Author: Richard A. Barrett
Publisher: Xlibris Corporation
ISBN: 978-1-4500-7352-3

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Tales from a Spanish Village is the tale of how Barrett, as a young man, lived, with his Japanese wife, in a small village, Benabarre, in the sub-Pyrenees zone of Upper Aragon in northern Spain for just over a year in the late 1960s in order to conduct research for his studies as a cultural anthropologist. Told mainly in dialogue, Barrett’s account provides no in-depth anthropological explanation of what he finds, choosing rather to allow the characters to speak for themselves. Being fluent in Spanish, Barrett does not tax the reader with undue concern about the language used, but relates all in a vivid and vibrant way. Adding interest to the text, the description of each “informant” (a rather unhappy choice of words in this instance) is accompanied by a black-and-white photograph, showing what the individual looks like within his or her own setting. Typical of such a village is the intense concern of the local citizenry with what their fellow villagers are doing, so that Barrett is made aware of several aspects of village life that might otherwise have escaped him, or else made his research much more difficult.

Tasked with recording family biographies and with faithfully recording the accounts of locals, with a key focus on social stratification, Barrett’s role in the community was clear. However, this did little at
first to allay the suspicions of the locals, who watched his every move with obsessive intensity. Many at first even suspect that he might be a spy, and subject him to what must often have seemed like a never-ending barrage of questions. The after-effects of the Spanish Civil War, when the country as a whole was riddled with government informants, can clearly be seen in their distrust of his presence, and especially of his continuous note-taking. However, their original suspicion is allayed when he is welcomed into the inner circle of a locally born professor of art history, Don Francisco Abbad, whose opinion the villagers respect to the point of reverence.

The maltreatment of an encampment of gypsies by the Guardia is described relatively dispassionately by Barrett, who is clearly able to distance himself from an incident of police brutality due to his academic background. After all, Barrett is a scholar, and bound to take a neutral and objective stance about issues that would deeply unsettle a human rights campaigner. Such an attitude has its upsides, as can be seen in his non-judgmental approach to the subjects of his research: “I judged an informant by a simple standard: if I spent hours writing up notes after an interview, the informant was worthwhile. If I found little to write, I had wasted my time.” But, overall, Barrett tends to be a humane researcher, who is able to get on well with the locals, while retaining the required amount of professional distance from them.

Tales from a Spanish Village should make interesting and worthwhile reading for all those interested in the comings and goings of village life, as well as those with an interest in the Spanish culture. The interplay between the different characters, as revealed through their own words (in translation, of course), is fascinating, and the photographs bear evidence of a bygone era, which must inevitably by now have become increasingly subjected to the invasive and pervasive effects of the mass media.

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