Andorra’s small size and relatively remote mountain location has meant that it has had to struggle to develop a national literature. However, there are now several well-known writers who hail from the country and, as Vincent Wood explains, it is its unique characteristics, mixed with its seclusion from the rest of the world, that make it the perfect literary symbol for escape and exoticism.
Being Europe’s sixth smallest nation, Andorra doesn’t really have a big, grand publishing industry. However, to say it is not a country well-renowned for producing authors may be a little unfair, given the highly regarded Catalonian authors including Michèle Gazier and Ramon Villeró. Outside of Catalonia, however, Andorran writing has had less of an impact on the global stage.
The landlocked microstate in south-western Europe sits atop the Pyrenees Mountains, sandwiched in between Spain and France, and has subsequently been bombarded by various cultural idiosyncrasies of large European states. In spite of this cultural mixture, Andorra’s relative geographic isolation means that, for the most part, it has existed outside of mainstream European history. During the Second World War it managed to remain neutral and so became a very important smuggling route between France and Spain. It is this cultural diversity, combined with its anomalous history, that makes Andorra the perfect setting for many pieces of literature based on the rich backdrop that the country offers up.
Given this background, it is therefore perhaps a little ironic that the most famous piece of work associated with Andorra actually has nothing to with the country at all, bar the borrowing of its name. Written in 1961 by the Swiss dramatist Max Frisch, the play Andorra follows a young man who is persecuted for being a Jew despite, and unbeknownst to him, the fact he has no Jewish lineage whatsoever. The play, written 15 years after World War Two, is more a study of cultural prejudice rather than a specific reflection on the war. The Andorra in Frisch’s play is fictional and not intended to be a representation of the real Andorra. Another piece of work like this would be the novel of the same name by Peter Cameron which, although actually set in Andorra, seems to bear little relation to the actual region in the description of its culture or geography.
Other novels that take a more realistic approach to their Andorran setting tend to play on the history of the region and surrounding countries, whilst using the isolated countryside of Andorra as a romantic setting. The Basque Swallow by Leigh Daniels and If You Dare by Kresley Cole are two such romance novels that seize upon the location as the ideal backdrop to their fiction.
Of course, the isolation of Andorra is not just the perfect setting for romance, but is also used to contrast against other ways of life. In the modern classic Crewe Train by Rose Macaulay, the character Denham Dobie is forced to leave her wild and carefree life in the region after the death of her father. She is thrust into the gossiping highbrow circle of her well-meaning relatives in London. Andorra is shown as an escape from chattering upper middle class London society. It is the contrast of idyllic and remote Andorra with the self-absorbed, self-satisfied characters of London society, that allows the book’s social commentary to really shine through.
The effect on global literature by Andorra may not be greatly recognized, but it is undoubtedly there. Andorra’s small size and isolated nature means that its name has become synonymous with escape and alienation throughout many books, plays and pieces of poetry.
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