Book Review: El Hacho

El Hacho, by Luis Carrasco, is a story of one man’s attachment to the land his family has worked for generations. Curro is an olive farmer in the Andalusian mountains. He was born and raised in the house where he now lives with his wife as they age. Curro has never travelled, even as far as the sea. Thanks to their toil, he and his brother, Marie, can feed their loved ones but there is little money to spare for indulgences, the temptations of encroaching modernity. Curro is content to continue in the traditional way but Marie hankers after change.

When the story opens the region is suffering a drought. Curro’s olives should be ready for harvest but are parched, the trees becoming unstable. Marie is unwilling to help with the back breaking work required to improve access. He observes the local tourists, the material trappings of his developing country, and arranges to meet a stranger.

Curro understands his brother’s need for something beyond their settled if demanding lifestyle. For himself he remembers their father’s words when a stranger visited:

“he glossed his hand over the valley to the south-east, over the pink lace of the almond blossom, over the white toe of the Montejaque village and beyond to where the land buckled in a granite ribbon. The dipping sun crept around El Hancho’s flank and fired the valley slopes with a copper glaze.
And what could I buy with ten times your offer that could give me more than this?”

Curro also remembers his grandfather telling of a long drought and the difficulties it wrought. His wife assures him that they will manage somehow even if the harvest fails. Curro supplements their food supplies with rabbits he catches in traps. Then Marie stops turning up for work.

The olive farm and landscape in which it lies are beautifully evoked. The rhythms of Curro’s life, his work and its value, are rendered in concise, vivid detail. There is acceptance of difficulties, recognition that others have coped with similar challenges in times past. The pleasures to be found in food, rest, companionship and location are relished.

The writing is canorous and compelling, the picture painted offering a reminder of what in life has true value. Although novella in length, the story told is powerful and enduring. This is a recommended read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, époque press.