Sunday, August 24th, 2008
The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis is really making me think I need to learn more about the history of the Spanish Civil War. This looks like a good book; anyone got recommendations based on more than searching on Amazon for keywords? Leave them in comments please. Also I will stop by the used book store this afternoon and browse around their history section.
I started reading Peter Wyden's The Passionate War: the Narrative History of the Spanish Civil War today -- not chosen through any research, it was just the only title the bookstore had that matched what I was looking for. It seems all right though. (I felt a little disappointed when the first chapter was about some Americans who were stealing into Spain to join the Abraham Lincoln Brigade -- I had thought the book was going to be about Spanish history, not Americans' involvement therein -- but that seems to have been just a hook for getting into the history.)
A few chapters in I haven't quite got a handle yet on how quickly events are moving. It seems like Sotelo was assassinated on July 13 and a week later, Sanjurjo has died, Franco is already victorious in Morocco, and Queipo de Llano has surrealistically seized power in Seville; but I don't see the connection between events yet.
I was interested to see that the slogan of the Foreign Legion in Morocco (under Franco) was "Long live death" -- Saramago makes very cryptic mention of this slogan in The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, saying that a soldier had said that to Miguel de Unamuno but declining to tell what Unamuno's response had been. A Google search leads me to this article at libertarian site LewRockwell.com, which gives Unamuno's response as, "To conquer is not to convince." -- More information about this exchange is at José Millán-Astray's Wikipædia entry.
Monday, August 25th, 2008
I am realizing as I read about the Spanish Civil War, how strongly I have ingrained to think about the military as an arm of the state. When I read about a group of citizens breaking into a military base and stealing arms, it's a huge cognitive dissonance to identify the citizens as defending their government against the rebellious soldiers.
I am finding La Pasionaria (Dolores Ibárruri) a very inspiring figure -- overcoming her personal shyness to be a powerful public speaker; exhorting the people of Madrid to resist the military while the radio station was under attack; convincing rank-and-file soldiers to resist their commanding officers. Her "¡No Pasarán!" speech is translated here.
Tuesday, August 26th, 2008
La Pasionaria addressed her July 19, 1936 call to arms to "people of Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia, and all Spaniards." I'm curious about the ethnic distinctions: I know "Basque" is a different group from "Spanish," different language and all; and I had some idea that there is a distinct dialect of Spanish called Catalan, and that some Spaniards think of Catalonians as a separate group. My first clue that there might be a distinct Galician ethnicity came when I was reading The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, and group of characters was identified as coming from Galicia -- but there it sounded more like the kind of kinship people might feel from having the same hometown, without it necessarily distinguishing them strongly from people from the next town over.
So, well, I'm wondering why Ibárruri chooses these regional identifiers. Galicia is the northwestern corner of Spain, Basque country is along the northern shore, Catelonia is in the northeast. Are all the southern and central portions of Spain ethnically homogeneous, distinct from these three? Ibárruri was a Communist, and I would have thought drawing these distinctions would not be in keeping with her ideology; but that's just off the top of my head.
The Wiki article on Nationalisms and regionalisms of Spain has some information that seems useful.
Sunday, August 31st, 2008
The story of Spain's gold reserves being transported to Moscow in 1937 seems like it would make really excellent raw material for a thriller. I wonder if such a thing has been written or filmed.
Monday, September first, 2008
I guess this must be a common dilemma for historians (or "popular writers of history" -- Wyden is a journalist, not a historian): whether to relate the course of events from an eagle's-eye view, and risk losing the lived experience of the events, or to follow the people who are living the events, and risk losing the larger picture. Wyden errs quite clearly (and I think consciously) on the personal side -- his narration is vivid but the connecting thread between episodes is quite weak.
It would help if he could pay a little more attention to giving dates -- each chapter is pretty much continuous so if he gave a date at the head of the chapter it would be much easier to fit the chapter's events into the broader narrative. As it is the reader needs to spend a fair amount of time flipping back and forth to figure out what year it is right now (or I do, anyway). Right now the Fascists are about to launch an attack on Madrid, and I had somehow gotten the idea it was the fall of 1937; as it turns out it is still 1936.
I certainly do not want to fault Wyden for this choice however -- the personal narratives are a great thing, they make the book shine. I would much rather read this way with a bit of confusion about the course of events, than a dry narrative of troop movements.
Saturday, September 6th, 2008
I'm starting to write a brief note about the capture of Seville in July 1936, which is one of the first incidents in The Passionate War that really captured my attention. The plan is to post the note on History Time this coming Wednesday.
So far the main source documents I've found are The Passionate War and the Wikipædia entry on General Queipo de Llano, which unfortunately contradicts the book -- it says the narrative offered in the book "has achieved almost mythical status" but is refuted in recent research by Paul Preston -- presumably in his 1996 book, A Concise History of the Spanish Civil War.
So, hm. I don't have access to that book right now, though it looks like a good one to check out. I think I will swing by the library this afternoon and take a look at a few more books. Probably my task for Wednesday will be to write up the mythical account -- which is after all what seized my imagination in the first place -- and to make note of Preston's writing and how I may have it all wrong.
OK, I spent a little time at the library -- fun! I felt like I was back in high school writing a research paper! (But in a good way.) (And no, I haven't really done much of that since high school -- this might be a mark against me -- oh well.) The two books I found were from 1970 and 1977, and confirmed with some variations the version of events in The Passionate War -- so my plan is solid to write about this version of events with a caveat up top, and to list Preston's book in the "Further reading" list.
- The Revolution and Civil War in Spain, Pierre Broué and Emile Témine, 1970. tr. Tony White.
- The Spanish Civil War, Hugh Thomas, 1977.
I think I've got enough stuff for a nice juicy narrative post.
Wednesday, September 10th, 2008
I've written up my summary of the story of Queipo de Llano's conquest of Seville -- you can read it over at History Time.
Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008
Saramago posts today about current abuse of Judge Baltasar Garzón, asking "Do executioners have a soul?" It is a long post and beyond my limited translating ability; but it did get me to look up Garzón and find out what the context is.
Garzón has ordered exhumation of a number of mass graves containing the bodies of people slaughtered by the fascist militias during the Spanish Civil War, and has furthermore declared that these massacres were crimes against humanity and thus prosecutable -- his conservative critics reply that the war crimes are covered by an amnesty that was declared "during the transition", which I think refers to the transition from Franco's dictatorship to democracy. I guess declaring something a crime against humanity would supercede a declared amnesty.
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