This week in fiction : Colm Tóibín


Your story in this week’s issue, “Summer of ’38,” is set in Spain, partly during the Spanish Civil War. You’ve written nonfiction about Spain—“Homage to Barcelona”—and your novel “The South” is set in Barcelona and involves a veteran of the Spanish Civil War. What keeps drawing you back to that particular time and place?

I went to live in Barcelona in 1975, when I was twenty. Even before I went there, I knew more about the Spanish Civil War than I did about the Irish Civil War. I liked Barcelona, and then I grew to like a place in the Catalan Pyrenees called the Pallars, especially an area between the village of Llavorsi and the high mountains around it. Until the late nineteen-fifties, the eight or nine villages in the area were cut off from the outside world, with only a footbridge connecting them to Llavorsi; there were some mountain passes, but no roads into France. I loved how enclosed it all was. For the past twenty years, I have spent a part of every year there.

Coming from Ireland, having lived through years of Ireland’s civil unrest, which, like Spain’s, was fuelled by both religion and nationalism, do you feel a kind of kinship with what Spain went through in those years?

I lived in the Republic of Ireland. I wrote a book about the North but as an outsider. The hatreds there were not mine. I never felt them. I liked how open in most ways Catalan nationalism was, compared to Irish nationalism. I disliked the violence and cruelty in Ireland. But there were many connections between Ireland and Catalonia, including religion, isolation, and division. I don’t know the rest of Spain well; I have enjoyed being there, but I don’t feel any kinship with it. I like that there are two languages spoken in Catalonia.

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