SPAIN BOOK REVIEW SEPTEMBER: ‘­­¡No Pasarán! Writings from the Spanish Civil War’ by Pete Aryton

Hope, resignation, despair, sadness, humour, confusion, ruthlessness, compassion, kindness, generosity and love inhabit Pete Ayrton’s anthology of writings from the Spanish Civil War: there is little sense of certainty and still less of triumphalism among the bewilderingly diverse Republican and Nationalist coalitions, all shades of which are represented here. Previous collections privileged the writings of the International Brigades over those of the Spanish, sometimes excluding them altogether. ¡No Pasarán! corrects the balance: by far the largest contingent of its thirty-five writers are Spanish, including Luis Buñuel, Manuel Rivas, Javier Cercas, Arturo Barea, Joan Sales and Chaves Nogales. The remainder offer contrasting perspectives of participants in the conflict from America (among them John Dos Passos, Muriel Rukeyser and Langston Hughes); Italy (Curzio Malaparte and Leonardo Sciascia); France (Jean-Paul Sartre, André Malraux and others); Germany (Gustav Regler); Russia (Victor Serge); Great Britain (including Arthur Koestler, George Orwell and Laurie Lee); Cuba, Argentina and Mexico.

Pete Ayrton brings together hauntingly vivid stories from a bitterly fought war. This is powerful writing that allows the reader to witness life behind and at the front lines of both sides.

cover art and blurb via Amazon – released 2016

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¡No Pasarán!: Writings from the Spanish Civil War, is a selection of texts, mostly from Spanish writers, all brought together by Pete Aryton. The story of the SCW is so often told by foreign journalists and writers, and through the eyes of the International Brigades. This time it is a far more Spanish view of the war.

The book makes a strong start with Luis Buñuel with My Last Breath, which forms part of his autobiography. The chapter tells of when Franco arrives in Spain, when Buñuel was in Madrid. While Buñuel longed for revolution, the initial siege between Spaniards in Madrid is shocking for the artist. The book goes a long way to describe all the groups on the Republican side (Anarchists, Socialist, Communist, etc,) trying to come together to fight a far more organised enemy. Importantly, what the anarchists wanted for Spain – their own utopia-like society is explained and discussed. Buñuel is one, if not the best, voice in the book and the one who explains the war the best, from the beginning, and from the ideas of multiple sides.

A great piece of writing is that of Dulce Chacón. Her chapter -The Missing Toe’, part of her novel The Sleeping Voice, is about a female prison, Prisión de Ventas in Madrid. The prison is run by guards and nuns and is vicious place to be.

One advantage of this book is the voice of José María Gironella, who fought for Franco and was Catholic. This way, the destruction of churches and burning of priests can be explained from the religious-minded and the destruction (in this particular case) by Communists. The Republican crimes aren’t glossed over in this book.

One excellent read is a part from Forbidden Territory by  Juan Goytisolo. In a rich part of Barcelona, Franco supporters hide in wait for safety. The writer’s family themselves are affected and killed. While Barcelona during the war is so often centred on the controlling Anarchist/Republican factions, an insight to the enemy side is confronting and sad.

A portion taken from The Wall, by Jean Paul Sartre, is short but essential. Pablo Obbieta is a Nationalist prisoner, threatened with death unless he tells info to his captors. But as Nationalists never keep prisoners and leave only bodies, nothing can end well.

The eternal voice of Arturo Barea is naturally included, ‘The War is a Lesson’ from The Clash. It focuses on the portion where Barea needs to leave Madrid for his safety, though never wants to leave the besieged Madrid, the centre of the battle for his country.

This collection by Pete Aryton is an essential read. It not only beings together Spanish voices, it can also be a literal reading list of other writers to look for, voices often forgotten in SCW reading lists. Other notable voices included are Lee, Orwell, Rivas, Cercas and Soler, while including lesser mentioned authors Rororeda, Atxaga, Fraile, Etchebáháre and many more, a total of 38 writers. Everybody needs this book.

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SPAIN BOOK REVIEW AUGUST: ‘Lorca, Buñuel, Dalí – Forbidden Pleasures and Connected Lives’ by Gwynne Edwards

Lorca, Buñuel and Dalí were, in their respective fields of poetry and theatre, cinema, and painting, three of the most imaginative creative artists of the twentieth century; their impact was felt far beyond the boundaries of their native Spain. But if individually they have been examined by many, their connected lives have rarely been considered. It is these, the ties that bind them, that constitute the subject of this illuminating book.

They were born within six years of each other and, as Gwynne Edwards reveals, their childhood circumstances were very similar, each being affected by a narrow-minded society and an intolerant religious background, which equated sex with sin. All three experienced sexual problems of different kinds: Lorca, homosexual anguish, Buñuel sexual inhibition, and Dalí virtual impotence. They met during the 1920s at the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid, which channelled their respective obsessions into the cultural forms then prevalent in Europe, in particular Surrealism. Rooted in such turmoil, their work — from Lorca’s dramatic characters seeking sexual fulfilment, to Buñuel’s frustrated men and women, and Dalí’s potent images of shame and guilt — is highly autobiographical. Their left-wing outrage directed at bourgeois values and the Catholic Church was sharpened by the political upheavals of the 1930s, which in Spain led to the catastrophic Civil War of 1936-39. Lorca was murdered by Franco’s fascists in 1936. This tragic event hastened Buñuel’s departure to Mexico and Dalí’s to New York and Edwards relates how for the rest of his life Buñuel clung to his left-wing ideals and made outstanding films, while the increasingly eccentric and money-grubbing Dalí embraced Fascism and the Catholic Church and his art went into steep decline.

cover art and blurb via amazon

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I can’t remember where I got this book – probably on one of my book buying binges (say that three times fast) – but it has sat unread on my shelves for to-reads. Since I wrote my Lorca 80th anniversary article just over a week ago, I thought I could dedicate this month’s book review to the man as well.

Federico García Lorca, Manuel Buñuel and Salvador Dalí are three very well-known men. All born wealthy around the turn of the century, by the early 1920’s they were already established in their fields: Lorca with his writing, Buñuel with plays and film creation and Dalí with his painting. Each was rare and unique in a world filled with many artists exploding onto the European scene at the time. All housed at the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid to study, these three artists came together to bond, collaborate and touch each others lives forever.

This book doesn’t necessarily reveal any new information about the trio, rather tells details, big and small, in a clean, easy-to-read way. Four pages in I was already enjoying the book, with its interesting yet gentle flow of the lives of these men. The book does lean on info about Lorca a lot, but he was always a strikingly interesting soul. The book discusses Lorca’s love for Dalí in the 20’s, and doesn’t suggest impotent Dalí ever accepted any of the advances, but it doesn’t clearly say he didn’t either. These men have intensely interesting sex lives, each forever influenced (scalded?) with the Catholic faith. Lorca and his homosexuality interwoven with his depression, and pain of never having children, Buñuel and his religious thoughts that sex was sinful, even when married, and Dalí with his impotency, voyeurism and his wife’s need to find sex elsewhere. Every aspect of their lives is deeply shaped by what Spain was, and wanted to become.

Things became strained with the threesome in the late 20’s and early 30’s with Lorca leaving the country for some recuperation. Buñuel continued to live his strict, regimented lifestyle while pursuing films and abusing his wife, and Dalí continued to be a real dick (literally incapable of being a functional adult after a weird childhood), and showing off, plus his desire for fame and fortune totally went to his head. Lorca meanwhile continued to produce incredible works and establish his career. Then the war came along.

The outbreak of the civil war, and the state of Spain is well covered to the point the book needs, to show what the men faced. Lorca’s last weeks are well covered, from the moment he decided to leave Madrid for Granada to save his parents. Buñuel begged him not to go, as it would not be safe. Lorca’s time there and his attempts to help his beloved family are covered, along with his mysterious and tragic execution in the forest. There are many places in which to read about Lorca’s last days, but this book does a great job on the subject.

Buñuel went into exile in Paris, much different from Lorca’s need to jump headfirst into Spain’s crisis. Dalí was the opposite; he turned his back on his country and went off making money from rich Americans. When he was ready, Dalí and his wife returned to Spain as fascism lovers, supporting Franco, since that was the in-vogue thing to do. His life fell apart, and being so, well, douchey, Dalí had it coming. Buñuel too had moments of bad behaviour, though his art never suffered for it, continuing to create films on his own terms. In many, many writings and interviews, Buñuel continued to talk of Lorca, his work, and their time together, forever touched by their connection. After Lorca’s execution, Buñuel and Dalí unsurprisingly grew apart, and Dalí’s feelings for his murdered friend never really made sense, or could be trusted.

As I said, this book covers the lives of well-known men, so information isn’t necessarily new, but it does bring all very important parts together in one book, and shows the intertwining links of these three men, and the things which separated them. Never has Spain had such a generation of artists, and maybe never will again. A wonderful read.