Arturo Pérez-Reverte (Cartagena 1951) is a writer in the Hemingway mould whose books I wouldn’t and couldn’t miss for the world. His idea of the perfect holiday is to sail his own twelve metre yacht single-handed around the Mediterranean, putting in at beautiful ports of ill repute and historic interest. I should love to join him but he would be resolute about the ‘single-handed’ part.
He used to be a war correspondent, when younger. I have watched him make fluent and terse reports of stupid wars from the Balkans, dodging the snipers’ bullets. He has, as the Spanish say, balls, and he has them ‘muy bien puestos’. He is a distinguished member of the Spanish Royal Academy, and thinks nothing of dashing off (six to date) historical novels written about the adventures of the wonderfully named ‘Captain Alatriste’, written mostly in antique Castilian, and featuring real historical figures such as the poet/swordsman Quevedo and Philip IV King of Spain, mixed in a literary cocktail with inventions like Diego de Alatriste y Iñigo Balboa. The period is the early seventeenth century, and reading these books leaves one reeling with dubious nostalgia for a particularly nasty period of European history.
The caballero Arturo holds no soft part in his heart for los ingleses, franceses or holandeses. The English are ‘hideputas’, never to be trusted, violent and imperious; The Dutch (for Spanish problems with the Low Countries in the 16 and 17th centuries) are treacherous, cruel and incapable of speaking Castellano and the franchutes come directly from Hell.
In Alfaguaras’s excellent collection of salty tales written by Perez-Reverte Los barcos se pierden en tierra, the author launches his customary assault on the English nation in no less than eleven out of ninety-five articles published in XL Semanal from 1994 – 2011. But he also writes charmingly about Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey, one assumes because both are fruit of another author’s work. Don Arturo is not charming about another Horatio – Nelson, whom he would have preferred to have blown to pieces at Santa Cruz, instead of merely losing an arm. And while I am in 1798 for a moment, don Arturo should note that the islanders are proud of a cannon called El Tigre, which they claim was the piece of artillery that shot the cannon ball that damaged Nelson’s arm, which was later amputated to prevent gangrene. What extraordinary observers the English must have had at the battle of Santa Cruz! To be able to calculate exactly which ball from precisely which cannon did the trick! Incidentally, the dastardly English dogs of medicos wrote in the daily diary that the Rear-Admiral’s arm had been shattered by musket fire from the quay, but one must succour one’s tourism.
It is said that el Señor only sails in the Mediterranean. That is a pity, because a good selection of beam and following winds might zoom him round the British Isles. Then he could see for himself the seas where the hateful English pirates learned their seacraft before setting sail for the West, and Callao, stopping only to assault and rob huge Spanish galleons bearing treasure their crew had previously stolen from the Incas, Aztecs and other sacreligious tribes.
The seventh adventure of Captain Alatriste will shortly be published in Spanish. All the other six are available in a superb English translation. You can put down none of them, not even to pick up any other book by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Films have been made of at least two of his books, one called The Fencing Master more or less as the maestro wrote them. Roman Polanski made a radically different version of P-Reverte’s The Dumas Club: if you watch this film starring the masterly actor Johnny Depp, try to think of it as a piece of Polanski only. If you attempt to judge it as a filmed version of a Pérez-Reverte novel, you will be disappointed, because the Pole has excised the whole central argument (the writings of Alexandre Dumas) to replace it with a lot of Hollywood nonsense about devil-worship. Such a pity.