ROBERT GRAHAM is the Madrid correspondent of the prestigious London business newspaper, the Financial Times. His account of the events, institutions and individuals that have shaped Spain's transition from dictatorship to democracy touches on the high points of the slightly more than nine years since Franco's death.
The book opens with the story of Guardia Civil Colonel Antonio Tejero's takeover of Parliament in a failed coup attempt on February 23, 1981, a symbol for the fragility of Spanish democracy and a logical starting point.
After that, though, the structural logic of the work becomes a bit hard to follow. Graham takes us through a nonsequential account of Spanish history from the 1936-1939 civil war until the end ofthe Franco era on November 20, 1975. It is a once over lightly that would be of little interest to anyone with even a modest background in Spanish affairs. It would be useful only to a neophyte.
That would be all right if the rest of the book were written for an audience with only a passing interest in Spanish affairs. Instead, much of it is concerned with details of the inner workings of Spanish institutions -- banking, for example, whose intricacies would be of concern, it seems to me, only to someone faced with becoming an instant expert, like a new correspondent.
Typically, when discussing the economy, there are too many details and too many numbers and too little explanation of what they mean or how they fit into the broader context of Spain's future development and integration into the Common Market.
The two major financial scandals of the last 15 years, Matesa and Rumasa, are reported more or less as they were in the daily newspapers with insufficient effort to examine whether they were aberrations or whether they represent an endemic problem. A new correspondent would find this information useful in the form Graham presented it. A good one would surely want more.
WHEN GRAHAM writes about the unions and the political parties he makes the same mistake that has plagued so much writing about modern Spain -- he serves up the incomprehensible alphabet soup of initials and acronyms by which the seemingly endless unions and parties are known to the specialists. Here is a fairly typical sentence, by no means the worst:
"Except in the Basque country, CCOO pushed itself to the front of these conflicts. The dismantling of the CNT and UGT allowed the new Workers Commissions to penetrate their former strongholds such as the Asturian mines, once dominated by the special union, SOMA/UGT, and the very symbol of UGT's presence in the working class struggle."
Graham's section on the unions and parties would be extremely hard to follow for newcomers to Spanish affairs and for the specialists, it would add little or nothing to the general fund of knowledge.
But the book's greatest failing is that it does not synthesize the blocks of information it presents into a coherent narrative that helps to explain the rather extraordinary process that has been under way in Spain in the last decade or so. After five years of tumultuous republican government, Spain underwent the agonies of three years of civil war and then 36 years of dictatorship. The leap forward from that history into today's social democratic Spain is a little short of a miracle.
What is it about the people, traditions, and institutions of this ancient country that has made it possible for the transition to take place so successfully, despite an archaic economic system?
And what about the broadly based social revolution that has taken place in Spain in the last 10 or 15 years? One sees bare breasts on village beaches and smells marijuana, which is legal, in the streets. At deeper levels, however, Spain seems to be going through, in highly condensed form, social changes that took place elsewhere in Catholic, Mediterranean Europe over several generations. This book might have benefited, for example, from a serious treatment of the changing role of women in Spanish society.
Graham provides three interesting but all too brief examples of how poor boys have made it to the top through drive and initiative, but he then says that the Spanish class system remains so structured that upward mobility is extremely difficult. It would have been worthwhile to further explore this apparent contradiction.
There are other places where the book seems to promise more than it delivers. For example, Graham writes that the somewhat mysterious Catholic lay organization, Opus Dei, whose members have played a major role in government, industry and banking, is misunderstood, but he does not go on to explain how and why.
Although Graham clearly has a great deal of information about modern Spain to share with his readers, it is impossbile to read this book without wondering for whom it was written. There are not, after all, that many newspapers or magazines with Madrid bureaus.