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Book Review - Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving

I just returned from a trip to Andalusia and one of the books I should have read before I went is Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving (the other is South from Granada by Gerald Brenan). I was too overwhelmed by work and planning to get hold of these but I managed to finish the Tales on my way back from Spain. A little history of the book is in order here - Washington Irving was an American writer and diplomat. He wrote a biography of Prophet Mohammed and is also responsible for the short story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow which was adapted into a movie by Tim Burton. Mr. Irving stayed in the Alhambra in Granada for a few months in the 1820s. Copies of Tales of the Alhambra are on sale everywhere in Granada and the author is much celebrated in that town. I saw a statue, a special exhibitions on Irving's life and explored his living quarters in the Alhambra palace, carefully preserved by the palace management. The reason for Irving's celebrity is this book - widely credited with having put Granada and its beautiful palace on the map. So is the book, and by extension, the writer worthy of such adulation? I think not.

Tales of the Alhambra is a loose collection of legends about the palace and essays by Irving on his experience of living in it. I found two main themes in the legends narrated by Irving, hidden Moorish treasure and forbidden love between the Muslim Moors and the Christian Spaniards. Some of the author's reflections are revealing and his description of the beautiful Palacios Nazaries is precise but the overall perspective is excessively romantic. A worthy read if you are planning to travel to Granada and the Alhambra, not otherwise.

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