Sails and Winds

(Signal, 2019)

Sails and Winds tells the story of today’s Spanish provinces of Valencia, Castelló and Alacant (Alicante), with their huge Moorish legacy. The Moors designed the intricate system of irrigation that still nourishes Valencia’s prosperous horta (market garden). They brought, too, the silk, paper and orange industries.

The area is rich in monuments, many from its golden fifteenth century, when the capital Valencia became the wealthiest city on the Western Mediterranean. Sails and Winds discusses Sagunt’s Roman theatre and castle; Gandia, home to the ill-reputed Borja (or Borgia) family of popes; Elx, embraced by 200,000 palms; Peníscola’s fairy-tale castle on a rock, refuge of Papa Luna the anti-pope; and Alcoi, anarchist stronghold and Spain’s first centre of working-class struggle.

Not all is beauty: Valencia’s coast has been ravaged by tourist saturation and, in recent decades, corrupt politicians have bankrupted the area. It is, too, a divided land, with two languages and its identity pulled between the Spanish state and Catalonia. The book unpicks the detail of the Partido Popular’s mismanagement and corruption.

Sails and Winds also celebrates Valencia’s art and literature: the painters Ribera and light-filled Sorolla; the great medieval poet of anguish Ausiàs March; and his contemporary Joanot Martorell, author of Tirant lo Blanc, one of Europe’s first novels. The singers Raimon and Ovidi Montllor forged a new linguistic consciousness against the Franco dictatorship. Santiago Calatrava’s architecture, conjuring from steel and concrete the sensation of soaring flight, has given Valencia city its new trophy buildings.

The fabulously successful novelist Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, the modernist chronicler of the Civil War defeat Max Aub, the Communist poet from Oriola Miguel Hernández, and Rafael Chirbes, bitter recorder of the spoliation of the coast, are the book’s featured twentieth-century writers.

Despite the continuing holiday boom, you can still find deserted beaches, sinister and beautiful marshland, orange groves and a depopulated mountainous interior. Sails and Winds seeks to explain these contradictory, fascinating Valencian lands.

What kind reviewers said:

“A magnificent, well-written introduction to one of the most enigmatic areas of both the Països Catalans and Spain as a whole.”

Matthew Tree, Catalonia Today

“Though this is not a tourism guide, and nor does it aspire to be one, readers, whether Valencian or foreign, will find an amenable and very well-informed approach to the País Valencià  particularly to be recommended for its many-sided vision.”

Víctor Maceda, El Temps

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