During the lockdown, I finished reading ‘Voices of the Old Sea’ by Norman Lewis. The novel is all about how life in Farol, a remote fishing village of Spain, changes due to tourism and rampant commercialization. The process is spurred by corruption, money and muscle power.
Initially, the village is fully dependent on fishing, but tourism brings it to a point where fishing becomes almost non-existent, leaving the villagers worse off. They have no free time, their age old values are under attack and the social fabric of the village is destroyed. The impact of tourism on the village is brutally summed up by the Alcalde, a character in the book, who hopes for return to the old ways, ‘It’s a kind of sickness, an infection. In the past, we suffered from the plague. Now we suffer from tourists, but like any other sickness, it dies out in the end.’
In quest of peace and solitude, the author spends a few months in the village during three consecutive years. He becomes one with the villagers to observe their lives closely and understand their ways. His account of the village life is vivid and authentic. He is a mute witness to the transformation of the village.
While reading the novel, one is often reminded of some remote Indian fishing village with limited and unpredictable sources of income and its share of superstitions.
One requires some patience to complete reading the book, primarily due to the use of uncommon and difficult words. However, the book becomes more and more readable and interesting as one progresses.
On the back cover of the book, there is an interesting review by the Observer. It says, ‘After the war, Norman Lewis returned to Spain and settled in the remote fishing village of Farol, on what is now the Costa Brava. Voices of the Old Sea describes his three successive summers in the almost medieval community where life revolved around the seasonal sardine catches, the Alcalde’s bar and satisfying feuds with neighbouring villages.’
It is interesting to note that feuds with neighbouring villages can provide the necessary satisfaction, excitement and anticipation to an otherwise bored population with a lot of spare time and nothing much to look forward to. True, some requirements of existence can be effectively met by exciting feuds and not by monotonous harmony.