Stewart, Chris 1951(?)–
STEWART, Chris 1951(?)–
Born c. 1951, in England; married; wife's name Ana; children: Chloe.
Home—El Valero, Andalucia, Spain.
Farmer and writer. Genesis (rock band), drummer and founding member, 1968-69.
(With Catherine Sanders and Rhonda Evans) The Rough Guide to China, Routledge & Kegan Paul (London, England), 1988.
Driving over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia, Sort of Books (London, England), 1999, Pantheon (New York, NY), 2000.
A Parrot in the Pepper Tree, Sort of Books (London, England), 2002.
The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society, Sort of Books (London, England), 2006.
Works have been made into audio-books narrated by the author, including Driving Over Lemons Chivers, 2000, and A Parrot In the Pepper Tree.
In biographies of Chris Stewart, brief mention is made that at age seventeen he "retired" as the first drummer of the rock group Genesis, after which, according to one online source, "he became a farmer and was never heard of again." But in more recent years the musician-turned-farmer-turned-author would indeed be heard from, primarily through the pages of his 1999 British bestseller, Driving over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia.
The memoir follows Stewart, his wife Ana, and baby daughter Chloe as they pick up stakes to move from their farm in England to El Valero, a ramshackle estate in the mountainous Alpujarras region of southern Spain. His new home, set in the foothills of Andalucia, boasted groves of almond, olive, and lemon trees—but lacked road access, running water, and electricity. Still, Stewart willingly paid five million pesetas (about 50,000 dollars) to what a Times Literary Supplement contributor called the "unscrupulous" owner, Pedro Romero, and "his long-suffering wife, Maria." Ever the optimist, Stewart was determined to make a go of the roughest kind of farming that Spain had to offer.
As he recalled in an online interview posted on the BookBrowse Web site, Stewart first saw El Valero as "unkempt but beautiful. The roofs kept the rain off more or less on the odd occasions when it rained, and the doors and windows kept the worst of the winter winds out. [While closing the deal with the Romeros,] we sat … on chairs in the dust of the track outside the house. Groveling around us were Pedro's mangy curs, feline and canine, and the dust was dotted with rusty tins, old shoes, plastic bags, broken bottles. But, wherever Maria had found an old tin or box or pot, she had planted flowers, geraniums, roses, anything she could get hold of."
What carried the couple along, explained Stewart, was their sense of "romantic enthusiasm. If I had stopped to let common sense lend a hand, the whole scheme would have foundered before it was launched." That dedication would come in handy as the Stewarts learned the fine points of everything from pig raising and slaughtering to home renovation ("I hated anything to do with handymanism," he confessed on the BookBrowse Web site). Driving over Lemons also describes the people of the Andalucia, whose reaction to the English newcomers ranged from warm to skeptical. One particularly helpful neighbor, the "brusque but kindhearted" bachelor farmer, Domingo, dominates the book, according to Nicola Walker in the Times Literary Supplement. "In the end, when he falls in love with Antonia, the delightful Dutch sculptress who visits each summer … you cannot help but feel glad." Throughout the book, noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor, Stewart "wisely approaches his subject with a panoramic lens." Further, his "vivid, assured debut presents substantial questions about the endurance of rural, agrarian traditions in the face of a supposedly seductive, postmodern, wired culture."
The success of Stewart's book raised the question of whether inspired readers would flock to Andalucia, turning it into a tourist haven. Stewart did not think so, as he noted on the BookBrowse Web site: His work "may not have the broad appeal of a Peter Mayle [author of the highly popular Provence books]; it may be a little too raunchy and earthy for the common taste, in a similar way to the fact that Andalucia is a little raunchier than Provence." Stewart added that, still, "I have heard that people have been seen in [nearby] Orgiva clutching the book. This is wonderful. If the book succeeds in giving a shot in the arm to the rural tourism in an otherwise depressed area, then that's just great!"
In his sequel to Driving over Lemons titled A Parrot in the Pepper Tree, Stewart continues to write about his life on the farm in Spain, complete with the cast of real-life characters from his previous book. However, this time the author also writes briefly about his younger days with the band Genesis. The title refers to a parrot who flies into their lives and is adopted by Stewart's wife as a pet, despite the fact that the bird hates both Stewart and his daughter and constantly pecks at them. "Stewart is at his strongest on the subject of nature and the environment," wrote Rosie Boycott in the Guardian. Boycott also noted that "fans will recognise the same wry, self-deprecating humour," adding: "You just can't fail to like him and the world he spreads out for you." Diane C. Donovan, writing in MBR Bookwatch, noted the book's "cultural insights."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Stewart, Chris, Driving over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia, Sort of Books (London, England), 1999, Pantheon (New York), 2000.
Booklist, April 15, 2000, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Driving over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia, p. 1521.
Far Eastern Economic Review, July 14, 1988, review of The Rough Guide to China, p. 54.
Guardian (London, England), June 29, 2002, Rosie Boycott, review of A Parrot in the Pepper Tree.
Kirkus Reviews, November, 2000, review of Driving over Lemons.
Library Journal, April 15, 2000, Melinda Stivers Leach, review of Driving over Lemons, p. 115.
MBR Bookwatch, November, 2005, Diane C. Donovan, review of Driving Over Lemons and A Parrot in the Pepper Tree.
Publishers Weekly, May 1, 2000, review of Driving over Lemons, p. 63.
Times Literary Supplement, July 30, 1999, review of Driving over Lemons, p. 29.
BookBrowse,http://www.bookbrowse.com (November 2, 2000), interview with Chris Stewart.
Official Anthony Phillips Web Site, http://www.anthonyphillips.co.uk/associates.htm/ (May 30, 2006), brief profile of author.*