A luminous memoir of an unusual life in an unlikely place.
Graves, daughter and translator of the famed poet and novelist Robert Graves, spent her early life in Majorca, where her father had installed the family in bohemian exile from England. That their romanticized getaway happened to fall under the dominion of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco seems not to have troubled Graves senior, a nominal socialist, although Lucia gives a terrifying account of her school years, a time when fierce nuns spoke of the generalissimo as if he were Christ restored to earth and instructed their pupils “that the Jews, who hated the Spaniards and were political spies and conspirators, had secret dealings with the Moors and murdered Christian children.” Undaunted, Lucia grew up to be a good cosmopolitan and democrat, keenly appreciative of the many differences that distinguish Catalonia from the Balearic Islands, and both from Castile. (In Catalonian hospitals, she writes, the dominant symbol is not the cross, as it is in Madrid, but an almond-shaped eye, borrowed from ancient Egyptian iconography.) Her portrait of the reemergence of Catalan identity after Franco’s death offers a learned insight into this proud people, while her descriptions of daily life in rural Spain will inspire nostalgia in readers who have traveled there. Those hoping for dirt on the renowned author of I, Claudius will be disappointed, however, for Robert Graves appears only in passing in these pages, a generally benevolent but always distant figure. Instead, Lucia Graves lingers on her own epiphanies as a child, and then as an adult, familiar with many cultures but wholly at home in none, “immersed in a textual world” that takes in all times and peoples.
Poetic, graceful, and full of hard-won knowledge.