By Tobias Buck
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20
When Spain joined the European single-currency zone in 1999, the country’s property market went “gaga”, says Gerard DeGroot in The Times. Mortgages were “handed out like sweeties”, nearly six million properties were built over the next decade, and a quarter of Spain’s male workforce ended up employed in the construction industry.
So when the property bubble burst, “the shockwaves of economic collapse were felt in every corner of society”. After the Fall by Tobias Buck, a journalist with the Financial Times, examines both the “fat-cat bankers who led their country astray” and the “ordinary people who paid dearly for inane economic management”.
The book “captures the chaos of Spain’s turbulent recent history with aplomb”, says Oliver Balch in the Financial Times. An Anglo-German with a Spanish partner, Buck “is enough of an outsider to stand on the sidelines and look in, yet close enough to gain an inside track”.
He is also willing to dig deep into the story, journeying into Catalonia’s rural villages “to unpick the causes of secessionist sentiment”, for example. The book’s real strength, however, is its “charting of the political ramifications of Spain’s crisis”, which have “been as tumultuous as the economy has been flat”. The central villain in this “elegant and insightful” book is Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s prime minister between 2011 and 2018, says Matthew Campbell in The Sunday Times.
In Buck’s view, the “uncompromising, uncharismatic ex-property notary from Galicia” may have succeeded in taming the economic fallout from the crisis, but he failed to inspire the Spanish people, and unintentionally fanned “separatist flames” in Catalonia. Buck sees the present ongoing crisis as part of a “continuing struggle in the story of modern Spain between the old and new, right and left, reaction and reform, the religious and secular, tradition and modernity”.
But his book goes beyond politics to offer a “deeply sympathetic portrayal” of a country “whose people love nothing more than to gather at dusk for a chat in the plaza”. For all the turmoil, “Spain is a country that gets under your skin”.