SPAIN BOOK REVIEW SEPTEMBER: ‘­­¡No Pasarán! Writings from the Spanish Civil War’ by Pete Aryton

Hope, resignation, despair, sadness, humour, confusion, ruthlessness, compassion, kindness, generosity and love inhabit Pete Ayrton’s anthology of writings from the Spanish Civil War: there is little sense of certainty and still less of triumphalism among the bewilderingly diverse Republican and Nationalist coalitions, all shades of which are represented here. Previous collections privileged the writings of the International Brigades over those of the Spanish, sometimes excluding them altogether. ¡No Pasarán! corrects the balance: by far the largest contingent of its thirty-five writers are Spanish, including Luis Buñuel, Manuel Rivas, Javier Cercas, Arturo Barea, Joan Sales and Chaves Nogales. The remainder offer contrasting perspectives of participants in the conflict from America (among them John Dos Passos, Muriel Rukeyser and Langston Hughes); Italy (Curzio Malaparte and Leonardo Sciascia); France (Jean-Paul Sartre, André Malraux and others); Germany (Gustav Regler); Russia (Victor Serge); Great Britain (including Arthur Koestler, George Orwell and Laurie Lee); Cuba, Argentina and Mexico.

Pete Ayrton brings together hauntingly vivid stories from a bitterly fought war. This is powerful writing that allows the reader to witness life behind and at the front lines of both sides.

cover art and blurb via Amazon – released 2016


¡No Pasarán!: Writings from the Spanish Civil War, is a selection of texts, mostly from Spanish writers, all brought together by Pete Aryton. The story of the SCW is so often told by foreign journalists and writers, and through the eyes of the International Brigades. This time it is a far more Spanish view of the war.

The book makes a strong start with Luis Buñuel with My Last Breath, which forms part of his autobiography. The chapter tells of when Franco arrives in Spain, when Buñuel was in Madrid. While Buñuel longed for revolution, the initial siege between Spaniards in Madrid is shocking for the artist. The book goes a long way to describe all the groups on the Republican side (Anarchists, Socialist, Communist, etc,) trying to come together to fight a far more organised enemy. Importantly, what the anarchists wanted for Spain – their own utopia-like society is explained and discussed. Buñuel is one, if not the best, voice in the book and the one who explains the war the best, from the beginning, and from the ideas of multiple sides.

A great piece of writing is that of Dulce Chacón. Her chapter -The Missing Toe’, part of her novel The Sleeping Voice, is about a female prison, Prisión de Ventas in Madrid. The prison is run by guards and nuns and is vicious place to be.

One advantage of this book is the voice of José María Gironella, who fought for Franco and was Catholic. This way, the destruction of churches and burning of priests can be explained from the religious-minded and the destruction (in this particular case) by Communists. The Republican crimes aren’t glossed over in this book.

One excellent read is a part from Forbidden Territory by  Juan Goytisolo. In a rich part of Barcelona, Franco supporters hide in wait for safety. The writer’s family themselves are affected and killed. While Barcelona during the war is so often centred on the controlling Anarchist/Republican factions, an insight to the enemy side is confronting and sad.

A portion taken from The Wall, by Jean Paul Sartre, is short but essential. Pablo Obbieta is a Nationalist prisoner, threatened with death unless he tells info to his captors. But as Nationalists never keep prisoners and leave only bodies, nothing can end well.

The eternal voice of Arturo Barea is naturally included, ‘The War is a Lesson’ from The Clash. It focuses on the portion where Barea needs to leave Madrid for his safety, though never wants to leave the besieged Madrid, the centre of the battle for his country.

This collection by Pete Aryton is an essential read. It not only beings together Spanish voices, it can also be a literal reading list of other writers to look for, voices often forgotten in SCW reading lists. Other notable voices included are Lee, Orwell, Rivas, Cercas and Soler, while including lesser mentioned authors Rororeda, Atxaga, Fraile, Etchebáháre and many more, a total of 38 writers. Everybody needs this book.

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