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Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Spain Paperback – May 8, 2001

113 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Lemons Trilogy Series

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Editorial Reviews Review

When English sheep shearer Chris Stewart (once a drummer for Genesis) bought an isolated farmhouse in the mountains outside of Granada, Spain, he was fully aware that it didn't have electricity, running water, or access to roads. But he had little idea of the headaches and hilarity that would follow (including scorpions, runaway sheep, and the former owner who won't budge). He also had no idea that his memoir about southern Spain would set a standard for literary travel writing.

This rip-roaringly funny book about seeking a place in an earthy community of peasants and shepherds gives a realistic sense of the hassles and rewards of foreign relocation. Part of its allure stems from the absence of rose-colored glasses, mainly Stewart's refusal to merely coo about the piece of heaven he's found or to portray all residents as angels. Stewart's hilarious and beautifully written passages are deep in their honest perceptions of the place and the sometimes xenophobic natives, whose reception of the newcomers ranges from warm to gruff.

After reading about struggles with dialects, animal husbandry, droughts, flooding, and such local rituals as pig slaughters and the rebuilding of bridges, you may not wish to live Chris Stewart's life. But you can't help but admire him and his wife, Ana, for digging out a niche in these far-flung mountains, for successfully befriending the denizens, and for so eloquently and comically telling the truth. The rich, vibrant, and unromanticized candor of Driving over Lemons makes it a laudable standout in a genre too often typified by laughable naiveté. --Melissa Rossi --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Stewart, a former drummer in Genesis, middle-aged travel writer and professional sheepshearer, never quite explains why he and his wife, Ana, decided to quit England 11 years ago for a dilapidated farm without electricity, water or even a road in Andaluc!a, Spain. Perhaps the olives, almonds and rosemary had something to do with it. Stewart clearly has found contentment in his good place among a lovingly described collection of local farmers, New Age travelers, artists and the occasional Buddhist. His hilly farm is a harsher place than Peter Mayle's Provence or Frances Mayes's Tuscany, and the local cuisine far less appetizing, yet his unfailing good humor and invincible optimism carry him past obstacles that would send most readers scurrying for home. More than a travel book, this is a record of Stewart's slowly flourishing friendship with his neighbor, Domingo, and of how Stewart gradually sank roots deep into his beautiful Andaluc!an hillside. A bestseller in England, this enchanting memoir is likely to prove popular in North America with both armchair travelers and readers who, while curious about the odd life choices others make, would just as soon give scorpions and clouds of flies a miss. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 270 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (May 8, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375709150
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375709159
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #399,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 86 people found the following review helpful By M. Ellingham on March 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book has been huge in the UK - top ten for the past six months - and no wonder. It is such a great tale: Chris Stewart, one time drummer of Genesis (he left at age 17) sinks his all (the grand sum of $35,000) into a peasant farm in Andalucia. It has no runing water, no electricity, and gets cut off altogether when the river is in flood. Oh, and it turns out that the man who sells him the farm has no plans to move out himself. But as the subtitle says, Chris is an optimist, big time, and that carries him through, along with a little realism from his wife Ana, and local wiles from Domingo, the best neighbor you could hope to find. The book gains its strength from the fact that Stewart has no money and needs to work (as a sheep shearer), bringing real and often very comic insights into the local life - something I found lacking in the Mayle/Mayes Provence/Tuscany bestsellers. But like those books, this is a perfect holiday read - and a book that makes you yearn to follow the Stewarts' lead, and head for a simpler life in the sun.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Michael K. McKeon on June 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Those expecting a description of Spain akin to Mayles of Provence or Mayes of Tuscany will be momentarily disappointed. However, one quickly becomes invested in finishing this warm, engaging memoir.
There are no descriptions of fine wines, imcomparable meals, or other such rich treats. Instead this is a tale of an English couple that eschews the bourgeois lifestyle and seeks a simpler lifestyle in rural Spain. The leitmotif for the book could be summed up as carpe diem. The result is a touching description of evolving understanding of a different culture, appreciation and respect for the challenges of an agrarian lifestyle, and the importance of human relationships.
Throughout one is struck by what a kind hearted, genuinely good, and often frustratingly credulous person Chris Stewart is. He has an endearing capacity for laughing at himself and chalking up losses and set backs as part of the cost of change. Much of the book's humor is derived from the characteristically deadpan British understatement and irony, and the assortment of interesting and eccentric characters to whom the Stewarts are drawn and also attract.
Stewart's growing relationship with his laconic, multitalented neighbor Domingo is particularly heart warming. One is struck by the neighor's acumen, unceasing generosity, and ongoing willingness to aid the often fumbling Stewart. There is a particularly moving chapter about "understanding the water" where Stewart reveals his immense gratitude and respect to Domingo by expressing the hope to earn his respect someday.
This is a lovely, uplifting, fun book depicting the growth of a family and the development of a new, and perhaps more essential, lifestyle. I felt better for having read it.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There are some great books out there about making a new life in France or Italy, but this is the the first I have read which makes a move to Spain seem so real. Chris Stewart leaves all that he is used to and transforms himself and his family in the process. It is very well written and an excellent account of adjusting to life in rural Spain and also the transformation of a young couple to a family with the birth of their little girl and all the changes that can bring. I greatly enjoyed both facets of this book.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Tomaj on August 7, 2010
Format: Paperback
Chris Stewart joins the cast of hundreds of English-speaking expats who move to a rural area somewhere vaguely near the Mediterranan and feel compelled to write a book about fixing up the house and dealing with the natives. I'd probably want to do the same if I were there. Chris recounts his trials and tribulations, his triumphs and misdeeds, but actually no, he truly doesn't produce a cliché book. The required elements are there--finding the house way way in the country and dealing with the peasant who's selling, trying to be accepted by the community, and all the food and wine that goes along with this kind of stuff, but Chris is more insular than the Peter Mayle types. His farmhouse really is a farmhouse, without runing water or electricty, and with a roof and walls that need to be rebuilt, partly by him. This is far more rustic territory than the standard Provence or Tuscany books; much of Steward's work involves merely surviving. The Provence types write about shopping for wine and having trouble hiring workmen to get central heating. Stewart writes about shopping for sheep, to raise on the farm, and of having trouble building a rudementrary bridge across the river just to get to his property.

Another strength of the book is that he does not shy away from describing the bad elements of life, particularly the locals. Even the food gets rough treatment. Stewart doesn't hang out in local cafes or seek out restaurants (ever, it seems); all his food descriptions are from the farms, and they're not the simple, hearty, soul-warming dishes one expects. Food is rough and strong and not always easy to take. He doesn't even pretend that the wine is respectable; it's not.
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