Review | The Olive Groves of Belchite | Elena Moya Pereira

 How are the reverberations of an event like the Spanish Civil War transformed as they travel down through the generations? How do they echo through people’s choices, actions, lives and loves, and what happens to those echoes when the walls they are bouncing off are far, far away from those that hold the first-hand memories? These are the questions that drive the novel The Olive Groves of Belchite, published in 2009 by Catalan-born, London-based debut novelist Elena Moya Pereira.


First up, I have to give all credit to Moya for writing the novel directly in English rather than Catalan or Spanish. She explains on her website that this was because she is based in London, and had the opportunity to workshop her writing with a writers’ group, so English became a natural medium. As somebody who works with and sometimes in foreign languages, I know the profound effort it takes to find one’s own voice in a new language – quite apart from worrying over grammatical accuracy or whether you’ve quite understood the nuance of a particular combination of words, it’s a question of finding a new rhythm and with it, inevitably, a new perspective. I won’t lie, there were parts of the writing where the rhythms and combinations felt … unfamiliar … to me, so that towards the beginning, especially, I found myself straining for the echoes of what I imagined to be Moya’s suppressed Catalan voice. Of course,  the absence of complete domestication is no bad thing at all, and in fact, it’s this unfamilarity of expression that creates the slightly dislocated atmosphere that I think is fundamental to our belief in the transformation of the novel’s central character, Maria.

Portada de Los olivos de BelchiteIn late 2010, the novel was released simultaneously by Suma de Letras, in Spanish translation as Los olivos de Belchite, and in Catalan as Les oliveres de Belchite It didn’t get a huge number of reviews in English – two short ones I found are an unsigned one at The Leader and another by Glenda Young at Flaming Nora. There are some positive customer reviews at Amazon, too (although one has the same surnames as the author, so looks like a case of sisterly support, and quite right too!). Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s received many more reviews already in Catalonia and in Spain, where the ‘historical memory’ of the Civil War remains a vital fascination for writers, readers and commentators.

I enjoyed this novel, and certainly recommend it to anybody with an interest in Spain and its (relatively) recent history. Perhaps more than anything else I’ve read, The Olive Groves of Belchite opens up important questions about the extent to which a translated novel is really the same novel as the original. I’ll have to read the Spanish version and find out…


  1. Hola -muchas gracias!
    I am the author -and honoured by your kind words. Yes, the Spanish and Catalan versions are very simliar to the original one in English. True, writing in a foreign language sometimes puts me as a disadvantage as it’s not my most natural expression tool -but it gave me a distance to Spain, to my own feelings, to everything, without which I would not have been able to write about such a delicate matter. Thank you very much again for your understanding, sensitivity, and knowledge of how much of an issue this is still in Spain -precisely, the point of my novel. Thanks again, Elena.

    1. Hola, Elena, and thanks for stopping by! I’ve recommended your novel to several people, and I’m excited to see your second one, when it’s ready. Congratulations!

  2. Cycling_Chef · · Reply

    Thank you for your review. I am nearly finished reading THE SPANISH BOW by Andromeda Romano-Lax and have really enjoyed this historical novel set in early 20th century Spain and leading up to the Spanish Civil War. It’s an ebook steal at 93 cents on Kindle. Recommended!

    1. Thanks for stopping by and for the recommendation – I’ll definitely check it out!

  3. […] originally published in English. There are some reviews here, on Moya’s webpage, and on the blog ”Books on […]

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