Ya Sabes Mi Padadero – Caratas de la Guerra Civil – A Review

Ya Sabes Mi Padadero:  La guerra civil a través de las cartas de los que la vivieron

Javier Cervera Gil, 483 pg.

Ya Sabes Mi Padadero:  La guerra civil a través de las cartas de los que la vivieron is a book that will never be translated into English, but for those who are interested in the the Spanish Civil war it is a shame, for the book is window on the everyday experience of soldiers and civilians during the war. Using the letters and journals of around 35 people, Javier Gil Cervera shows the war as it was, with its boredom, fanaticism, and quotidian.

At its strongest Ya Sabes shows the war at its most extreme. Many times a fascist soldier would write that they brought back a mortally wounded soldier and as they were dying they would kiss the crucifix and shout VIVA ESPAÑA and VIVA CHRISTO REY. It was even more impressive to the letter writers if a Republican soldier did this because it only confirmed the righteousness of the cause. Along similar lines there were several letters from men condemned to die who wrote about their undying faith in God and the cause which God had blessed and they would become a martyr. At its most extreme one letter writes about  a mass he attends that should rightly be called a fascist mass, the disturbing mix of religion and militarism.

A field mass. A magnificent altar, a its base the church of San Salvador de Oña that reminds one of the mercenary abbots of El Cid, and the mountains of Castilla that the Lord gave us which with its blue sky like those of our heroes and the cloaks of our statues of the Virgin Mary form the best canopy for the Christ’s sacrament that from these steps blesses perhaps all these soldiers.

Misa de campaña. El altar magífico, por fondo la iglesia de San Salvador de Oña que recuerda los Abades mesnaderos de Mío Cid, y los montes de esta Castilla que el Señor nos dio, que con su cielo azul como las camisas de nuestros héroes y los mantos de nuestras Vírgenes forman el mejor dosel a Cristo Sacramentado que desde esta escalinata bendijo quizás a tantos caballeros.

His description goes on for quite sometime and gives one some the source of the savagery of the war.

On the Republican side there are few examples of the fascist style ideology. Only one Republican, a French communist, talks of the war in those terms, and even he is more interested in the failures of the government to carry out the revolution than thinking about ideologies. Perhaps the letters were lost or destroyed, but the Republican side had its committed followers, too.

Outside of the ideologues, the book splits its time between describing the conditions on the front: letters about the cold in Tuerel and the trenches and the bombings. The descriptions are not too detailed because the information was intended for those at home and were probably going to be censored by officers so the letter limit themselves to generalities. For those not at the front the letters are a mix of deprivation, logging for those who are not at home and for the things they have lost in the displacements of the war.

While letters to give one an insight to what people are thinking, they are also an insight into what people want to obfuscate so the letters can be very cursory, telling you only what the writer was choosing to write. The result are letters that might have best been omitted. Case in point: how many times do you need to print letters that say I miss you? Unfortunately, there is a series of letters between a couple that is like that and becomes quite repetitive, which is the problem of reading letters. Perhaps if the book was trimmed down a hundred pages it would have been a little less repetitive. And while having the author explain the context of the war, the book would have been more interesting to read full letters, not snippets here and there.

In all Ya Sabes Mi Paradero is a good insight into the Spanish Civil War even if it is a little slow at times.