Sketches of Spain by Federico Garcia Lorca (Translation by Peter Bush)

Ready to experience a profoundly beautiful yet provocative journey through the old towns, taverns and villages of Spain? Sketches of Spain will take you there. Originally published in Spanish as Impresiones y Paisajes, Sketches of Spain, written by the esteemed author Federico Garcia Lorca, can now be savored by English speaking readers as well. Translated Peter Bush, a British professor of literary translation, and illustrated by noted artist Julian Bell, the book is a highly readable rendering of Garcia Lorca’s early twentieth century travelogue.

First published in 1918, the fourteen short essays or “sketches” recount Federico Garcia Lorca’s experiences, reactions and thoughts during four field trips around Spain taken over a two year period with his literature professor at Granada University, Martín Domínguez Berrueta. Federico, the seventeen year old son of a privileged landowner, sees churches and alleys, clerics and prostitutes, passions and poverty through the eyes of a budding humanist and poet.

Fundamentally, Sketches of Spain is as much an excursion of the soul as it is an excursion of the body: “And travel the world so that, when we reach the gateway to the ‘solitary road’, we can drain our cup of all existing emotions, virtue, sin, purity and darkness”. In its pages, the author struggles with the relationship between the spiritual and the sensual: “We must be religious and profane, combine the mysticism of an austere Gothic cathedral with the wonder of pagan Greece.” This struggle is recounted, not with the sophomoric self-consciousness one would expect of a seventeen year old, but with an elegiac beauty foreshadowing the emergence of Spain’s most cherished poet.

Federico Garcia Lorca dedicates Sketches of Spain to his piano teacher:

“To the respected memory of my old music teacher whose gnarled hands so often pulsated on the piano and inscribed rhythms on the air, hands he ran through his twilight silvery hair like a smitten gallant suffering ancient passions invoked by a Beethoven sonata. A saint!”

Federico Garcia Lorca had been destined since early childhood for a musical career. After the college field trip described in Sketches of Spain, however, his own passions turned more and more towards writing. Yet it is the musical disciplines so well learned from this beloved teacher that infuse Garcia Lorca’s writing with such power and rhythm and light.

In his Prologue, Federico Garcia Lorca invites those readers who dare to “walk these pages” with him. I am very glad I took the challenge. I urge you to do so as well: you will be well rewarded. Buen viaje – have a good trip.

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