Book Review: Ghosts of Spring

ghosts of spring

Ghosts of Spring, by Luis Carrasco, tells the story of a few months in the life of an unnamed young woman who is living on the streets of a city during a bitterly cold winter. It provides a searing indictment of how blind the more privileged make themselves to the unwashed vagrants whose existence is too often regarded as an irritation. Even those who hand out alms rarely connect with the humanity of those they deign to help in order to salve their conscience.

There are moments of light when sincere small kindnesses are offered. There are also many examples of the gross behaviour some men will indulge in because their victims have no recourse to lawful protection or effective punishment.

Opening in the weeks leading up to Christmas, days and nights are described in vivid detail. There is cold and hunger but also the mind numbing repetition and security measures required for basic survival as a beggar. Shelters for the homeless are shown to be more dangerous than dark alleyways. The other option available – prostitution – may be potentially more lucrative but carries its own issues, as is laid bare.

“you’d never get a human being to do what they want us to do for anything less”

It is deeply depressing to consider the ways in which some men behave: the fellow vagrants who will ejaculate on a sleeping girls face, the pimps who provide transport and accommodation in exchange for control over all their charges’ activities, the supposedly respectable citizens who pay for attractive bodies they may abuse at will.

There are also better men who offer to share: food, a drink, some friendly company. When the young woman determines to change her life trajectory it is a kind elderly gentleman who sets her on a path she may not have found herself.

Alongside the main plot are underlying nuggets to consider. The young woman remembers when she had a bed and clean clothes – there are many reasons why the homeless end up on the streets. When she catches a bus to access its warmth, the driver thoughtlessly suggests she pay by card, a system still inaccessible to many. The young woman is judged for her smell and ragged appearance – hard to avoid given the day to day life she leads. She cannot afford period products yet still menstruates.

The latter part of the book threatened briefly to descend into saccharine bucolic until the denouement applied an emotional gut punch, raising the bar of the entire tale.

I knew from the author’s previous novel, El Hacho, that he was capable of weaving a powerful and affecting story in skilfully wrought prose that is succinct yet builds impressive depth. As in that work, Ghosts of Spring offers a strong sense of place amidst its sensuous evocation of the challenges the protagonist faces. Most of all it provides a lens through which to view those so many in society prefer not to consider meaningfully. A poignant, thought-provoking and recommended read.

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


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.