Another thorough survey of Spanish history and culture by accomplished British scholar Kamen (Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 2003, etc.), focusing on the essential experience of mass exile over four decades in forming Spanish identity.
Throughout its modern history, writes the author, Spain has impoverished itself by expelling its cultural minorities: among others, the Jews in 1492, the Muslims in 1609; Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuits in the 16th century; the diaspora of the intellectual elite in the 1930s. “In other nations, the people arrive,” writes Kamen, “in Spain they depart.” Working chronologically, the author guides the reader through successive stages of migration from the country, forced or otherwise, as the sense of alienation didn’t always mean expulsion from the homeland but also included the desire to become an expatriate or internal exile. Once power was consolidated by Isabella and Ferdinand, they were not prepared to deal with the political rivalry of the conversos, or Jews who had converted to Christianity because of decades of anti-Semitism in medieval Spain. The newly established Inquisition decided questions of “heresy” (up until the 19th century) and essentially isolated the country from its European neighbors. The strongest chapters examine the Jewish and Muslim expulsions, the cultural vacuum they produced and the Sephardic customs the exiles left and took with them. One of Kamen’s central theses is that some of the most important and memorable works of art and literature by Spaniards have been written in exile. In the Romantic era, absolutism annihilated the Spanish literati, while the intellectual elite would again be forced out with the reaction to the Spanish American War and through the anarchic violence of the Spanish Civil War. Kamen also ably navigates Hispanic culture and uneasy relations with the United States.
Perhaps too wide-ranging, but proficiently covers enormous cultural and literary territory.