Chasing Shadows by J Carmen Smith
Review by Kirsty Hooper, http://booksonspain.wordpress.com/
How can we recover the stories of people whose lives were lived between countries, cultures, cities and oceans? How do we remember them when archives, memories and the historical record can only tell us a fraction of the story? Chasing Shadows, J Carmen Smith’s beautiful memoir of her search for her lost Galician heritage, is a lyrical and often very moving account of her journey to find her own family’s answers to these questions.
Chasing Shadows is the story of two women: the author, brought up in the suburbs of Liverpool, and her maternal grandmother, Micaela, born in rural Galicia, who came to Liverpool as a young widow, remarried to a fellow emigrant, and remained in the city for the rest of her life. Micaela’s daughter – Smith’s mother – abandoned her Spanish heritage on marriage, so that the author grew up with only the barest details about her grandmother’s tough early life in Galicia, and her reasons for settling so far from home, in a country whose language she would never be able to speak.
What I loved about this book is the way that the two strands – Micaela’s life story, and the author’s modern-day search for the truth about what really happened to her – are so carefully balanced. Smith draws on her background in creative writing to weave the barest historical fragments into a series of compelling imagined scenes from Micaela’s life. But I was just as fascinated by Smith’s own reflections on the long, difficult, but ultimately rewarding years she spent travelling through Galicia and trawling its villages, lanes and archives in search of her grandmother’s birth certificate.
Chasing Shadows is a beautifully-written memoir-cum-fiction, which kept me up well into the night, so anxious was I to find out how the two stories would be resolved. But as well as a beautiful memoir in its own right, it’s also a lively account of the joys and frustrations of family history research in Spain, which should be read by anybody who’s thinking about embarking on a similar journey of their own. Highly recommended!
Kirsty Hooper is a specialist in Spanish and Galician Studies she specialises above all in the culture and literature of Galicia, but is now branching out to work on the Basque Country and the Canary Islands too. She’s especially interested in Anglophone communities in Spain and Hispanic communities in the UK, and her ‘Hispanic Liverpool’ project (http://www.kirstyhooper.net/home-page/hispanic-liverpool/) has traced some 2000 Liverpudlians of Hispanic origin. In 2012 she moved from Liverpool University to set up the Hispanic Studies Department at Warwick University.
Books4Spain has a selection of travel books about Galicia from Footprint Travel’s new Focus Guide to Galicia to classic Victorian and Edwardian travel books such as Spanish Galicia by Bell Aubrey F. G. (Aubrey Fitz Gerald); Spain Revisited – a Summer Holiday in Galicia by C Gasquoine Hartley; Galicia, the Switzerland of Spain by Annette M B Meakin; and A Corner of Spain by Walter Wood and illustrated by Frank Mason.
We also have a number of CNIG maps (Spain’s equivalent to the UK’s Ordnance Survey) for walking and touring Galicia and Michelin’s Zoom Map Series of Costa De Galicia (Coast of Galicia). which is in six languages (spanish, galician, portuguese, german, french and english), provides an index of towns and contains plans of the cities of La Coruna, Santiago de Compostela, Orense, Pontevedra and Vigo.
Finally, we have a true “who do you think I am” story about the search for her relatives in Galicia by J Carmen Smith, Chasing Shadows (read Kirsty Hooper of Books on Spain, Review) and two crime fiction books based in Vigo, Death on a Galician Shore (read our Review) and Water-blue Eyes, both by Domingo Villar