Aspen Times Weekly book review: ‘The End of Sherry’
November 6, 2014
Franco Era Spain is an odd setting for a fondly recited coming-of-age memoir by an American. Yet Bruce Berger — the longtime Aspen-based poet and author of indispensible volumes like "Music in the Mountains" and "The Complete Half-Aspenite" — pulls it off in his new book, "The End of the Sherry."
The memoir follows Berger as a young man leaving his doctoral studies in literature to drift around southern Spain in 1965 with a dog named Sparkplug. He sticks around for three years, playing piano in Andalusian nightclubs, palling around with local teens and rock bands, living in a campground and working in a carnival act.
This is an enormously charming book. Berger's narration has a conversational air to it — reading it, you feel as though you're sitting beside him, sipping sherry in Bar Central or one of the many other Spanish watering holes he lovingly renders throughout.
Berger is self-aware about the absurd fact that he's carving out his Bohemian existence under the thumb of Franco, who had reigned since the 1930s.
"So spontaneous, so free to be eccentric was life in Puerto Real that for long periods I forgot I was living in a police state, under a notorious dictator," he writes.
Berger's honest recollections strip away the literary tropes of Americans abroad and mostly ignores the shadow of Hemingway's adventures in Spain. Berger openly scoffs at the idea of his time in Spain as "adventuresome."
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"I said yes instead of no," he writes, "then took the consequences."
He deftly weaves meditations on faith and religion, identity and creativity into the narrative, while tracking his early development as a writer and a man. Curiously, while in Spain, Berger didn't indulge in his lifelong passions of literature, nature and classical music – depriving himself of those familiar comforts, he suggests, helped shape him as a writer and a man.
The book closes with Berger returning to his old stomping grounds in the mid-'80s. He finds the Andalusian culture he cherished had disappeared in Franco's wake, leaving him only with his memories and leaving us, thankfully, with this book.
‘The End of the Sherry’
317 pages, $29.95
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