Glimpses of the Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Civil War captured the imagination of activists, artists, and writers from many countries. Hotel Florida is one many histories of this period, has some great reviews, but is not my personal favorite. I would direct readers instead to Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, a first-person account by an author best known to us for his other works.

Hotel Florida tracks the lives of three couples and additional friends and lovers drawn to Spain to get close to the action in order to advance their careers. Homage to Catalonia chronicles Orwell’s contact with various partisan groups as well as his personal participation as a combatant, service cut short when he suffered life-threatening injuries.

I encourage those of you who enjoyed Hotel Florida to use the comment option to share your reasons for liking the book. I’m going to use my space to tout Homage to Catalonia. If you’ve read other books about the Spanish Civil War, please direct us to those you found valuable.

One reason I enjoyed Orwell’s book is that it gives us a peek at the person behind the books we all know, 1984 and Animal Farm, as well as vocabulary such as Big Brother. The one similarity to Hotel Florida is that Homage is also the tale of a couple as Orwell’s wife joined him in Spain. In Orwell’s case, he was committed to tackling totalitarianism with action as well as words, not just observing and reporting.

Was Spain in the 1930s comparable to Syria in the 2010s? Certainly there were many factions, much name-calling, and difficulty knowing what was happening in various regions at any given time. The fascist label was thrown around with abandon to shape the narrative. Factions paired up and split apart frequently. Foreign powers shipped arms, fighters stole arms, and some fought with sticks, stones, and trickery for lack of arms.

Orwell talks of his admiration for the anarchists, a section of the book that was valuable to me. I have a narrow perspective of anarchists, seeing them only as black-clothed thugs who like to break things and use any organized protest as an opportunity to mess things up. Orwell tells of the uplifting feeling of fighting with troops without rank.

Beyond his description of the anarchists, Orwell “clarifies” the mess of the many factions opposing Franco’s attempts to defeat the Republican government. The one thing these factions really had in common was the desire to defeat Franco. Their disunity and disarray, their focus on one angle such as workers’ rights, or anti-clericalism, or some other angle could only have helped Franco prevail in the end.

When a book leads me to learn more about a subject, I consider that a good book. Homage to Catalonia has done that. I don’t want to know the details of the Spanish Civil War, but I do want to better understand Europe during the decades between the wars.

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