Raphael Minder has been the Spain and Portugal correspondent for the New York Times since 2010. His recently-published book is a comprehensive, highly readable survey of what it is troubling Catalonia at present.

This 304-page work was published in September, prior to the October plebiscite which gave rise to the current crisis. Thus the work does not encompass the developments that have taken place since the controversial referendum concerning secession from Spain. Nor does it include Prime Minister Rajoy's announcement of elections in December, the detention of Catalan politicians and the dramatic move to Brussels by Carles Puigdemont, who as we write, has just been released from custody by Belgian police.

The absence of such events do not matter as the book aims to document how the Catalans and the Madrid administration got to this dangerous juncture, as many citizens of the province's capital, Barcelona and elsewhere in the region, ponder uneasily what might occur if just one bullet is fired in anger. Could it be the spark that lights another fuse in Spain is the obvious fear.

Minder, who is Swiss, travels around Catalonia meeting politicians of various hues, talking to historians and academics, writers and artists, with reference also to General Franco and the legacy of the Spanish Civil War. In truth, he meets as much scepticism as enthusiasm for the independence project. He sits with the citizens in a café in Maella, an Aragonese village which is Catalan-speaking, despite Aragon being a separate, albeit neighbouring province. A man from a nearby village in Catalonia, just over the road, arrives to join his friends for drinks. He is the only one in the company who defends Catalonia's secession from Spain.

Minder situates the Catalans well viz-a-viz their history with both both the French and the Spanish, not omitting cultural and linguistic battles with Madrid and indeed between themselves. Factor in too the odd skirmish with another neighbouring province, Valencia, and, to a much lesser extent, with Paris. In 2016, when the author was in the middle of his research, the Catalans of the North, as the French Catalans call themselves, were trying to prevent the area being renamed as Occitania. (Occitan is a Romance language, as Catalan is and its variants are spoken in Spain, France and Italy.)

There are undoubtedly many readers in the Anglophone world who wish to read beyond the daily news reports concerning Catalonia, and this book, written from a neutral, indeed tactful point of enquiry, answers all the questions.

Paddy Kehoe