‘Family Folklore:’ Suzanne Baum shares family history with published book


Matt Petres

Suzanne Baum recently completed her translingual work of historical fiction, “Married to Spain.”

Clare McRoberts, Reporter

It was a tale that had captivated Suzanne Baum’s family for decades: A couple, unwilling to tolerate life in Spain under the fascist rule of Francisco Franco in 1939, fled on a dangerous journey by foot into France.

Ms. Baum, who teaches Spanish and French at U-High, took a paid study leave during the 2021-22 school year to complete a translingual book of historical fiction, “Married to Spain,” which shares the experience of her husband’s grandparents during the Spanish Civil War.

“It was family folklore,” said Ms. Baum, who began researching and writing portions of her book project over a period of years and finished the self-published work this year after her leave. “I wanted to research the actual history and see if I could find out the truth.”

Ms. Baum started teaching at Lab in 1993 but left for several years to teach in Spain, where she had met Óscar Emilio Rebollo Martínez, the man who would become her husband during a college study-abroad program.

Ms. Baum began research for the novel in 2014, studying historical texts on the Spanish Civil War. She initially began this project to share the history with her daughters, and to pass on the story of her husband’s grandparents. She said her students, too, might benefit from the story, which includes English, French and Spanish. 

“I hope they learn some history,” she said. “And I hope that they have a greater appreciation for Spain, Spanish culture, the suffering that took place.” 

Food also plays a key role in “Married to Spain.” Chapters begin with recipes for Spanish cuisine such as flan, lentils with chorizo, and paella.

It shows my love for my husband, my daughters, the whole Spanish family.

— Suzanne Baum

But at the heart of the story is Ms. Baum’s husband’s grandmother — or abuela — Manuela Bermejo Sánchez. As Mrs. Sánchez prepares recipes, she tells the story of her and her husband’s long, difficult journey across the snowy Pyrenees Mountains as they fled Spain during the country’s Civil War in the late 1930s then being detained in a camp in France but persisting.

During her leave, Ms. Baum revisited the same path Manuela had taken decades prior.

“I really retraced the steps,” Ms. Baum. 

She said her historical research and consultation with experts added credence to the stories she had heard from family members, giving added meaning to the project. 

“Chills were sent through my spine,” she said.

For the future, Ms. Baum has plans for another literary project: a series that would highlight her experiences in Spain as a young woman and the cultural misunderstandings that she observed. The title of her current work — “Married to Spain” — was aimed at showcasing Ms. Baum’s gratitude for Spanish culture and her connection to the country, she said.

Ms. Baum said, “It shows my love for my husband, my daughters, the whole Spanish family.”