Posted by: SSU Lingua Franca | May 1, 2015

Hombres buenos (Good Men), by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Hombres buenos (Good Men), by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Jon Aske

Arturo Pérez-Reverte Gutiérrez is a well-known Spanish novelist. He started his writing career as a journalist, being a war correspondent for over twenty years (1973-1994). He is perhaps best known for his Captain Alatriste novels, set in the 17th century, which have been translated into English. (There is also a 2006 movie, Alatriste, based on this character.) The genre that Pérez-Reverte specializes in is the historical novel. Reading his novels is a great way to learn about history in a fun way, for his novels are gripping and well-crafted and make you identify with the characters and live the events that he narrates. This is a definitely an appealing way to learn about history, as long as the novels are well researched and well written, as tends to be the case with Pérez-Reverte’s novels. In case you have not tried it, this is your chance.

The latest novel by Pérez-Reverte just came out in March. Its title is Hombres buenos (Good Men). So far it’s only available in Spanish, but you can be sure that an English version will be out soon if you do not want to read it in the original, which if you can, you should. (If you absolutely cannot read it in Spanish, you can start by reading some of his other novels, many of which have been translated into English.)

Hombres buenos is a book of intrigue that takes place in the late 18th century, when Spain was still an empire, before the emancipation of the American colonies. Spain was also at the time a rather backwards country, at least compared to other countries, including its neighbor France, the leader of progress at the time in Europe. These were revolutionary times in France in several different spheres, from science to politics. It is also, of course, the period of the American Revolution, which took place just a decade before the French Revolution. This most interesting period is known as the Age of Reason or the Enlightenment.

But not so much so in Spain, which clutched to traditional, religious-based obscurantism in many respects. One of the highlights of this period in France was the famous French Encyclopédie, an encyclopedia of science, arts, and technology which was the major work of the French philosophes of the time, who were devoted to science and secular thought. Not surprisingly, the French Encyclopédie was banned in Spain.

However, not everybody was opposed to progress in Spain at the time, just the ruling elite, who liked things just the way they were. And that’s where Pérez-Reverte’s book comes in. It tells us the quite plausible story of two good men who struggled to bring the Enlightenment to Spain, while others tried to prevent them from doing so. Actually, what they tried to bring to Spain, from France, were the 28 volumes of the famous Encyclopédie.

The plot of the story is described thus in the book (my translation):

At the end of the 18th century, two members of the Spanish Royal Academy, librarian Hermógenes Molina and admiral Pedro Zárate, were sent to Paris by their colleagues at this institution in order to obtain copies of the 28 volumes of the d’Alembert and Diderot’s Encyclopédie, which had been banned in Spain. Nobody could have suspected that the two academics were going to face such dangerous adventures and web of intrigue. Theirs was a trip full of suspense and surprises, which took them through roads plagued by bandits and uncomfortable country inns, from their semi-enlightened enclave in the Madrid of King Charles III, to the Paris of the cafés, the sitting rooms, the philosophical gatherings, licentious mores, and political upheaval on the eve of the French Revolution. The novel is based on real facts and characters. The riveting, fascinating, and moving novel is documented with extreme rigor. Hombres buenos narrates the heroic adventure of people who, guided by the Enlightenment and Reason, wanted to change the world by means of books, a world that was starting to set aside old ideas and in which the longing for liberty made monarchs shake with fear and the establishment reel.

I hope this preview has piqued your interest and if history and novels appeal to you, this book, or others like it, might be a good place to get started.


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