As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee is my fourth book for the European Reading Challenge 2018, which is being hosted by Rose City Reader. It covers the country of Spain.
It's many, many years since I read Laurie Lee's Cider With Rosie: I was probably a teenager. It's his most famous book I imagine but As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning is quite well known too I think. The event's in this non-fiction book take place immediately following Cider With Rosie, where at the end we see Laurie leaving his loving home in The Cotswolds to explore the world... I think he was nineteen.
He sets off to see the sea on the south coast of England and then heads to London. Luckily, he's adept at playing the violin so is able to perform in the streets and earn some money. During this time he comes to understand the life of the British tramp during the 1930s, how some of them were not able to pick up their lives after WW1, some just don't want a settled life, and a lot were unemployed and looking for work.
After a few months in the the South East he decides to go to Spain (mainly because he knows the Spanish for 'Will you please give me a glass of water') and takes a ship to Vigo in the North Western corner of the country (just above Portugal). From this point he walks, over a period of many months, through Spain to the southern coast. He is ill-prepared for such a journey. The first part is forested and mountainous and not so bad but once he reaches the plains the heat is brutal and unrelenting; the locals think he's mad, naturally, but he's greeted with kindness wherever he goes. How he managed to avoid dying from sunstroke I'm not sure, I fancy he must've been very lucky.
Cities visited include Valladolid, Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, Cadiz and so on. At one stage he takes up with a South African poet, Roy Campbell, and his family, staying with them for a while. But mainly he was among the poorer sections of Spanish society and Lee's descriptions of the hardship and unfairness experienced by these people are very revealing in respect of why the civil war happened.
For me the most interesting part of the book is when Laurie reaches the southern coast. He visits Gibralter and then walks along the coast until he reaches a small village called Almunécar near Malaga. Here he settles in for the winter, employed by a local hotel as an odd job man and playing the violin at night in the bar. But war is looming, not WW2 but The Spanish Civil War, and sides are being picked. People start to die and Laurie has a decision to make.
I was a lot more impressed with this than I expected to be. Spain is not a country I have much of an interest in (and to be honest, still haven't) but Laurie Lee's writing is so rich and luscious that you can't help but love the book and be fascinated by his experiences. I gave it a five on Goodreads. I wasn't thinking to read the third book, A Moment of War, about his experiences in The Spanish Civil War, but now I think I might at some stage... one or two of the books I read about WW2 in France touched on it and it might be interesting to find out more.