My half orange - a story of love and language in Seville

Cover of My Half Orange book by John Julius Reel
My Half Orange - or Media Naranja in Spanish, meaning soulmate.


John Julius Reel is a writer (in both English and Spanish, of which more later), teacher and occasional actor from Staten Island, who arrived in Seville in 2005, met his wife, and settled down in the city. I am sure that I’m far from the only person who feels a strong affinity with this writer, an American married to a sevillana. That cultural crossover, negotiating a different language and unfamiliar customs, has enriched the lives of countless people (like me) who have arrived in the city, met their partner, and decided to stay in this beautiful city.

La media naranja (and the wedges)

The half orange (media naranja) of the title is his formidable wife - the Spanish expression means "soulmate" (or "better half", as John Julius suggests); he also refers to her as his “cornerstone”. This is a woman who doesn’t mince her words and supports women’s rights - a modern Andaluza, in short. The now-50-something adoptive sevillano writer (though the book is set around nine years previously, as he spent some time revising it) lives in an apartment with her and their two ‘wedges’ (sons, geddit?) in Madre de Dios, a working class neighbourhood in the outer reaches of eastern Seville. He describes his barrio and its characters with great affection, along with a certain degree of frustration. Everyone knows who he is, and when his wife and children are out, he will be helpfully directed towards where they were last seen.

 We learn about the writer’s close, tender relationship with his in-laws, swearing in Seville (especially the c-word), the climate, football, and other essential elements and factors of life here. Observations on noise and learning the language (the logic – or lack thereof – behind the genders of Spanish nouns) had me nodding along in agreement. 

An ode to his adopted city and his beloved wife (their frank conversations about topics like appropriate beach attire, and national identity, peppered with local idioms, will have you chuckling), this book is a richly rewarding read with a good dose of humour, and insights into real life in Seville; the focus is definitely not on the monuments for which the city is so famous. Instead, we find out how it feels to live in a less celebrated area of the city, and to take on some of its habits and linguistic mannerisms. 

"Seville is the greatest!"

For me personally, it is always intriguing to read another foreigner’s viewpoint on my own city. John Julius describes the essence of Seville as “Sevillity”: “when people’s virtues catch you so completely off guard that their defects seem insignificant”. I concur with this assessment – it’s a place of unexpected contrasts, where your opinion of someone can flip in an instant. Interestingly, he also says to his wife: “Sevillians aren’t exactly patriotic, but you’re parochial in the extreme. ‘Sevilla es lo más grande!’ (Seville is the greatest!) or ‘En Sevilla se vive mejor!’ (In Seville we live better!) How many times have I had to hear that line of jingoistic crap rolling off some local’s tongue?” De acuerdo, totalmente.

Of course, there's no denying it is a beautiful city, and John Julius describes it evocatively:

“On its best days, Seville smells like the countryside in bloom. During my first summer in the city, I emerged one morning from  my apartment, stunned to find the air awash in rosemary, as though a cloud of fragrance had enveloped the streets. Turned out the Corpus Christi procession had taken place that morning on a route strewn with herbs, now crushed to bits by the passing feet of the dispersed multitude.”

The Reel thing

As an English person, rather than an American of a certain age, or indeed a New Yorker, the moniker Reel meant nothing to me. The writer’s famous 1970s and 80s columnist father, Bill Reel, looms large in his life, as we discover, even after his untimely passing. 

In 2009 Reel Jr, having arrived in Seville just four years previously, landed a column in the city’s daily newspaper, called “La Sevilla del Guiri”, a feat of impressive cultural and linguistic prowess. The column ran from 2009-2010, and his writings were subsequently compiled in a volume called Qué Pinto Yo Aqui? Un neoyorquino en la ciudad de nunca jamás? (Where do I fit in here? A New Yorker in Never Never Land). Reed Sr’s proud father commented: “You had to move to another country and learn the language well enough to write in it in order to get the forum you deserve.”

If you want to see (and smell and hear) the city from the polar opposite of a tourist perspective, but instead from someone who has learned to understand its nuances, and brings us, his readers, the peculiar joys and eccentricities of life in this quintessentially Andalucian city, with its uncompromising, larger-than-life characters, then I strongly urge you to read this book.

My Half Orange: a Story of Love and Language in Seville by John Julius Reel is published by Tortoise Books, and is available from all the usual outlets. Buy from our associate partner or



Blog published on 4 September 2023