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Interview: Azariah Alfante talks about Making Modern Spain


Azariah Alfante is a writer, book reviewer and doctoral candidate who is deeply interested in all things culture, politics and history. She enjoys studying and reading in various Indo-European languages and delving into medieval epics, Baroque and Romantic poetry, 19th century novels, historical and contemporary fiction, fantasy and short stories. Azariah is one of the NZ Booklovers team, and she talks to us about her debut book, Making Modern Spain: Religion, Secularization, and Cultural Production.


Tell us a little about Making Modern Spain.

This book addresses cultural responses to critical debates surrounding the forms and functions of religion in nineteenth-century Spain. Faced with the increasing demands of modernisation, certain constituents of the nation viewed the “religious question” in distinct, often conflicting ways. I examine their ideas in a wide range of Spanish-language fiction and non-fiction texts from various authors and literary genres.


What inspired you to write this book?

I have always been fascinated by cultural history and the idea of ruins. In my reading and travels, I was intrigued by abandoned or “lost” churches, sanctuaries, convents, and monasteries that clearly had a past. They are monuments, but they were special places of prayer and communal life primarily. Most significantly, these sacred spaces had layers of social history that needed scholarly attention.


What research was involved?

Research for the book, which is based on a doctoral thesis I submitted in 2020, involved three trips to specific sites, archives, and libraries throughout Spain in 2018 and 2019.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I set up a writing schedule and reserved sufficient time for editing, which we all know is the most arduous part of the process. Before writing was the literature review, field research, and critical analysis of numerous texts from parliamentary speeches to realist novels. I made an effort to write regularly, particularly early in the morning, which is my favourite time of the day. I then translated all Spanish-language passages to English before copyediting and indexing.


If a soundtrack were made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

The book is a non-fiction text, but two songs that evoke its approaches to memory, reflection, and history for me would be All The Trees Of The Field Will Clap Their Hands by Sufjan Stevens and Perennials by Widowspeak. I create individual Spotify playlists for anything I write, so there’s definitely more where that came from!


What did you enjoy the most about writing this book?

Writing felt like opening a door to the past. I also enjoyed visiting the places mentioned by my main authors in their works and discovering more about their personal and creative lives. It’s a wonderful mix of detective work and time travel.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

After I finished my manuscript for Bucknell University Press, I purchased two books by two of my favourite authors, Joan Didion and Flannery O’Connor. I recall that coffee and dessert were also involved.


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

The best book I’ve read this year would be J. L. Carr’s A Month In The Country. I love a good historical novel, and its themes of nostalgia, loss in terms of spirituality, and restoration resonated with me.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

I am presently embarking on a second writing project while concluding what has been a fantastic first semester of lecturing at the University of Glasgow. Super excited for the literary and academic adventures to come.

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