Manuel Rivas is a Galician writer, writing in the Galician language, and given the lack of Galician literature available in English, this excellent translation by Jonathon Dunne is very welcome. Guenter Grass claims that he “learnt more about the Spanish Civil War from The Carpenter’s Pencil than from any history book”, and the civil war background to this book is evocative and terrible. It is a beautifully written, short book (the descriptions of Santiago del Compostella are superb, especially if you’ve ever been there!), telling the story of Dr Daniel de Barca, a republican prisoner who escapes death in part because of the actions of his guard, who is haunted by the ghost a painter he executed (the painter always carried a carpenter’s pencil behind his ear, which is now carried by the guard as a reminder to himself of his guilt). It is, however, also a love story and owes more than a little to the traditions of magical realism. The character of de Barca is a reminder that even in the most terrible circumstances humanity, passion, beauty and civilised culture will ultimately always triumph.