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Review: A Parrot in the Pepper Tree by Chris Stewart

Genre: Expat memoir.
Subjects: Spain, farming, country life, daily life, people and animals.
Reading challenge: What's in a Name 2016
Challenge book no.: 1, a book with the word "tree" in the title.

This is the sequel to Stewart’s bestseller, Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia, which I read and enjoyed not long after it was published, but did not review. I can’t really compare the two books, because it has been over 10 years since I read the other and I can’t really remember much about it.

This is one of the books in the popular genre that Peter Mayle (another successful expat author) calls “being there” books (and I have sometimes called "Brits abroad" books, because so many of the authors are British). Such books can be either enjoyable or annoying, and fortunately this one falls into the former category. This is not one of those “good life” books that some people like to deride. At the point in time portrayed in the book - beginning just before he sent off the first stories that would become Driving Over Lemons and ending some time after that book was published and he began to receive publicity for it - Stewart and his wife, Ana, were unable to support themselves from their farm alone, and Stewart was going off, sometimes for weeks on end, to work as a sheep-shearer to earn extra money, and the book begins on a dark road somewhere in Sweden in the middle of winter, with him on his way to a farm to do some shearing.

I suppose this could almost be called a “broke but happy” kind of story.

The narrative jumps between past and present (the book’s present, obviously, since it was published in 2002), telling of Stewart’s early days as a musician, how he switched from drumming to guitar, with his obsession with the guitar running like a read thread through the narrative. It then jumps into the present and discusses life on the farm, his neighbours, and the ominous day they discovered that a dam was to be build in their valley. All of this is described with gentle humour.

Stewart portrays himself as bumbling and often unlucky (and occasionally put-upon), somewhat in the style of Bill Bryson, except he knows when to stop with the self-deprecation and never whines, both things Bryson still hasn’t learned.

This isn’t going in my permanent collection and I doubt I’d read it again, but it’s nice, relaxing, undemanding read that has everything one would expect from a book in this genre: humour, unusual people, funny animals, descriptions of nature and weather, some problems but not too many of them; and it generally paints an idyllic enough image of the area where Stewart lives that one wants to visit it.


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