Tag Archives: Spanish Civil War

Book Review: ‘The Story of Spain’ by Mark Williams

Mark WilliamsThis is the best book I’ve found to date about the history of Spain, starting with pre-history and taking in the Romans, the Moors and the Christians, the Reconquista, Felipe II’s palace El Escorial and the long line of royalty, the Spain of Cervantes and Don Quixote to today via Goya, Velazguez and Picasso. Don’t be put off by the fact that it looks a little like a school textbook. The story is told in chronological order, and each chapter has a summary of key sites worth a visit. Williams is a journalist and this shows in his writing style and balanced reporting. Full of names from history that feature of street names in towns and cities around the country, the book is an accessible telling of a complicated history. He brings to life the true story behind two of Goya’s most renowned paintings, ‘The Second of May’ and ‘The Third of May’ in 1808, a year Williams says is equal in national importance as 1492 – the year the Moors left Granada, and Cristóbal Colón set forth to the New World.
5 to remember
los romanos – the romans
los moros – the moors
los cristianos – the christians
el palacio – the palace
la familia real – royalty

‘The Story of Spain’ by Mark Williams [UK: Santana]

If you like this, try:-
‘A Castle in Spain’ by Matthew Parris
‘The Anarchist Detective’ by Jason Webster
‘Ghosts of Spain’ by Giles Tremlett

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
For a simple history of Spanish history, read THE STORY OF SPAIN by Mark Williams #books https://wp.me/p3dYp6-fv via @Spanish_Valley


Book Review: ‘Death’s Other Kingdom’ by Gamel Woolsey

Gamel WoolseyI loved this small book which I read in one day. Written by American writer Gamel Woolsey, member of the Bloomsbury set and married to Spanish specialist Gerald Brenan, Death’s Other Kingdom is an account of life in Spain in 1936 at the beginning of the Civil War.
Málaga goes up in flames and Woolsey observes it, living at Churriana, a few miles inland from the coast and now close to the end of the runway at Málaga airport. The first chapter is an idyllic rendition of life in a Spanish village on a hot day: the pure white walls, the diamond-shaped tiles, the gardener Enrique, his mother Maria, the cook-housekeeper, and her daughter Pilar. It is an idyllic summer day. Woolsey wakes up the next morning and Málaga is burning. She describes the bombs falling – ‘Are they ours?’ ‘Are they the Fascists’?’, the funeral processions, the sad old men and women in dusty black.
This is not a tale of rural Spain, the Brenans were part of the burgeoning ex-pat community in Malaga, pre-Civil War.

5 to remember
escritó por – written by
el miembro – the member
la vida – the life
al principio – at the beginning
el capítulo – the chapter

‘Death’s Other Kingdom’ by Gamel Woolsey [UK: Eland]

If you like this, try:-
‘The Spanish Civil War’ by Helen Graham
‘Spain’ by Jan Morris
‘Spain in Mind’ edited by Alice Leccese Powers

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Read it in one day: DEATH’S OTHER KINGDOM by Gamel Woolsey https://wp.me/p3dYp6-fr #books via @Spanish_Valley



Book Review: ‘The Spanish Civil War’ by Helen Graham

the spanish civil war - helen graham 29-4-13This excellent little book is part of the series ‘A Very Short Introduction’ and is a blow-by-blow account of the Spanish Civil War. A confusing war with complicated names, political intrigues, fractured parties and much in-fighting, Helen Graham explains the origins of the war, the domestic and international contexts, and is particularly good at the social impact. If you have ever been confused by the various factions on each side, the connections with the wider international scene at the time, and the inescapable network of links with the days preceding World War Two, then this book will help bring clarity. Although Helen Graham is an academic writer, she is Professor of Spanish History of the University of London, the book is more accessible than other Civil War books I’ve read.
5 to remember
excelente – excellent
confuso/a – confusing
complicado/a – complicated
el nombre – name
los origenes – the origins

Book Review: ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ by Laurie Lee

as I walked out one midsummer morning - laurie lee 29-4-13
This small book is such a delight to read, it is at the same time a glimpse into ancient Spain [albeit 1934] and a door opening onto Spanish culture today. The cover illustration on my copy, by Pauline Ellison, is flooded with fresh spring green, just like the valley I look out on today on this chilly Spring day. It is the account of the author’s walk from Vigo on the Atlantic coast, south to Castillo in AndalucÍa. Written by a young man who knows just one Spanish phrase, he earns pesetas from playing his violin and so sees Spain on the verge of Civil War.
The thing that stays with me after reading it is the hospitality from everyone he meets along the road, people who have little share that little with him. It is something we experience here every day. Our neighbours are all farmers, scratching a subsistence living from harvesting olives, wheat, sunflowers, raising pigs and horses and puppies, and labouring in the fields, they are generous with their smiles and their vegetables. It is not uncommon on a country road to see a small white van parked in the shade and one man with a mattock, hoeing in a large field of weeds. When Laurie Lee’s violin finally breaks in Málaga, dried out by too much sun, the people at the inn where he stays do everything they can to help, making glue in their saucepans. The makeshift solution, so Spanish in itself, does not work but he is given a violin for free and continues on his way, finally leaving Spain on the eve of war on a British warship.
5 to remember
el libro – book
antiguo/a – ancient
la cultura – culture
la ilustración – illustration
la costa – coast

Book Review: ‘¡Guerra!’ by Jason Webster

guerra - jason webster 29-4-13 The fist-fight described in the first chapter is quite a shock, and sets the tone for this excellent assessment of a search in modern Spain for the truth about the Civil War. Always a touchy subject in Spain, and one we never broach with our neighbours here, Webster stumbles on evidence near to his home north of Valencia. His journey takes him to key locations such as Burgos, Madrid and Guernica as he alternates chapters between now and the 1930s. His style is easy to read, populated as it is equally with an authority about his subject to an easy telling of his everyday travelling experiences. He gets under the skin of the real everyday Spain, the sort of places you get to only with fluent Spanish, an ability to ask awkward questions and no fear at hearing unpleasant answers. It makes me want to read all this other books about Spain.
5 to remember
con fluidez – fluent
la pregunta – question
la respuesta – answer
el miedo – fear
desagradable – unpleasant

Old posts

old post1 15-3-13 Taking an afternoon stroll along the Thyme Track, so called because in the summer it is lined with fragrant wild thyme, we come across two old wooden posts. A third lays flat on the ground. The wood is old, seasoned. The rich colour is such that people in London would pay a high price for rustic wooden flooring of this precise shade.

old post3 15-3-13Why are the posts there, beside a rough track, in an isolated valley, halfway up an uncultivated hillside?

It is easy to forget that the valley has seen countless generations of occupants. This area has an ancient tradition of occupation and agriculture. Near Ronda are the Roman ruins of Acinipo, plus the paleolithic cave paintings at Cueva de la Pilata. Andalucía has a history of bandits and vagabonds who roamed the mountains. During the Spanish Civil War, Republican fighters evaded capture by Nationalist forces by living in the remote mountain caves of the Serranía de Ronda.

On the hillside around the wooden posts there is not just wild scrub but also abandoned olive trees. Their gnarled trunks are proof that they are hundreds of years old, un-cropped and un-pruned for decades. Were they abandoned because of their inaccessibility?
5 to remember
de madera – wooden
el poste – post
viejo/a – old
curado/a – seasoned
el color – colour

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Why are these old posts in such an isolated place? #Spain via @Spanish_Valley http://wp.me/p3dYp6-8e

Book review: The Return

I like books that stay with me after I’ve finished reading them. Victoria Hislop’s re-telling of the Spanish Civil War in The Return made me want to read more history books about the period. Before we came to Spain I knew little about the Civil War. If pressed, I would quote only Picasso’s Guernica, the death of Lorca, and George Orwell fighting with the International Brigades. That, and Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman in the film of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.

So, The Return added a new layer to my understanding of Andalucía’s experience in the war and particularly of Granada. The legacy is there, if you look for it. Even in modern-day Malaga, evidence of the savage bombing of the port can be seen in the ugly apartment blocks. Thankfully the Old Town, catedrál and Alcazaba survived reasonably unscathed. It’s impossible to visit Ronda, as we do weekly for the supermarket shop, without seeing the Puente Nuevo and shuddering at the memory of the 512 suspected Nationalists who were marched off the bridge into the Tajo, the gorge, in the first month of the war. Qué tan brutal es! The atrocity is said to be the inspiration for a similar scene in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway would have known the story, he and Orson Welles were frequent visitors to Ronda for the bull-fighting. Both sides in the war committed unaccounted-for atrocities. Even after Franco’s death in 1975 many people did not discuss the war in what was an unofficial pacto de olvido, a pact of forgetting.

There are tales today of Andalucían villages still split by Republican/Nationalist sympathies and modern-day incomers innocently putting their foot in it. Thankfully that has not happened to us. But the frequent small memorials at the roadside are 21st century reminders of men marched out of villages, executed and their bodies dumped. Spain is still coming to terms with its past. In 2007 the Socialist Government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero passed the Law of Historical Memory condemning General Franco’s uprising and dictatorship, banning symbols and references to the regime on public buildings, and ordering the removal of monuments to Franco. Many roadside remains of the executed have been located and reburied. Victoria Hislop’s The Return makes the subject more alive than many history books.

If you like this, try these other novels set in Spain:-
‘Or the Bull Kills You’ by Jason Webster
‘The Blind Man of Seville’ by Robert Wilson
‘Soldiers of Salamis’ by Javier Cercas
If you like books, check out my book reviews at my website.

‘The Return’ by Victoria Hislop [UK: Headline]

5 to remember
la guerra – the war
el libro – the book
la historía – the history
la película – the film
el supermercado – the supermarket

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Andalucía in the Spanish Civil War: THE RETURN by @VicHislop via @Spanish_Valley http://wp.me/p3dYp6-1k #books #Spain