x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Utopia and the Valley of Tears: hallucinating the perfect society

Dan Hancox's book on the communist mayor of a small town outside Seville couldn't be more timely.

Utopia and the Valley of Tears by Dan Hancox.
Utopia and the Valley of Tears by Dan Hancox.

Utopia and the Valley of Tears finds author Dan Hancox in southern Spain on the trail of Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, the mayor of Marinaleda, a small communist community situated outside Seville.

Hancox, who regularly contributes to The Review, could be said to be possessed of remarkably good timing.

Utopia, a slim digital offering that stands as part-travelogue, part-interview and part-commentary on the impact of the financial crisis on the disaffected youth of Spain - in Andalusia, unemployment among the under-25s runs at a stratospheric 50 per cent - could hardly arrive at a better moment: Gordillo has lately been grabbing headlines for leading raids on local supermarkets to redistribute their goods to the needy. With some justification, El Pais newspaper used the term "Robin Hood" to describe him.

It is the author's own exchange with the mayor which is most compelling here. Gordillo is a man prone to going off on "spontaneous tangents"; Hancox meanwhile wonders if "communism is easier as a hallucination". What emerges is is an engaging portrait of contemporary Spain.