JANUARY SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘Boadilla’ by Esmond Romilly

In 1936 Esmond Romilly, nephew of Great Britain’s ‘War Chancellor’ Winston Churchill and outspoken pacifist, went to fight with the International Brigades for the democratically elected Spanish government against the insurgent fascist general Francisco Franco. This is the unheroic, unsentimental account he wrote immediately after the fighting, fresh and personal like no other, spiced with dry English humor.

There have been other records of the part played by the British members of the International Brigade at the siege of Madrid. But Mr. Romilly’s is the most full. He is one of the two survivors of the original ten British volunteers attached to the Thaelmann Battalion in the early days of the war. So his book has its place in the annals of the contemporary struggle for liberty. He writes easily and simply. There are occasional breaths of Hemingway, but in the later chapters especially he displays a detached casualness—unusual in so young a writer (Mr. Romilly is nineteen)—that is genuinely dramatic and moving. Without heroics he conveys the feelings of those untrained enthusiasts (the author’s military experience was confined to refusing to join his school O.T.C.) suddenly plunged into a battle fought apparently at random. Caught between a cross-fire, the little group was almost wiped out. Their bodies were never found.

cover art and blurb via amazon and spectator

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As mentioned a few weeks in ago in This Week in Spanish Civil War History – Week 25: 1 -7 January 1937, the battles for Corunna Road and the fight to take the town of Boadilla del Monte, just outside Madrid, were chronicled by 19-year-old English volunteer Esmond Romilly.

The book starts off by promising to account the battle of Boadilla in a straight-forward fashion, as that it does. It tells a very simple story of what happened, all written while fresh in the author’s mind in 1937, as he holidays on honeymoon in France. Romilly came from a rich family, married in another rich family, but for a few months in late 1936 and early 1937, he fought to make ‘Madrid the grave of fascism.’ He had little stamina for the war, but he was an excellent example of unprepared men thrown into a poorly planned battle, so typical of volunteers in Spain.

The book starts with a background of all the main characters that Romilly met on the trip – Joe Gough, Harry Audley, Aussie Whateley, Jerry Fontana, Lorimer Birch, Arnold Jeans, Bill Scott, Tom Mann and Martin Messer. It seems in this short time, Romilly got to know these men very well. After the battle to claim Boadilla, he would go home alone.

The early chapters show him working to get by in France as he makes his way south, arriving in Spain by ship at Valencia. The Albacete training bases had been set up by this time. Romilly describes this as playing at soldiers. He had no idea how to use a rifle, couldn’t speak any Spanish and was constantly suffering dysentery. He met many Germans, Latvians and French men, as well as his fellow Englishmen, and the story tells of the usual difficulties marching with supplies and being hot, of the whole thing having a ‘field day’ atmosphere while away from the front. Romilly has given some people assumed names, most those who were German or went to Germany after the war (it was illegal for Germans to aid the Republicans. Those returning home were jailed).

One thing that stood out was Romilly being told by French communist André Marty that the Republicans needed three things to win the war – political unity, military leaders with experience, and discipline. They had none of these.

Romilly uses assumed names for the towns of his initial battles. Battle starts in chapter 5 when out of nowhere, Romilly finds himself under fire, his first reality in the civil war just south of Madrid. As soon as they hit the front at ‘Noreno’, Romilly gets lost under darkness, and ends up walking miles the wrong way, meeting up with others, and eventually making their way to ‘Melilla’ (thought to be Villaconejos. No one know why Romilly changed the town names). Though as dawn air raids strike, the men are lucky to have gotten lost and in the wrong town.

Romilly seems to run around, never really having a clue what is going on, where they are heading or what to do. Dysentery is the one thing everyone shares, and the bitter cold of being up on the plain around Madrid really hits home, with only those prepped by anarchists in Barcelona are ready for it, as the rest of the Thaelmann Battalion have to struggle on.

The battalion team up with the Garibaldi battalion and thrown into fighting in University City on the northern tip of Madrid. Romilly recalls seeing Moorish soldiers shooting into trenches were his comrades were, their bayonets slashing at those trapped but not killed. He details his time fighting in University City very well, saying the night smelled night ‘dead men, crackling flames and drizzle’.

Romilly soon is in Madrid at the Ritz, swirling brandy and bathing again. He gets eight days’ training in the town (now suburb) of Fuencarral north of Madrid, before heading back to Majadahonda, a village (now suburb) west of Madrid. Now the battles for Corunna Road and the surrounding towns are all on, and Romilly is sent to hold the tiny town of Boadilla. Under the air raids and against the well-prepped Nationalists, the whole battle falls into total chaos, of watching close friends die and running away in blind panic. One by one, as they retreat, Romilly’s friends are killed, not by the Moorish soldiers that anticipated, but by uniformed Spaniards.

Romilly is one of only a couple who survived Boadilla. He speaks of meeting English poet John Cornford along the way, another young Englishman, with his head bandaged. Cornford never made it out alive either. The few remaining living foreigners (just over a dozen volunteers from a combined Spanish and volunteer group of 15,000 at Corunna Road battles) made it to El Pardo (just outside Madrid) where they came to grips with the brutal losses.

Romilly was diagnosed with neuralgia, damaging nerves causing excessive pain, and was sent home, where he married Jessica Mitford, and then wrote the fresh accounts of the men left in the mud at Boadilla. Romilly went on to fight in WWII but died in 1941.

SPAIN BOOK REVIEW OCTOBER: ‘Hell and Good Company’ by Richard Rhodes

This book skims the basics, which, in theory, should be good for newcomers. But with the omissions of this book, those new to the subject won’t get the full picture. Bonus point from me – New Zealand journalist Geoffrey Cox gets a mention, someone often missed. This book is suited to those looking for something specific, and in the style of the author. To enjoy, make sure that is you before you buy.

SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: July – The Spanish Civil War 80th Anniversary – Part 1: Non-fiction

After five years of the shaky Second Spanish Republic, on July 18 1936, a military coup started the Spanish Civil War. Lasting three years, and the bad guys eventually winning, not to mention being a WWII rehearsal, there is no shortage of books on the subject. Often called democracy vs. fascism, though in fact more right-wing and religious vs. left-wing freedoms, the Spanish Civil War is one of, if not the, most complex social battle ever fought. Overshadowed by WWII, which broke out in its immediate aftermath, the Spanish Civil War has lived on in Spain, first through a bloody dictatorship,  the lifestyle, laws, art and the brave hearts of those who lived through the Franco reign of terror. It is no easy subject to get started on for those looking to understand all the sides involved and what atrocities were committed, how Hitler and Mussolini gained so much power and how the western world sat idly on its hands. Volunteers from around the world flooded in, often defying their own government to do so (go intrepid New Zealanders!) and brother turned against brother in a fierce battle that still has victims being found today.

Here are some of my favourite non-fiction books on the subject, in no particular order. This is by far not a comprehensive list, otherwise it would have to include every single book Paul Preston ever wrote. I will do Spanish Civil War fiction in Part 2.

All cover art and blurb are via their amazon links

THE BATTLE FOR SPAIN by Antony Beevor

To mark the 70th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War’s outbreak, Antony Beevor has written a completely updated and revised account of one of the most bitter and hard-fought wars of the twentieth century. With new material gleaned from the Russian archives and numerous other sources, this brisk and accessible book (Spain’s #1 bestseller for twelve weeks), provides a balanced and penetrating perspective, explaining the tensions that led to this terrible overture to World War II and affording new insights into the war-its causes, course, and consequences.

This book is outstanding in terms of its depth and detail. A priceless timeline of information and with everything any reader could need when looking for the whole, complex picture.

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THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION by Helen Graham

Amid the many catastrophes of the twentieth century, the Spanish Civil War continues to exert a particular fascination among history buffs and the lay-reader alike. This Very Short Introduction integrates the political, social and cultural history of the Spanish Civil War. It sets out the domestic and international context of the war for a general readership. In addition to tracing the course of war, the book locates the war’s origins in the cumulative social and cultural anxieties provoked by a process of rapid, uneven and accelerating modernism taking place all over Europe. This shared context is key to the continued sense of the war’s importance. The book also examines the myriad of political polemics to which the war has given rise, as well as all of the latest historical debates. It assesses the impact of the war on Spain’s transition to democracy and on the country’s contemporary political culture.

While this book is short, it covers all the major players without getting too complicated. Read my review here

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THE LIFE AND DEATH OF THE OF THE SPANISH REPUBLIC: A WITNESS TO THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR by Henry Buckley

In 1940, The Daily Telegraph correspondent Henry Buckley published his eyewitness account of his experiences reporting from the Spanish Civil War. The copies of the book, stored in a warehouse in London, were destroyed during the Blitz and only a handful of copies of his unique chronicle were saved. Now, 70 years after its first publication, this exceptional eyewitness account of the war is republished with a new introduction by Paul Preston. The Life and Death of the Spanish Republic is a unique account of Spanish politics throughout the entire life of the Second Republic, combining personal recollections of meetings with the great politicians of the day with eyewitness accounts of dramatic events. This important book is one of the most enduring records of the Spanish Republic and the civil war and a monumental testimony to Buckley’s work as a correspondent.

This manuscript was a truly precious find and a raw personal insight. So many great names are included in a truly rare observation into the battle. 

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HOMAGE TO CATALONIA by George Orwell

George Orwell went to Spain in late 1936, in his role as a journalist, but then, pretty inevitably, put down his pen and spent the next year fighting with the P.O.U.M (Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista) Militia against the Fascist forces under Francisco Franco. Homage to Catalonia, written immediately after his return and published in 1938, tells the story of his military service with the POUM, both against the Right and the Left, and, in quick succession, of his initial hopes for the classless society that he thought he had found on first arrival, then of his disappointment with the level of disorganization of the Leftist forces and finally of his disillusionment when pro~Stalinist “allies” began attacking Socialists and Anarchists who refused to toe the Soviet line. Orwell, who by then had nearly been killed when shot through the neck in battle, and his wife were ultimately forced to flee from Spain, to avoid Stalinist security forces, which had labeled him pro~fascist.

No one can question George Orwell’s commitment to the war and his understanding of the state of Spain. His first-hand account of Barcelona’s collapse before the enemy even arrived is such a big part of the war.

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THE ASSASSINATION OF FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA by Ian Gibson

At dawn on the 19th of August 1936 Spaniards murdered the man who most profoundly embodied the poetic spirit of their country. Federico Garcia Lorca was the victim of the passions that arose in Spain as the Church, the military and the bourgeoisie embarked on their reckless and brutal repression of “undesirables”. For Lorca was not a political man; he embraced Spain – from its struggling leftist movement to its most conservative traditions – with a love that transcended politics. His “crime” was his antipathy to pomposity, conformity and intolerance. For years the Spanish government suppressed the truth about Lorca’s death. In this recreation of the assassination, Ian Gibson re-dresses the wrong. Based on information only recently made available, this is an illumination not only of the death of a great poet, but of the atmosphere of Civil War Spain that allowed it to happen.

The killing of Lorca drowned out one of Spain’s greatest lights. A true tragedy for many reasons. An insight to how non-conformists were treated. 

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THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR by Hugo Thomas

Since its first publication, Hugh Thomas’s The Spanish Civil War has become established as the definitive one-volume history of a conflict that continues to provoke intense controversy today. What was it that roused left-wing sympathizers from all over the world to fight against Franco between 1936 and 1939? Why did the British and US governments refuse to intervene? And why did the Republican cause collapse so violently? Now revised and updated, Hugh Thomas’s classic account presents the most objective and unbiased analysis of a passionate struggle where fascism and democracy, communism and Catholicism were at stake – and which was as much an international war as a Spanish one.

To understand the war, the international soldiers and forces are as important as Spanish desires. Understanding the collapse of the Republicans is just as frenzied as them battling the enemy. It is hard to ind unbiased opinions on the war. 

SPAIN IN OUR HEARTS by Adam Hochschild

From the acclaimed, best-selling author Adam Hochschild, a sweeping history of the Spanish Civil War, told through a dozen characters, including Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell: a tale of idealism, heartbreaking suffering, and a noble cause that failed

For three crucial years in the 1930s, the Spanish Civil War dominated headlines in America and around the world, as volunteers flooded to Spain to help its democratic government fight off a fascist uprising led by Francisco Franco and aided by Hitler and Mussolini. Today we’re accustomed to remembering the war through Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and Robert Capa’s photographs. But Adam Hochschild has discovered some less familiar yet far more compelling characters who reveal the full tragedy and importance of the war: a fiery nineteen-year-old Kentucky woman who went to wartime Spain on her honeymoon, a Swarthmore College senior who was the first American casualty in the battle for Madrid, a pair of fiercely partisan, rivalrous New York Times reporters who covered the war from opposites sides, and a swashbuckling Texas oilman with Nazi sympathies who sold Franco almost all his oil — at reduced prices, and on credit.

It was in many ways the opening battle of World War II, and we still have much to learn from it. Spain in Our Hearts is Adam Hochschild at his very best.
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This book is currently a #1 bestseller. A new release and a terrific American perspective, just some of many American stories to be told. Read my review here

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A CONCISE HISTORY OF THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR by Paul Preston

An account of the Spanish civil war which portrays the struggles of the war, as well as discussing the wider implications of the revolution in the Republican zone, the emergence of brutal dictatorship on the nationalist side and the extent to which the Spanish war prefigured World War II.

No war in modern times has inflamed the passions of both ordinary people and intellectuals in the way that the conflict in Spain in 1936 did. The Spanish Civil War is burned into European consciousness, not simply because it prefigured the much larger world war that followed it, but because the intense manner of its prosecution was a harbinger of a new and horrific form of warfare that was universally dreaded. At the same time, the hopes awakened by the attempted social revolution in republican Spain chimed with the aspirations of many in Europe and the United States during the grim years of the great Depression.

‘The Concise History of the Spanish Civil War’ is a full-blooded account of this pivotal period in the twentieth-century European history. Paul Preston vividly recounts the struggles of the war, analyses the wider implications of the revolution in the Republican zone, tracks the emergence of Francisco Franco’s brutal (and, ultimately, extraordinarily durable) fascist dictatorship and assesses the way in which the Spanish Civil War was a portent of the Second World War that ensued so rapidly after it.

No one understands the war like Paul Preston. He has many volumes on the subject, each with a different perspective, to fully grasp all aspects of the battle. His Franco biography covers much of the war from the angle of the man who caused so much pain. Other books cover journalists in the war, others about volunteers, others about fascism and communism. Paul Preston covers it all. Here are just a couple I recommend.

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THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR: REACTION, REVOLUTION, AND REVENGE by Paul Preston

The definitive work on the Spanish Civil War, a classic of modern historical scholarship and a masterful narrative.

Paul Preston is the world’s foremost historian of Spain. This surging history recounts the struggles of the 1936 war in which more than 3,000 Americans took up arms. Tracking the emergence of Francisco Franco’s brutal (and, ultimately, extraordinarily durable) fascist dictatorship, Preston assesses the ways in which the Spanish Civil War presaged the Second World War that ensued so rapidly after it.

The attempted social revolution in Spain awakened progressive hopes during the Depression, but the conflict quickly escalated into a new and horrific form of warfare. As Preston shows, the unprecedented levels of brutality were burned into the American consciousness as never before by the revolutionary war reporting of Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Herbert Matthews, Vincent Sheean, Louis Fischer, and many others. Completely revised, including previously unseen material on Franco’s treatment of women in wartime prisons, The Spanish Civil War is a classic work on this pivotal epoch in the twentieth century.

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DEFENCE OF MADRID by Geoffrey Cox

Goodies and baddies take some sorting out in this tale of the siege of Madrid by Franco’s right-wing forces supported by the Nazis and the fascist regime of Mussolini (the ‘rebels’), against the civilian population and its government representatives, just elected, who happened to be left-wing. Once sorted, Cox’s account of the city under attack, in one of the twentieth century’s first urban wars, has all too many echoes today. This new edition, with an introduction and selection of historical photographs, as well as samples of Cox’s journalism from the front, will confirm its position as one of the classics of twentieth-century reportage. It is being published for the 70th anniversary of the event.

Geoffrey Cox was a New Zealander who published his early experience of the war in Madrid. It’s tough to beat a first-hand account.  Read my review here

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Succinct and elegant, this is the classic depiction of the bloody, catastrophic, “brother against brother” war that brought the fascist Franco regime to power. It brilliantly illuminates the conflict’s causes and drama: the class and regional disparities in Spanish society; the pitiful weaknesses of the political parties battling Franco; and the way Spain became a battleground of international forces. “…a superlative command of a wide range of sources, economy of style…a sharp eye for obscure but significant detail, an awareness of cultural nuance, a firsthand acquaintance with the country and its people.”
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Raymond Carr was an incredible writer who was able to explain the war on a personal level. I recommend all his books on the topic.
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THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR by Stanley Payne
This book presents an original new history of the most important conflict in European affairs during the 1930s, prior to the events that produced World War II – the Spanish Civil War. It describes the complex origins of the conflict, the collapse of the Spanish Republic, and the outbreak of the only mass worker revolution in the history of Western Europe. Stanley Payne explains the character of the Spanish revolution and the complex web of republican politics, while also examining in detail the development of Franco’s counterrevolutionary dictatorship. Payne gives attention to the multiple meanings and interpretations of war and examines why the conflict provoked such strong reactions in its own time, and long after. The book also explains the military history of the war and its place in the history of military development, the non-intervention policy of the democracies, and the role of German, Italian, and Soviet intervention, concluding with an analysis of the place of the war in European affairs and in comparative perspective of revolutionary civil wars of the twentieth century.
With so many sides fighting the battle, one opinion is never enough. Stanley Payne gives readers a chance to read the battle from multiple angles.

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UNLIKELY WARRIORS by Richard Baxell

When a Nationalist military uprising was launched in Spain in July 1936, the Spanish Republic’s desperate pleas for assistance from the leaders of Britain and France fell on deaf ears. Appalled at the prospect of another European democracy succumbing to fascism, volunteers from across the Continent and beyond flocked to Spain’s aid, many to join the International Brigades. More than 2,500 of these men and women came from Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth, and contrary to popular myth theirs was not an army of adventurers, poets and public school idealists. Overwhelmingly they hailed from modest working class backgrounds, leaving behind their livelihoods and their families to fight in a brutal civil war on foreign soil. Some 500 of them never returned home. In this inspiring and moving oral history, Richard Baxell weaves together a diverse array of testimony to tell the remarkable story of the Britons who took up arms against General Franco. Drawing on the author’s own extensive interviews with survivors, research in archives across Britain, Spain and Russia, as well as first-hand accounts by writers both famous and unknown, Unlikely Warriors presents a startling new interpretation of the Spanish Civil War and follows a band of ordinary men and women who made an extraordinary choice.

This book gives an insight to British and Commonwealth volunteers who made a massive contribution to the Republican side of the war, in a way never seen before or since. Read my review here

51JYS5mX-dLFORGOTTEN PLACES: BARCELONA AND THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR by Nick Lloyd

A guide to Barcelona in the Spanish Civil War, beginning in the 19th century with the conditions and movements which led to the revolution of 1936, and ending with the fall of the city on 26th January 1939 when Franco’s tanks drove down the Diagonal and set about destroying everything the Republic had built. Stories from the aftermath of the war, the exile and the Franco regime are also included.
In addition with dealing with the more obvious themes such as anarchism, the Spanish Republic, Catalonia, George Orwell, the aerial bombing, and the May Days, etc, the book also looks at themes such as the Zoo during the Civil War, the American Sixth Fleet in the city, Barça, urbanism, Nazis in Barcelona, Robert Capa, the Spanish in the Holocaust, poster art…

Intertwined in the text are contemporary quotes and a few personal stories of people I have met who experienced the war or its aftermath. There are also biographies of characters such as Andreu Nin and Lluís Companys.

This new release is written by Barcelona’s most knowledge and committed Spanish Civil War tour guide, who is also looking to open a SCW museum. Read my review here

Tomorrow in part 2, I will recommend my favourite SCW fiction.

SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: June – ‘Everybody Behaves Badly’ by Lesley M M Blume

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The making of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, the outsize personalities who inspired it, and the vast changes it wrought on the literary world

In the summer of 1925, Ernest Hemingway and a clique of raucous companions traveled to Pamplona, Spain, for the town’s infamous running of the bulls. Then, over the next six weeks, he channeled that trip’s maelstrom of drunken brawls, sexual rivalry, midnight betrayals, and midday hangovers into his groundbreaking novel The Sun Also Rises. This revolutionary work redefined modern literature as much as it did his peers, who would forever after be called the Lost Generation. But the full story of Hemingway’s legendary rise has remained untold until now. 

Lesley Blume resurrects the explosive, restless landscape of 1920s Paris and Spain and reveals how Hemingway helped create his own legend. He made himself into a death-courting, bull-fighting aficionado; a hard-drinking, short-fused literary genius; and an expatriate bon vivant. Blume’s vivid account reveals the inner circle of the Lost Generation as we have never seen it before, and shows how it still influences what we read and how we think about youth, sex, love, and excess. 
Cover and blurb via amazon
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This month, Spain Book Review goes a tad off-road, with Everybody Behaves Badly. Not strictly about Spain or written in Spain, but since it’s about Ernest Hemingway getting his Spain on, I figured it works just fine. The book covers both Spain and Hemingway’s time in Paris. By 1921, Hemingway was already on his way to literary famousness, but was in need of the great American novel. So when handsome young Ernest headed to Spain with a troupe of friends in 1925, their trip would end in the genius that is The Sun Also Rises.
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The book starts out with the early years in Paris and how Hemingway felt the desire to add a novel to his career, since he had only published short stories at that point. Hemingway and his new wife Hadley go to Paris, as members of the lost generation, and the author goes into full detail of the lifestyle of a man in need of literary success. The book focuses heavily on details of Hemingway’s early life, telling both a story and writing a biography in one.
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Everyone knows the story of The Sun Also Rises (this link has my review if you don’t) – a group of friends go to Pamplona, enjoy some bullfighting and a random fishing trip, have affairs, drink waaaay too much and the whole escapade turns to hell. Everybody Behaves Badly is the real life excursion. Hemingway and wife Hadley went to Pamplona in 1923 and 1924, and in 1925, went with a group of friends – Harold Loeb, Duff Twysden, Bill Smith, Pat Guthrie and Donald Ogden Stewart. What unfolds is what Hemingway could later turn into his famous novel. Hemingway, now famous for womanising, was with his wife but was interested in Duff Twysden, as was writer Harold Loeb. And we all know how well romantic rivalry mixes with alcohol and bravado. The back story of the fateful 1925 trip is spelled out in great detail as the members of the lost generation explore sexual freedom and creative processes on what was supposed to be writing trip about bullfighting but ends up with jealousy and fist-fighting.
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The last portion of the book is dedicated to the editing and publishing of The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway’s life is really taking off, and his wife (and now young son) are not fitting in with his choices. Hemingway nicely starts an affair with Pauline Pfeiffer. Hemingway ruthless cut and edited his book to create a great piece of work, and decides to also edit out his own wife. Hemingway needed to get in with a new publisher, Scribner’s, a challenge in itself, all while working greats of the day, like F. Scott Fitzgerald, to create a book which has been in print for 90 years now.
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Hemingway’s life has been viewed from every angle, but this, while not all new info, tells the story of the pivotal time of Hemingway’s life. Much is made of his life during the Spanish Civil War, but this gives us a new insight to Hemingway in Paris, his early romantic life and his lifestyle in these early days. My dream Spanish road trip (a game played a few years back) was with Hemingway and Dalí, and reading this book made me even more convinced I made the right choices. My own bullfighting research trips don’t get this wild (thank God), and I’m glad to have read this behind-the-scenes moment in time. Perfect for lovers of Spain, the 1920’s, Hemingway, or like me, all three.

SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: January – ‘The Exile’ by Mark Oldfield

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1954: Comandante Guzmán is out of favour and in exile. Franco’s one-time favourite secret policeman has been posted to the Basque country, a desolate backwater – in his eyes – of simmering nationalism, unlikely alliances and ancient vendettas.

Guzmán was last here during the war, at the head of a platoon of bloodthirsty Moorish irregulars. Personally, he’d rather forget all that – but up in the hills, he’ll find that he hasn’t been forgotten at all.

2010, Madrid: Forensic Investigator Ana María Galindez has been sent to the Basque country where, sealed in the cellar of a ruined building are three skeletons, each bound to a chair, each savagely hacked to death. In the debris surrounding them, a scimitar, stamped with a name: Capitán Leopoldo Guzmán.

Guzmán is the key that will unlock Spain’s darkest secrets. Guzmán’s name, she’ll discover, is a death sentence.

cover art and blurb via amazon.co.uk

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Here we are at last: The sequel to Mark Oldfield’s The Sentinel. If you are new, the Vengeance of Memory trilogy is based around Guzmán in the 1950’s, and Ana María Galindez in present day, with a few 1930’s war-time chapters for added plot twists. Sounds tricky? Keep up.

The Exile takes a slight leap forward from the end of The Sentinel which (potential spoilers ahead), left Ana María  in a messy state, and Guzmán surrounded by dead bodies. In 2010, Ana María is reinstated in the Guardia Civil, to continue her work as a forensic investigator. Off to the Basque country in northern Spain, she has to examine a scene of a multiple slasher-type killing spree from the 1930’s. The murder weapon is found – and it’s Guzmán’s. Ana María finally feels as if she is getting close to the man. But the bones are quickly forgotten when Ana María is put in charge of an investigation into the stolen babies of the Franco era, which started during the civil war and outlived Franco until around 1991. All the while, she is still suffering from past injuries thanks to Guzmán’s chamber of secrets and not at all over the murder of her father by Basque terrorists, something her memory has blacked out. Ana María believes in science, and with her new assistant Isabel, they come up with statistics – not only were a large majority of babies stolen from private clinics, most of the parents who complained were then killed. When a mother claiming to have had a daughter stolen at birth winds up dead, Ana María finds this old and vicious crime is still going on. The corruption and cover-ups run deep, and has the ability to kill anyone who pokes into fascist business.

Meanwhile, Guzmán is tramping around the wilderness of the Basque country in 1954, with his sidekick Ochoa. Guzmán has freshly killed a terrorist cell, but more remain at large. El Lobo (The Wolf), a mysterious bandit is riding through the forests, killing people and robbing banks. Guzmán has to kill him in order to go home to Madrid. Flashback chapters to 1937 show Guzmán and Ochoa have been north before – and straight away, faces in the small town are very familiar. Everyone wants to be Basque, speak Basque, but it is illegal. No one can be trusted and traitors lurk everywhere. Guzmán has full powers over everyone. With insane killers in power in the region and running loose in the forest, Guzmán needs to fight for his career and his life if he is see through all the murders, terrorists, special informants, inept Guardia Civil men, stupid-hat wearing French smugglers, and traitors on both sides of the political divide. He meets Magdalena Torres, beautiful daughter of a general, and while she seems perfect for Guzmán, with lives on the line and missions to complete, literally no one is who they seem.

I have waited three years to read The Exile after the release of The Sentinel. The format, chapters alternating timelines is the same as I have written, as is the stolen babies of the Franco-era storyline, along with Brigada Especial men like Guzmán. I have finished my series and it is fun to see someone else taking the ideas down a very different path. There is only one side to Guzmán – perverse and savage. Whether he is thinking, talking or acting, he is cruel. He hates everyone, especially himself. So when he is taking a dinner break rather than murdering or intimidating, he hooks up with Magdalena, who is ready to jump into bed with this emotionless man. She too is cold and emotionless. The spark between them doesn’t exist, they instead gravitate toward one another, similar beings in a land of haters. Every speaking male character in this book (almost the entire cast) are perverts. They look every woman up and down with sexual ideas. Women are kept in cells, raped and tortured. Every woman is a whore. A general holds parties where local girls, keen to avoid jail time (for invisible crimes) attend parties naked, there for gratification, to be raped, tortured and/or murdered. One is there purely to be placed naked on a garrotte machine. Women as entertainment for the depraved and over-empowered. Guzmán spends little time on anything except thinking or discussing murder or what’s under a woman’s clothing. I kept telling myself that women where treated poorly under Franco and that was part of the story, but still, the level of violence to women is explosive. Women are only good for two things in Guzmán’s world. Sex and death. One character, a young Basque woman Nieves, someone Guzmán should respect, is still watched naked, and exists for gratification, for torture, beatings, sexual assault by the whole damn world. The constant leering by every male character at every woman is truly evil. Men are in power; women are only whores. There is no other way.

In the 2010 storyline, things are no better. Ana María, a lesbian (which is not made a big deal of in this book, covered in the first installment) is leered at by men everywhere she goes. Every step and a man seemed to be leering or making a sexual innuendo. Ana María attacks a man early on; she shouldn’t be popping painkillers (addiction in disguise), she should be in therapy and on antidepressants. The crime scene early on in the book gets forgotten as the stolen babies take priority, and it takes a long time for her storyline to run parallel with Guzmán’s – almost the end of the book, but it all makes sense over time. One thing Ana María is – BADASS! Going for babysitting and ending up in a gun battle is no problem for fearless Ana María. Her storyline suggests baby stealing continued well into the 1990’s and parents were murdered; let’s hope that part never turns out to be true!

The storylines move nice and quick – accidentally skip a paragraph in 1954 and Guzmán’s body count has risen or another person has turned traitor.  In 2010, in a matter of 2-3 pages, Isabel is introduced, decides to be author, Ana María agrees to work with her, and both are hired by the government. Fast work for life-changing decisions I thought. People with little in common come together in brisk writing so the juicy details can emerge. There is a dam-full amount of juicyness, too. The first 200 pages set the scene, Guzmán being the book’s leader. After that, both 1954 and 2010 battle for supremacy. Guzmán’s end turned out just as I expected, but the twists and turns of Magdalena, Nieves and Bogeña left me feeling flat. In 2010, poor Ana María gets insanely accused, threatening her entire life, stumbles upon an old film reel laden with coincidence (and I mean insane levels) and yet, in the final sentences, ends as I expected – and (almost) hoped for (I had imagined her at least wearing undergarments and/or pants).

I would recommend this book to anyone. There is no detail on Spain’s situation in either periods, the book jumps straight in and readers get pulled along. Reading the first book would definitely be an advantage. I re-read it before picking up The Exile. The violence against women, the leering and innuendo, and the sexually frustrated losers of the book are hard to stomach, yet with all that, the twisting plot, the traitors and unlikable characters like Guzmán and Ana María, the author has produced a hell of a novel. While I liked The Sentinel, The Exile is so much better again, worth the wait for sure.

One tip – Don’t get attached to anyone (that’s easy, everyone’s horrible), because the body count is so high, the Game of Thrones writers should take notes. No one is safe. How the third book winds all the dangling storylines together will be a treat to read. I really don’t know how I want the series to end.

Read my review of the first installment – The Sentinel by Mark Oldfield