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#Bookreview GERMAN MILITARY VEHICLES IN THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR by Jose María Mata, Lucas Molina, José María Manrique (@penswordbooks) t for those interested in military vehicles and the Spanish Civil War

Hi all:

This book is unusual for me, but…

German Military Vehicles in the Spanish Civil War by Jose María Mata, Lucas Molina, José María Manrique
German Military Vehicles in the Spanish Civil War by Jose María Mata, Lucas Molina, José María Manrique

German Military Vehicles in the Spanish Civil War: A Comprehensive Study of the Deployment of German Military Vehicles on the Eve of WW2 by Jose María Mata, Lucas Molina, José María Manrique

A comprehensive and up-to-date study of the combat and logistics vehicles which formed part of the German contingent that fought in the Spanish Civil War alongside the rebels.

The Panzer I, which so surprised the world in the Polish campaign and initially equipped the German Panzerdivisionen, was first seen in the Spanish Civil War, together with a wide range of war materiel such as antitank guns, flamethrowers, and so on.

This book looks at a wide range of vehicles: from the humblest motorcycle to the Horch staff car; from Opel ‘Blitz’, MAN Diesel, Mercedes, and Krupp trucks to the enormous Vomag 3LR 443 truck; not forgetting all the different types of military ambulances seen in Spain during the war years.

Never has such a comprehensive, painstaking and graphical study been made of vehicles used by the German contingent in the Spanish Civil War. The book contains over 500 top quality images, most of them previously unpublished, with each model that served in Spain perfectly identified.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/German-Military-Vehicles-in-the-Spanish-Civil-War-Hardback/p/12381

https://www.amazon.com/German-Military-Vehicles-Spanish-Civil/dp/1473878837/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/German-Military-Vehicles-Spanish-Civil/dp/1473878837/

https://www.amazon.es/German-Military-Vehicles-Spanish-Civil/dp/1473878837/

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I am not a connoisseur when it comes to military history or military vehicles, but I have recently become fascinated by unusual documents and photographs about the war, as they have the power to make the past come to life in a vivid way even for those who never experienced it. In the case of this book, 2019 marked the 80th anniversary of the end of the Spanish Civil War, and I have watched programmes and read articles about different aspects of it. Many talked about the air raids by Italian and especially German bombers in support of the Nationalist army and against the Republic, which worked well as a testing ground of their equipment prior to WWII. When I saw this book, it struck me that I hadn’t heard anything about other German vehicles used during the Spanish Civil War, although it made perfect sense that they would also send other military equipment to aid the war effort. And I felt curious.

This book is a treasure trove of pictures of the vehicles used in the Spanish Civil War. Apart from the photographs of vehicles (and not only German, as there is also the odd captured vehicle, like some Russian tanks), there are also pictures of insignia, medals, and some fabulous illustrations, both in black and white and in colour, of the vehicles and the soldiers. The collection includes tanks, cars, buses, trucks, ambulances, motorbikes (some with sidecars), and plenty of support vehicles (signal vehicles, anti-tank, anti-aircraft vehicles, mobile communication units…), and of course, the soldiers as well.

The text is minimal, and it contains factual information about the negotiations with the Germans, the number of vehicles and men they sent to train the rebel army, where they were posted, and there are also some charts summarising the numbers and the makes of the vehicles in each unit. As the authors explain, it is difficult to be precise when it comes to numbers, and in fact, they ask readers to get in touch if they find any discrepancies or have any further information that can be updated in future editions.

The main interest for a non-expert like me, apart from seeing many pictures of vehicles I’d never seen before, was to see the soldiers and the different locations also. Many of the pictures are clearly posed, but some seem to have caught soldiers going about their everyday lives (peeling potatoes, chatting, washing by the river…). There are no overly dramatic pictures or action pictures as such, but the uniforms, insignia, and vehicles could prove invaluable to historians and writers interested in obtaining an accurate description of the era. I also read reviews that commented on how useful such a book would be for people interested in building realistic military models, and by the same token, it would also be useful to people who provide props or create sets for movies or TV programmes.

I missed an index and a bibliography, although the book seems to be based on an individual collection, that of J.M. Campesino, and that might explain why there is no detailed information.

This is a book that will delight fans of military history and military vehicles, with the added interest that many of those vehicles were tried and tested in Spain first and were later put to use in WWII. The authors have published a number of books in Spanish on historic subjects related mostly to the Spanish Civil War, and I understand that Pen & Sword are working on publishing other related titles. An informative and visually engaging book about a period of Spanish history that remains very present, and we should never forget.

Thanks to the authors and to Rosie, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, and keep reading and smiling!

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA: A Novel by Isabel Allende (@isabelallende) (@BloomsburyBooks) Fantastic. Unforgettable.

Hi all:

I bring you a book by a favourite author of mine that I had not read for a very long time. It’s a fabulous book, although the English version won’t be available until January. It has been out in Spanish for several months, but my review is of the English version, and it’s available for preorder. Pete, I think you’d enjoy this one.

Cover of A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende
A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende, English version

A Long Petal of the Sea: A Novel by Isabel Allende

From the New York Times bestselling author of The House of the Spirits, this epic novel spanning decades and crossing continents follows two young people as they flee the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War in search of a place to call home.

In the late 1930s, civil war grips Spain. When General Franco and his Fascists succeed in overthrowing the government, hundreds of thousands are forced to flee in a treacherous journey over the mountains to the French border. Among them is Roser, a pregnant young widow, who finds her life intertwined with that of Victor Dalmau, an army doctor and the brother of her deceased love. In order to survive, the two must unite in a marriage neither of them desires.

Together with two thousand other refugees, they embark on the SS Winnipeg, a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda, to Chile: “the long petal of sea and wine and snow.” As unlikely partners, they embrace exile as the rest of Europe erupts in world war. Starting over on a new continent, their trials are just beginning, and over the course of their lives, they will face trial after trial. But they will also find joy as they patiently await the day when they will be exiles no more. Through it all, their hope of returning to Spain keeps them going. Destined to witness the battle between freedom and repression as it plays out across the world, Roser and Victor will find that home might have been closer than they thought all along.

A masterful work of historical fiction about hope, exile, and belonging, A Long Petal of the Sea shows Isabel Allende at the height of her powers.

Advance praise for A Long Petal of the Sea

“Both an intimate look at the relationship between one man and one woman and an epic story of love, war, family, and the search for home, this gorgeous novel, like all the best novels, transports the reader to another time and place, and also sheds light on the way we live now. Isabel Allende is a legend and this might be her finest book yet.”—J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Saints for All Occasions

“This is a novel not just for those of us who have been Allende fans for decades, but also for those who are brand-new to her work: What a joy it must be to come upon Allende for the first time. She knows that all stories are love stories, and the greatest love stories are told by time.”—Colum McCann, National Book Award–winning author of Let the Great World Spin

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Long-Petal-Sea-Novel-ebook/dp/B07R9WKFRF/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Long-Petal-Sea-Isabel-Allende/dp/1526615908/

https://www.amazon.es/Long-Petal-Sea-Novel-ebook/dp/B07R9WKFRF/

Author Isabel Allende
Author Isabel Allende

About the author:

Born in Peru and raised in Chile, Isabel Allende is the author of eight novels, including, most recently, Zorro, Portrait in Sepia, and Daughter of Fortune. She has also written a collection of stories; three memoirs, including My Invented Country and Paula; and a trilogy of children’s novels. Her books have been translated into more than twenty-seven languages and have become bestsellers across four continents. In 2004 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Isabel Allende lives in California.

Here the cover of the Spanish version

My review: 

Thanks to NetGalley and to Bloomsbury Publishing for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I have long been a fan of Isabel Allende’s novels, although I haven’t read any of her recent books, despite my best intentions. I read many of her early novels, in Spanish, and I enjoyed her take on Magic Realism, which I found inspiring. When I saw this novel, which combined Allende’s writing with a historical subject close to my heart (I’m from Barcelona, like the protagonist of the novel, and some of my relatives lived experiences quite similar to those Victor goes through), I had to read it. And although it is a very different reading experience from that of The House of the Spirits, I enjoyed it enormously.

This novel is the story of Victor Dalmau, whom we meet at a very difficult moment, during the Spanish Civil War. He was studying Medicine and helps look after the wounded in battle, while his younger brother, Guillem, fights for the Republic. Told in the third person, mostly from Victor’s point of view (there is a fragment where the novel deviates from that, but there is a good reason for it), the book follows his life pretty closely and in chronological order, although not all periods of his life are shared in the same detail. We learn about his family, his parents, Roser (his brother’s girlfriend and one of the students of Victor’s father, a musician), and hear first-hand of his experiences during the war, the retreat (“la retirada”), and the problems a huge number of Spaniards who escaped to France had to face once there.

Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet, is fundamental to the story, not only because he chartered the SS Winnipeg that took many Spaniards (around two thousand) to Chile, escaping from Franco’s regime and the French camps, but also because he personally appears in the novel and each chapter is introduced by one of his poems. In fact, the title of the book also comes from one of his poems, and it is a descriptive metaphor of the country, Chile, that welcomed the refugees with open arms. The story also follows Victor’s later adventures, his studies and work as a cardiologist, Roser’s works as a musician and her creation of an orchestra, and the historical and political upheavals they have to confront, with further displacements and persecution. What is to be an emigrant, how different people adapt to different realities and countries (Victor and Roser are pretty different in this respect), and also the invaluable contribution those very same immigrants make to the very fabric of the country that takes them in, are threads that run through the whole novel.

This is my first experience of reading Allende’s work in English, and I thought the translation was excellent. The language is both functional and beautiful, capturing the emotions of the characters, and vividly portraying their experiences, at times harrowing and at others uplifting. I was very touched by the narrative, and although that might be in part due to my personal connection to the material (not only the historical aspect, but also the experience of life in a different country) , the effect was not limited to the parts of the story I was familiar with. The adventures of Victor and Roser in Chile, Allende’s government (of course, Salvador Allende was Isabel’s uncle), and the military coup, further tested their endurance and made them start again in Venezuela. Added to the larger historical events, we have a story of love, family, and displacement, which will resonate with many readers, even if they are not familiar with the particular historical and geographical setting. Circumstances might change, but the problems are universal.

The author talks about the genesis of the book in a note at the beginning of the book and explains it in more detail in the acknowledgements at the end. Although this is a novel, it is based on real accounts, and its main character was inspired by another Victor, Victor Pey, who lived to be 103, and who experienced many of the trials and tribulations we read about. Allende creates a catalogue of varied characters, complex and credible, and mixes historical figures with fictional ones seamlessly. Victor is a quiet man, hard-working, who prefers action to idle talk, and whose mission in life seems to be to help others. He is a survivor who can be naïve about the consequences of his actions and about the motivations of others, but he always expects the best of others and hopes against hope. Roser, his wife, is a fabulous character, a strong woman who keeps going no matter what, and their relationship evolves through the book, never getting old and with plenty of surprises. There are plenty of memorable characters in the book, some that play a larger part than others, and some that keep popping up at regular intervals as time passes. I was intrigued by the Solan family, fascinated by Juana, their lifelong servant, and also appreciated the small details that add a human touch to the historical figures, Pablo Neruda in particular.

I loved the writing style, poetic and lyrical at times, despite dealing in some very harsh topics. The flow varies, and some historical periods are described in more detail than others, as happens in memoirs. I’ve read comments of readers who say there is too much telling in this novel. There is a fair amount of telling, that is true, by the very nature of the story, but it suits the personality of the protagonist, and to be honest, I cried with the story as it is. I’m not sure I would have managed to read it if it were even more emotional. (I smiled as well, and it is a hopeful story overall, but it did touch me deeply).

I have highlighted many passages, and it’s difficult to choose one or two, but I decided to give it a try.

Here Victor Dalmau observes the work of the female volunteers looking after injured soldiers in the Spanish Civil War:

Volunteer women would moisten their lips, whisper to them, and comfort them as if they were their own children, in the knowledge that somewhere else, another woman might be cradling their own son or brother.

If you are very sensitive, you might want to look away now:

This was to be his most stubborn, persistent memory of the war: that fifteen- or sixteen-year-old boy, still smooth-cheeked, filthy with the dirt of battle and dried blood, laid out on a stretcher with his heart exposed to the air.

And I had to include one from Pablo Neruda, quoted here in chapter 2.

Nothing, not even victory,

Can wipe away the terrible hole of blood.

I love this novel, which I recommend to readers of historical fiction, particularly those interested in the Spanish Civil War and/or the history of Chile, to fans of Isabel Allende, and also to those who’ve never read her before, but are looking for a compelling story, masterfully written, with a memorable cast of characters and a story with many parallels to recent events. I attended a conference about la Retirada (the retreat of around 500000 Spaniards, both military and civilians, escaping to France from Spain at the end of the Civil War, in February 1939) on its 80th anniversary earlier this year, and looking at the pictures, it gave us all pause, because if we just changed the background of the photographs and the clothes, we could have been watching the news. Like those images, this is a novel that will stay with me. I might be biased but that’s my prerogative and I can’t recommend it enough.

Thanks very much to Netgalley, the publisher, the author and translator for this fabulous book, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it, share it around, but whatever you think, always keep smiling. 

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Book review Book reviews

#Book review BARNSLEY AT WAR 1939–45 (YOUR TOWNS & CITIES IN WORLD WAR TWO) by Mark Green (@penswordbooks). #WWII

Hi all:

I bring you another non-fiction book from one of Pen & Sword collections that I think will interest many:

Barnsley at War 1939–45 (Your Towns & Cities in World War Two) by Mark Green.
Barnsley at War 1939–45 (Your Towns & Cities in World War Two) by Mark Green.

 

Barnsley at War 1939–45 (Your Towns & Cities in World War Two) by Mark Green. A wonderful chronicle for anybody interested in local history

The ‘eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month’ of 1918 was supposed to be the conclusion of the ‘war to end all wars’.

Just twenty-one years after the armistice was signed, Barnsley, its borough and the world braced itself for a global conflict that history would eventually testify to be deadlier than the war that destroyed a generation of Barnsley men and boys.

After the Great War, the famous market town stumbled into a new era that promised social change, including universal suffrage, economic and political stability and establishments of new international organizations such as the League of Nations to steer the masses. In reality, the town suffered in poverty, endured pit disasters, countless industrial deaths all the while still lamenting its lost generation, mercilessly butchered on The Somme.

The book’s narrative explains in detail Barnsley’s transition from its interwar years, to the euphoria of victory in 1945, supported by a timeline of national events that helped shape the town. It steers away from the common two-dimensional viewpoints some people had on the Home Front and the endless reusing of the same themes – ‘the Great British spirit’, Churchillian greatness, D-Day, Dunkirk and VE day. Although one cannot dismiss those remarkable qualities the town developed during the war, it also explores controversial topics such as social impacts, the rise in juvenile delinquency, misplaced optimism, increase in crime and the acceptance of the status quo by some members of the ruling council.

Indeed, Barnsley rose to the challenge as it did years earlier, women once again revealed their rightful place in society as equals, miners smashed productivity records, men and women took up arms in anticipation of invasion.

The Second World War had arguably the same impacts on Barnsley as the Great War, further local names etched on the memorials as a timeless reminder of the men, women and children who died or gave their life for their town, county and country. Never to be forgotten.

https://www.amazon.com/Barnsley-1939-45-Towns-Cities-World-ebook/dp/B07RCHF2PL/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Barnsley-1939-45-Towns-Cities-World-ebook/dp/B07RCHF2PL/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Barnsley-at-War-193945-Paperback/p/15712

About the author:

Mark’s interest in writing was sparked once he started writing articles for his town’s local history magazine, Barnsley Memories. He became fascinated by the sacrifice the local fishermen of Boston made for their town, and was eagerly driven on by the enthusiasm of local Boston people willing to help with his research into this remarkable place and into what the community endured.

His personal interests are cycling, reading, history tours, researching local history and enjoying time with his two children.

My review:

I thank Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This volume is one in a series about different towns and cities during WWII in the UK, called Your Towns & Cities in World War Two (for those interested, Pen & Sword also publishes a similar series about towns and cities during WWI). I was particularly interested in Barnsley because I used to live in Penistone, a town within Barnsley Metropolitan Borough, and I spent a fair amount of time in Barnsley and the surrounding area, so I was curious as to how life must have been like at the time in the area (beyond the visual reminders, like monuments and parades). Each book is penned by a different expert, so the writing might differ, but if I were to judge by this one, anybody interested in researching in more detail what life was like during the war in a particular area of the UK would find plenty of useful material in this collection.

The book, which contains a detailed index and end notes that can serve as a bibliography, is peppered with photographs, maps, propaganda posters and advertisements, and images taken directly from newspapers which illustrate the text, from maps of the German bombers targets in the area (in Sheffield, a few miles South, they manufactured parts for the RAF planes, and it was therefore a target and suffered heavy bombing in 1940), posted silhouettes of the German planes and images of their uniforms, so the population could recognise them, pictures of the men and women who helped in the war effort (both home and abroad), the bomb shelters, a gas hood for babies (it looks right out of a sci-fi movie)…

The four chapters follow the war effort in Barnsley in chronological order, from the preparation period (detailing the ARP’s [ Air Raid Precaution] efforts to recruit people in the whole area, also talking in detail about the poor living and working conditions in some parts of the town, especially for those working at the local collieries [George Orwell visited and reported on what he saw], it also mentions those men from Barnsley who went to join the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War [Thank you], the building of air shelters and the reuse of some facilities for training and as shelters; to what became known as “the Phoney War”, because for eight months, after war had been declared, nothing much seemed to happen, although there were plenty of preparations and movements taking place (for some soldiers who had never travelled abroad it felt like a vacation, while at home they were practicing imposing blackout —there were several deaths and a large number of accidents as well until people got wise to the risks—, rationing, and an increase in manufacturing);  then when Germany invaded the Low Countries and France, we have more rationing, the first men start dying abroad including the first British soldier killed in France, Private William Roper, who although living in Dewsbury at the time of the war, was born and spent his childhood in Barnsley, the women joining more actively in the war effort, heavy rationing, children refugees arriving from some of the heavily bombed areas (there are letters and personal accounts included as well)… And finally, after the victory, we have the celebrations, of course.  The book does not shy away from talking about some of the less than edifying incidents, like crime and robberies taking place during the period, and hate incidents towards some of the allied troops visiting the area (including an incident in Penistone when an African-American soldier was assaulted outside a pub, although seemingly not by locals), and it is a fairly complete chronicle of all aspects of life in the area during WWII period.

As a small but representative sample of the book, I thought I’d share a fragment of a letter by Gunner William Barraclough, a Barnsley hero, summing up the British spirit of Dunkirk, which brought a smile to my face: ‘we had a hot time, but we’re not licked yet —not by a long chalk.’

I cannot sum up the whole book, but I am sure anybody from the region, or interested in researching the local history of that area, will find plenty of useful information about what was happening in the area, and also about what happened to the locals who were mobilised during the war. This would be a perfect present for relatives or friends who remember the era or are interested in it, and also for anybody wanting to become better acquainted with that period of UK history at a local level.

Thanks to Pen & Sword (Rosie Croft in particular) for the book, thanks to all you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview THE LABYRINTH OF THE SPIRITS by Carlos Ruiz Zafón Trans. (@ZafonOficial) (@orionbooks) A magical visit to Barcelona and to the world of books and stories. Unmissable!

Hi all:

It’s with great pleasure that I bring you a wonderful book.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruíz Zafón
The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruíz Zafón

The Labyrinth of the Spirits: From the bestselling author of The Shadow of the Wind (Cemetery of Forgotten Books 4) by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Lucia Graves

The long-awaited new novel from the author of the global bestseller and modern classic, The Shadow of the Wind.

As a child, Daniel Sempere discovered among the passageways of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books an extraordinary novel that would change the course of his life. Now a young man in the Barcelona of the late 1950s, Daniel runs the Sempere & Sons bookshop and enjoys a seemingly fulfilling life with his loving wife and son. Yet the mystery surrounding the death of his mother continues to plague his soul despite the moving efforts of his wife Bea and his faithful friend Fermín to save him.

Just when Daniel believes he is close to solving this enigma, a conspiracy more sinister than he could have imagined spreads its tentacles from the hellish regime. That is when Alicia Gris appears, a soul born out of the nightmare of the war. She is the one who will lead Daniel to the edge of the abyss and reveal the secret history of his family, although at a terrifying price.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits is an electrifying tale of passion, intrigue, and adventure. Within its haunting pages, Carlos Ruiz Zafón masterfully weaves together plots and subplots in an intricate and intensely imagined homage to books, the art of storytelling and that magical bridge between literature and our lives.

‘For the first time in 20 years or so as a book reviewer, I am tempted to dust off the old superlatives and event to employ some particularly vulgar clichés from the repertoire of publishers’ blurbs. My colleagues may be shocked, but I don’t care, I can’t help myself, here goes. The Shadow of the Wind is a triumph of the storyteller’s art. I couldn’t put it down. Enchanting, hilarious and heartbreaking, this book will change your life. Carlos Ruiz Zafón has done that exceedingly rare thing – he has produced, in his first novel, a popular masterpiece, an instant classic’ Daily Telegraph

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Labyrinth-Spirits-bestselling-Cemetery-Forgotten-ebook/dp/B07DCY1MX1/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Labyrinth-Spirits-bestselling-Cemetery-Forgotten-ebook/dp/B07DCY1MX1/

Editorial Reviews

Review

“THE LABYRINTH OF THE SPIRITS is the sublime culmination to a truly outstanding series…a reading experience not to be missed…As long as you actually open a door to the labyrinth and enter it, all is well. As to not reading the Cemetery of Forgotten books at all, that is obviously a grave error.” (Publishers Weekly, ShelfTalker)

“Ruiz Zafón clearly has had a great deal of fun in pulling this vast story together…His ability to keep track of a thousand threads while, in the end, celebrating the power of storytelling is admirable…. A satisfying conclusion to a grand epic that, of course, will only leave its fans wanting more.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“Gothic, operatic, and in many ways old-fashioned, this is a story about storytelling and survival, with the horrors of Francoist Spain present on every page. Compelling…this is for readers who savor each word and scene, soaking in the ambiance of Barcelona, Zafón’s greatest character (after, perhaps, the irrepressible Fermín Romero de Torres).” (Booklist)

Author Carlos Ruiz Zafón

About the author:

Carlos Ruiz Zafón is the author of six novels, including the international phenomenon The Shadow of the Wind. His work has been published in more than forty different languages and honored with numerous international awards, including the Edebé Award, Spain’s most prestigious prize for young adult fiction. He divides his time between Barcelona, Spain, and Los Angeles, California.

https://www.amazon.com/Carlos-Ruiz-Zaf%C3%B3n/e/B001JOSYGI/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Weidenfeld & Nicolson (Orion Publishing Group) for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I enthusiastically and freely chose to review.

I read the first two novels of the Cemetery of the Forgotten Books series years back, in Spanish. I have recommended The Shadow of the Wind to anybody who would bother to listen to me (probably multiple times, sorry) and was enthralled by the complex tale of creation and mental unravelling span by The Angel’s Game. In the maelstrom of the last few years, somehow I lost track of the series and missed the publication of The Prisoner of Heaven (although I have been trying to locate a copy since I started reading this volume), but when I saw the last novel in the series was being published in English and offered on NetGalley, I knew it was my chance to catch up. As I also do translations and had read two of the novels in their original Spanish version, I had the added interest of scrutinising what the translation into English would look like. Well, I must say I thought it was superb, in case I forget to mention it later. Lucia Graves (daughter of Robert Graves, here you can read in interview with her) manages to capture the style of the author, the complexity and beauty of his language, and translates the local peculiarities of the dialogue, helping readers feel the joy and the intoxicating and magical experience of reading the original. Hats off!

If you’ve read up to this point, you’ll likely have guessed that I loved this novel. To get it out of the way, I’ll clarify that I think it can be read by itself, or as a starting point to a reader’s visit to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, and although perhaps somebody who starts by reading this book will feel s/he knows already the whole story, I suspect they’ll feel curious and intrigued and will want to learn the full details of the stories that come to fruition here (this is my case as well). Here, the author of the story inside the book, Julián, (yes, the story is full of books and writers) explains how the series works better than I can:

The way I dreamed of it, the narrative would be divided into four interconnected volumes that would work like entrance doors into a labyrinth of stories. As the reader advanced into its pages, he would feel that the story was piecing itself together like a game of Russian dolls in which each plot and each character led to the next, and that, in turn, to yet another, and so on and so forth. The saga would contain villains and heroes, and a thousand tunnels through which the reader would be able to explore a kaleidoscopic plot resembling that mirage of perspectives I’d discovered with my father in the heart of the Cemetery of the Forgotten Books.

This is a long novel, and a complex one, although not one difficult to read or follow (I don’t think). As the quoted paragraph says, there are many stories here, and many memorable characters, some dead, some alive, and some… (among them, Alicia Gris, femme-fatale, spy, little girl, seductress, avenging angel, long-suffering survivor of a terrible war; Daniel Sampere, bookshop owner extraordinaire searching for answers; Fermín Romero de Torres, whimsical, fun, full of life and common-sense, witty, heroic, down-to-earth;  Julián Sempere, the stand-in for the author and heir to a long tradition; Isabella, a mysterious figure much of the action revolves around; authors David Martín, Julian Carax, Víctor Mataix; the fabulous Vargas, a hard-working an old-fashioned honest policeman with some secrets of his own; the complex Leandro; the horrifying Hendaya; the intriguing Rovira…). The story moves back and forth in time, from the time of the Civil War in Spain (1938) to its aftermath during the Franco regime, and into 1992. We visit Madrid, Paris —however briefly— although the main setting, and the main character, is Barcelona, in all its glory and horror.

In the darkest corner of her heart, Barcelona, mother of labyrinths, holds of mesh of narrow streets knotted together to form a reef of present and future ruins.

I kept thinking what genre one would fit this book into. Amazon has it listed in the categories of literary fiction, historical fiction, and mysteries. All true, I guess. There are secrets, mysteries, action, revenge, intrigues, crimes, murders, torture… The novel reminds me, in some ways, of the big adventures and narratives of old, novels by Victor Hugo (whose pen, possibly?, makes an appearance in the novel), Jules Verne, the Dumas (father and son), with its sprawling narrative, its wondrous descriptions of people and events, its historical background (the Spanish Civil War and the postwar years, accurately reflected through a fantasy lens), and even its gothic setting (we have mysterious mansions, dungeons, cells, castles, underground passages, true labyrinths…). This book bears homage to literature, to books, to authors, to the power of imagination, and to the magic of reading.

The book talks about books and writing and contains plenty of advice on writing, some of it contradictory, and there are many different types of writers contained in its pages. It is metafictional at its best, and I was not surprised when I read that the author also composes music. There are variations on a theme in evidence (stories are told and retold: sometimes different versions, sometimes from different perspectives, and in different formats). There is plenty of showing, there is telling from direct witnesses, or third-hand, there are documents that bring us missing pieces from the pens of those who are no longer able to tell their own stories, and everybody gets a chance to tell his or her own story, be it in the first person or the third, be it directly or through a narrator. The author has explained that he writes his novels in a similar way to how movies are conceived and designed, and that is evident when one reads the story, as it is impossible not to visualise it. Carlos Ruiz Zafón professes his admiration for Orson Welles and that comes across loud and clear in this book. But, however much he loves movies, he believes books can conjure up worlds that no filmmaker would be able to bring to life, and that is his stated reason for not selling the rights for the film adaptation of the series. Part of me would like to watch it, but I am convinced I’d be disappointed, so incredible is the world the author has built.

I have mentioned the style of writing when I talked about the translation and I have shared some quotes. I kept highlighting and highlighting text while I was reading it and I found it very difficult to select some to share, but I hope the few fragments I have included will pique your curiosity and make you check a sample if you are not sure if you would like it (you would!). One of the tips on writing contained in the book highlights the importance of the way the story is written, above and beyond the plot, but in this case, the two mix perfectly.

I have mentioned some of the themes, the historical background, and the mystery elements included in the story, with some gore and violent scenes, but there are plenty of magical, lighter, and funny moments as well, and I wanted to share a couple of sentences from Isabella’s notebook that I particularly enjoyed, to illustrate the sense of humour (sometimes a bit dark) also present:

We were three sisters, but my father used to say he had two daughters and one mule.

I didn’t like playing with the other girls: my specialty was decapitating dolls with a catapult.

I’m not sure what else I can tell you to try and convince you to read this book. I am from Barcelona and love the city, even if some of the places mentioned in the novel no longer exist (or not in their original form). You could use the book as a guide for a visit (and I know there were tours visiting some of the streets and settings of The Shadow of the Wind), or you could lose yourself in the labyrinth of your imagination. You could imagine the movie, cast the characters, or put yourself in their place (I’d happily be Alicia Gris, pain and all). If you need to live some adventures and take a break from your life, go on, enter the labyrinth and visit the cemetery of the forgotten books. You might never want to find the way out. I am rearing for another visit soon.

Ah and when I read this article about the pleasures of slow reading, I immediately thought of this book and decided to share it with you. Because this is one of those books that are better enjoyed and savoured slowly.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/sep/14/joe-moran-pleasures-of-slow-reading?

Thanks very much to NetGalley, to the publisher, and to the author and translator, for this fabulous book, thanks to all of you for reading and for putting up with my enthusiasm and if you’ve enjoyed it, like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling and reading!

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History, Fiction, Photography by Sebastiaan Faber (@sebasfaber) A book for people unafraid of asking uncomfortable questions. #SpanishHistory #CulturalStudies

Hi all:

My review today is a bit different as is the book I share. When I saw it on offer in Edelweiss I had to request it and it proved fascinating.

Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History, Fiction, Photofraphy by Sebastiaan Faber
Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History, Fiction, Photography by Sebastiaan Faber

Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History, Fiction, Photography by Sebastiaan Faber

The ability to forget the violent twentieth-century past was long seen as a virtue in Spain, even a duty. But the common wisdom has shifted as increasing numbers of Spaniards want to know what happened, who suffered, and who is to blame. Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War shows how historiography, fiction, and photography have shaped our views of the 1936–39 war and its long, painful aftermath.

Faber traces the curious trajectories of iconic Spanish Civil War photographs by Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and David Seymour; critically reads a dozen recent Spanish novels and essays; interrogates basic scholarly assumptions about history, memory, and literature; and interviews nine scholars, activists, and documentarians who in the past decade and a half have helped redefine Spain’s relationship to its past. In this book Faber argues that recent political developments in Spain—from the grassroots call for the recovery of historical memory to the indignados movement and the foundation of Podemos—provide an opportunity for scholars in the humanities to engage in a more activist, public, and democratic practice.

https://www.amazon.com/Memory-Battles-Spanish-Civil-War-ebook/dp/B079CD3HKL/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Memory-Battles-Spanish-Civil-War-ebook/dp/B079CD3HKL/

Editorial Reviews

Review

Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War is a fascinating, judiciously blended mix of interviews and portraits, cultural criticism, meditations, and reportage, refreshingly unlike any other book in the field that I’ve read. Sebastiaan Faber wears his erudition lightly, but brings a deep knowledge of a country he loves and of its struggles to come to terms with a tragic and violent piece of its past. It’s worth reading alone to hear the voices of historians about what drew them to Spain in this era—why don’t more people pose that question to scholars?”
Adam Hochschild, author of Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939

“Faber’s collection of bracing, enjoyable, and provocative essays steps squarely into the middle of Spain’s ongoing (but, thankfully, bloodless) cultural civil war over the past. He plunges a finger into the country’s deepest and most durable sore with a series of sizzling critiques of how historians, writers, and intellectuals view Spain’s legacy of fratricide and a forty-year dictatorship that casts its long shadow over the present. Just how does (or should) Spain deal with the uncomfortable facts and emotions left behind by Francoism and the successful but imperfect transition to democracy that followed it? There is much to agree with, and much to disagree with, but the merit in Faber’s writing comes from the way it re-inspects and challenges many of the assumptions on which depictions of Spain’s recent past are based, obliging the reader to do the same.”
Giles Tremlett, author of Ghosts of Spain: Travels through Spain and Its Silent Past and Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen

Author and academic Sebastiaan Faber
Author and academic Sebastiaan Faber

About the Author:

Sebastiaan Faber was born and raised in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where he studied Spanish; his doctorate is from the University of California, Davis, and he is Professor in the Department of Hispanic Studies at Oberlin College. Sebastiaan is the author of “Exile and Cultural Hegemony: Spanish Exiles in Mexico” (Vanderbilt, 2002), “Anglo-American Hispanists and the Spanish Civil War” (Palgrave, 2008), and “Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War” (Vanderbilt, 2017), and editor, with Gijs Mulder, of Marcellus Emants’ “Schetsen uit Spanje” (2004) and, with Cristina Martínez-Carazo, of “Contra el olvido. El exilio español en Estados Unidos” (2009). He regularly writes for The Nation, La Marea, Fronterad, and CTXT: Contexto y Acción (more at www.sebastiaanfaber.com). A former Chair of the Board of Governors of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA, www.alba-valb.org), he co-edits ALBA’s quarterly magazine, The Volunteer (www.albavolunteer.org).

https://www.amazon.com/Sebastiaan-Faber/e/B001HOMTWU/

My review:

Thanks to Edelweiss and to the publishers (Vanderbilt University Press) for providing me a copy of the book that I freely chose to review.

I was drawn to this book because although I was born and grew up in Spain, I have spent the last 25 years of my life in the UK, and between the time invested in education and work, I know I have missed some of the big debates about the past that have taken place in the country. From personal experience, I know that living abroad gives you a different perspective, usually wider, on a country’s history and society, and I was interested to learn the opinions of a foreign Hispanist on the controversial topic of the book.

This book was illuminating for me. I’ve discovered that I need to catch up and read books, watch documentaries, and explore the memory movement in Spain. I know some details thanks to my mother’s family, but it is a drop in the ocean compared to the many initiatives and projects that have been implemented. I learned about laws (helpful and, mostly, unhelpful), about controversy and debates, about the origin of well-known photographs and documents (including the fact that photographers shared cameras and subjects during the Spanish Civil War, and no matter what their intent, those photographs also had, even at the time, a commercial value), about the uneasy relationship between Culture, cultural objects, and History. Is fiction less valuable when it comes to documenting the reception and the collective memory of a historical event? Or more?

Although I am not an expert in History, I have read some History books over the years and one of the things I found more refreshing about this volume, which collects a variety of essays on topics that fit in well together, is the fact that rather than offering an authoritative version of events or pontificating about the right or wrong way of looking at a particular period in history, it asks questions. On relevancy: how can an academic book written in English discussing events and recent debates about Spanish history and politics reach a wider audience? Are academics simply talking to themselves without ever reaching the general public (unless given an “official” status)? On the approach and the position historians should take when researching and writing their findings: Can historical essays and books ever be “neutral”? And should they be “neutral”? Isn’t it better to be open about one’s point of view and allegiances? (As the author observes, WWII historians are clearly positioned when writing about the war, but in Spain, this is frowned upon). On comparative studies and the risks of conflating similar events in different countries and eras, thereby missing the most interesting and fruitful aspects for analysis: Is it legitimate to apply international models (like those developed through the Holocaust studies) to the Spanish Civil War and the Francoist repression?  On the position of the intellectuals and how politics and affiliations affect even those who try hardest to be rigorous. How can those intellectuals who were heavily invested in the Transition open up to other opinions and not consider them a personal criticism? On the memory movement, the hurdles faced by those trying to find out more about relatives or friends, and about the resistance of historians to see any value in memory narratives. Is forgetting the past the best option, or do the unhealed wounds and traumas that have been festering, no matter how long for, always find a way to resurface? About the boom in historical fiction novels about the Civil War and what they tell us about society and popular opinion. Although the author’s opinions are clearly stated, the questions hang there and readers can take them up and find their own answers.

As I said, I cannot claim to any expertise on the topic, and I suspect experts will have much to take issue with in this book, but for me, it helps provide the tools to answer some of the questions that inform the author’s work and that are the same that a large part of the Spanish population are asking. Quoting from the book:

How have history, fiction, and photography shaped Spanish memory? How has democratic Spain dealt with the legacy of the Civil War, the Franco dictatorship, and the Transition? And how have academics, writers, filmmakers, photographers, and journalists in Spain and elsewhere engaged with a collective process that is central to the country’s future as a unified, functioning democracy?

In view of recent events, these questions are more pressing and relevant than ever, and I hope this book reaches as wide an audience as possible. I recommend it to anybody who is open to fresh perspectives on the subject and is up for a challenging — but ultimately rewarding— read.

Thanks to the author, to Edelweiss and to Vanderbilt University Press for this book, thanks to all of you for writing and remember to like, share, comment, click, REVIEW, and keep smiling!

Categories
Family stories

In Memoriam: Joan Molet a man who didn’t want us to forget #WWII #familyhistory

Hi all:

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while might remember that I’ve sometimes shared posts about my mother’s family, in particular about two of her uncles, Josep and Conrado, (although she never got to meet them) who fled Spain during the Civil War, went to France, helped the efforts of the French Resistance and one of them died in Paris and the other one in Mauthausen.

Here my cousin, Joan Molet, next to the picture of one of our uncles, Conrado Miret Musté, who died for France

I was aware of some of that but learned much more thanks to a cousin, Joan Molet, who started digging into the family history and became involved with the Amical Mauthausen, helping organise visits to the camp, assisting those looking for information about relatives, and contributing to the effort to keep the memory of those events alive  (going to schools, doing presentations…). Through his effort and insistence, we finally found out that Conrado had died in Paris, as a result of torture, in the Prison de la Santé and now there’s a plaque there in his memory. (I saw it recently when I visited a friend in Paris).

Unfortunately, my cousin fell ill over a year ago and despite a variety of treatments and time spent in hospital, I got news that he passed away last week. He leaves a wife and two children, and he’ll be sorely missed by friends, work colleagues at Oxfam and all who knew him. I came to know him more through to his work in recovering family history (as through my years in the UK I’d lost touch) and I’ll sure miss his updates, his dedication and his energy.

I’ve shared many posts based on the information he gave me, but here is one I dedicated to him:

Family Stories. My cousin, Joan Molet, and his efforts to not allow the memories to disappear.

Rest in peace. I know he’s made a difference to many people’s lives. Sending all my love to his mother, wife and children.

Thanks to all of you for reading.

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