knew the 'politics' of the Civil War, I had no idea of what it was really like for the ordinary people. You succeeded in interweaving the events of that period seamlessly into Domingo's Angel which made it a riveting read.

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  3. Thank you so much, Paula. I must admit it was the experience of the ordinary people which interested me most, especially those in the mountain villages where I live. But I was also enthralled by the experience of the British poets and writers who flocked to Spain to fight for freedom and democracy. Stirring times!

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  4. Hi Jenny,

    I am from Spain. My parents were children of the Spanish Civil War. I know what you're talking about.
    Thanks for bringing the story to the American public.
    Two movies that really "get" the time and horrors of the Spanish War are Butterfly (http://www.amazon.com/Butterfly-Fernando-Fern%C3%A1n-G%C3%B3mez/dp/B000056N91/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1335965251&sr=1-2) and Pan's Labyrinth.
    I highly recommend them.
    Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban, Ph.D.
    Author of Two Moon Princess and Becquer eterno
    www.carmenferreiroesteban.com
    http://carmenferreiroesteban.wordpress.com/

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  5. Hello, Carmen
    I am so excited to meet you. Unless you actually live in Spain, it's very rare to find anyone who knows anything about the Civil War. Do your parents talk about their experience? I have found very few people here who will.

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  6. What a fascinating post. I knew a little about this background, mainly because of the story of El Cid, who drove the Moors out of Spain in the 10th or 11th century, I think. A great romantic epic that was!

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  7. Hello, Liz
    Another new friend! This is wonderful. So pleased to meet you.
    You're quite right, El Cid was 11th century. But the Moors were not finally driven out of Spain until the reign of Ferdinand and Isobella in the 15th century and even then some were retained to maintain the Moorish water systems. These were known as the Mudéjars or 'those who were left behind'. I live in Andalusia, the last stronghold of the Moors and we have a rich heritage of Moorish and Mudéjar architecture.
    xx

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  8. I'm just in awe of this book and how very real the whole village and its inhabitants became to me. If I could follow Jenny around as a groupie, I would but I'll have to be content with stalking her online. :) On a serious note, I didn't know anything about the Spanish Civil War and it was great to learn about it in the midst of such a fine story. I've much to learn from Jenny Twist. ~Mysti

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  9. Dear Mysti
    I feel so happy and priviledged to be stalked by you! Thank you
    Lots of love
    Jenny
    xx

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  10. This is a beautiful love story and I highly recommend it :) I also had no idea about the Civil War in Spain, until reading this book.

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  11. Thank you, Tara. I'm so glad you enjoyed the story. Love
    jenny
    xx

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  12. I was also fascinated to learn so much about the lives of the people in the mountain villages during the civil war. I was taught something about the Spanish armada when I was about 10, but all I actually remember is that sailors used to get scurvy!
    'Domingo's Angel' tells incredible stories about the villagers and tells a beautiful love story at the same time. I still recommend it to everyone I meet!

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  13. Hello, Eva.
    What a lovely comment! I shall treasure this. Thank you
    Love
    Jenny
    xxx

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