Book Review: ‘Homage to Catalonia’ by George Orwell

homage to catalonia - george orwell 29-4-13Probably the most famous account of the Spanish Civil War in the English language, Orwell actually chose the wrong place to go to in Spain. By going to Barcelona to fight with the International Brigades, instead he became embroiled in the struggle there between communists and anarchists and a multitude of other factions, a long way from the front line. He observes the in-fighting with a clear eye, seeing with a kind of innocence how convoluted the Spanish Republican loyalists could manage to make their strategy against the fascist Nationalists.
He does see a little fighting, is on the front for a few months at a time when there is little action. ‘In trench warfare five things are important: firewood, food, tobacco, candles and the enemy. In winter on the Saragossa front they were important in that order, with the enemy a bad last.’
His clarity of language brings his experience to life as you read the words on the page, and his disappointment at not being in the thick of it is apparent in every paragraph. ‘The things that one normally thinks of as the horrors of war seldom happened to me. No aeroplane ever dropped a bomb anywhere near me. I do not think a shell ever exploded within fifty yards of me, and I was only in hand-to-hand fighting once [once is once too often, I may say].’
The life is repetitive, boring, in the most unsanitary conditions. ‘A life as uneventful as a city clerk’s, and almost as regular. Sentry-go, patrols, digging; digging, patrols, sentry-go. On every hilltop, Fascist or Loyalist, a knot of ragged, dirty men shivering round their flag and trying to keep warm.’ He writes of the real wretchedness of a badly-planned war, with few weapons, and little support. In every word, Orwell’s journalistic credentials shout out.
Everyone should read this book.
5 to remember
el/la comunista – communist
el/la anarquista – anarchist
la facción – faction
las luchas internas – in-fighting
el enemígo – enemy

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