Largo noviembre de Madrid (Madrid’s Long November) by Juan Eduardo Zúñiga – A Review

Largo noviembre de Madrid (Madrid’s Long November)
From La trilogía de la Guerra Civil
Juan Eduardo Zúñiga
Catedra 1980/2007

largonoviembre Juan Eduardo Zúñiga’s Largo noviembre de Madrid is, simple said, a masterwork of short fiction. Since its publication in 1980, and the publication of the second and third books of his Madrid trilogy, it has been considered a masterpiece that captures the opening days of the Spanish Civil War, the confusion, the fear, the the atmosphere of destruction. In sixteen brilliant stories, Zúñiga creates and impression war with stories that are both visceral and sparse, moments that seem to come out of his ever present dust and smoke and recede just as quickly, leaving the reader with briefest impression of the desperation and madness that afflicts of his characters.

Before I dive into the stories, two pieces of historical information are important to keep in mind. First, the Spanish Civil war started in July 1936 and by November 1936, Nationalist troops had reached the outskirts of Madrid. The Republicans expected Madrid to fall and moved the capital to Valencia; however, Madrid held and from then on it received repeated bombardment. Second,  Zúñiga was born in Madrid in 1929, and spent the war in Madrid. Too young to fight, he was still a witness to the war. Both of these are important for understanding the shape of Largo noviembre.

All but two of the stories take place during November of 1936. November ’36 both represents the high point of Republican resistance to the Nationalist, where Madrid was able to mount an unexpected defense, and the war in Madrid as a whole. The last two stories form a coda, closing an already a futile war with yet more futile acts. What should also be stated from the outset is the stories are not exclusively about soldiers; soldiers make up a small percentage of the characters. Instead, Zúñiga writes of the civilians who surviving the war and even when he writes of soldiers, it’s when they are in the urban world, if not away from the front, then in the undefined boarder between the front and the civilian world that is the mark of urban combat. It is this larger picture, a story of Madrid, that makes the the collection something large than just war stories. In many ways, Madrid itself is a character, a landscape whose physical presence both shapes the inhabitants and is the locus of memory.

The idea of memory pervades the book. In the first story, a story that one can read as a transition between the past and the present war, memory is ever present. From the first story, Noviembre, la madre, 1936 (November, Mother, 1936), Zúñiga makes it clear that how memory shapes us and the physical and how the physical is a form of memory. In the story, three brothers are deciding what they should do: leave the flat, stay on? They are too old to be soldiers, but to leave the flat is to leave the neighborhood, and leaving is leaving the walks with their mother, their hand in hers, the buildings they looked up to with her. A sense of transition is in effect, from the times at the turn of the century, to the war. Whatever the past had, it is now gone. Even the structure of the story with a narrator looking back at brothers looking back enforces the idea of memory. Zúñiga says it most clearly here:

[…]y aún más dificil de concebir es que esta certidumbre de haber comprendido se presenta un día de repente y su resplandor trastorna y ya quedamos consagrados a ahondar más y más en los recuerdos o en los refrenados sentimientos para recuperar otro ser que vivió en nosotros, pero fuera de nuestra conciencia, y que se yergue tan sólido como la urbanidad, los prejuicios, los miramientos…

[…]and even more difficult to conceive is the certainty of having understood one day will come suddenly and its brilliance will dive one mad and we’ll continue to be dedicated to digging deeper and deeper into memories or repressed feelings to recover the other being that lived in us, but outside of our conscience, and that rises solid like courtesy, prejudice, tact…

A different take on the power of memory comes in Joyas, manos, amor, las ambulancies (Jewels, Hands, Love, Ambulances). Here the memories drive the interlocking lives of a doctors and nurses in a hospital that is treating the wounded. Typical of Zúñiga, the war itself is at the margin. What he is interested in is moving through the minds of his characters as they experience the war. For them its fatigue and a desperation to assemble that past in the present. The nurse wants a ring for her finger and jewels around her neck like her mom had when she’d leave the house. She also learned that if she gave me what they wanted she’d get her jewelry. One of the doctors is sleeping with her, desperate to get his hand on a ring for her. For him the past contains the rings his mother had, and which his brother says have been taken by the military. It’s all desperation, an attempt to hold on to a world that no longer exits. Another doctor knows it’s all meaningless: he’s cut rings off fingers in surgery. It’s a nightmare at the border of rationality, and mixing the story into between bouts of extreme fatigue, Zúñiga gives the moment a horrifying aspect: imagine while there are so many dying these people are just looking for rings.

The idea of avarice comes up over and over. It can be a desire for wealth as in the previous story, an attempt to hang on to what one has. In Riesgos del atardecer (Risks of the Afternoon), we have a successful shop owner hiding all his merchandise in his stockroom, fearful that the government is going to confiscate it. Like many of his characters, they are trying desperately to hang onto something that has changed. The shop is no longer filled with the fashionable. If he can just wait it all out he can take the stock back. Not everyone in Madrid cares about the war. There is an indifference at times. The situation in the city is complicated and Zúñiga is clear in the sense that much of what is happening is not heroic, despite the use of November in the title of the collection.

He has two particularly tragic stories that take on the idea of the adventure seeker: Hotel Florida, Plaza del Callao and Adventura en Madrid. In the former, a French arms merchant comes to Madrid to make a deal, but he is seduced by the war, the sense of danger and freedom that comes in a besieged city. It’s a playground, running through the bombed out buildings, as if he were somehow immune to the dangers. The narrator early on knows this isn’t even true:

Eran meses en que cualquier hecho trivial, pasado cierto tiempo, revelaba su aspecto excepcional que ya no sería olvidado fácilmente.

There were months in which whatever trivial occurrence, after a little time had passed, would reveal an exceptional nature that would not be easily forgotten.

For the French volunteer to the cause, he quickly learns that the war is nothing like he imagined. Zúñiga makes that point, as always, using memory as a differentiator. The hard realities of the front aren’t the focus, but the clash between his memories and his current reality. OF course, the cold night is unpleasant, but it’s the freedom to roam Paris drunk with his friends that creates distance.

It should be clear that Zúñiga’s work is in itself an attempt to capture the memory of a place and that memory is difficult to grasp. In one of the best stories of the collection, the beautiful, Calle de Ruíz, ojos vacios (Ruíz Street, Empty Eyes) he gives us a blind man trying to navigate the city during a bombardment. The city has already become difficult to navigate: what he has in his memory has been destroyed, returning us to Zúñiga’s preoccupation with physical memory. And he can’t see the danger through out the city. But he holds to his daily reading sessions with his friends. When the air raid happens he  is lost, and worse, has lost the book he carries with him. It distresses him; he is panicked: words are more important to him than anything. It’s all he has, all anyone can have. The narrator, sympathetic at first, gets tired of all this and wants to tell him

Te engañan: no hay presente, tu vida únicamente es el pasado, la ceniza de un tiempo que tú no vives, sino que está ya hecho y tú te euncuentras con él en las manos, convertido en recuerdos. No sabrás nunca nada, todo es inútil, deja de buscar ese libro.

They’re fooling you: there’s no present; your life is completely in the past, the ashes of a time where you don’t live, but is already done and you find yourself with him on your hands, turning into memories. You’ll never know, everything is useless, so stop looking for the book.

If memory is ever present, the future is a luxury. In several stories fortune tellers appear, but the fortune tellers are unable to see. They are blind to the future as the blind man in Calle de Ruíz is blind to the present. There is something extra here: the future is comforting. Without a future there is no comfort. In Presagios de la noche (Evening Signs), a drunk and scared soldier repeatedly asks the fortune teller what his future is. She can’t see. Her assistant chastises the boy

[…] no hay tales presagios, que nadie vigila nuestras vidas […] estamos solos

[…] there are no signs; no one guards our lives […] we are alone

When the fortune tellers give in, there is no hope.

Finally, the last two stories close out the end of the war, both showing the futility of it all. I the first a German International Brigade volunteer is roaming Madrid in February, 1939. He is the last of his kind. (The brigades were withdraw in ’38) Instead of a hero, he’s looked at with suspicion. The war is over, why do we need him? He goes into a bar an everyone looks at him. Are these the people who will take to the streets to give Franco the fascist salute? Are they just tired of the war? It is a sad end. The German has no where to go. He certainly can’t go home. It’s all a waste. It is the same sentiment that pervades the final story, Las lealtades (Loyalties). Zúñiga gives us a soldier guarding an empty building. Asked to search for someone inside all he finds are over turned offices, papers and folders strewn everywhere. The operations of a modern war come to little more than paper under foot. It’s an arresting image of an abstract war, one that exists as office memos, banality that in the confines of the building means nothing. It’s the last image of the war, one that is unsettling given how much smoke, dust, and ash have filled the previous pages.

Largo noviembre de Madrid is one of the great collections of war and belongs aside such works as Issac Babel’s Red Army or Ambrose Bierece’s civil war stories (there is more to Bierce than An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge). It’s more than war, it’s an exploration of memory and existence that transcends the immediacy of its time. There is not one bad story and most of them will continue to haunt long after I have finished reading them.

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The Wrong Blood by Manuel de Lope – A Review

The Wrong Blood
Maunel de Lope
Other Press, 2010, 288 pg

What strikes one when reading The Wrong Blood, Spanish writer Manuel de Lope’s first book to be translated into English, is the movement through time. It is a book that reveals itself if in concurrent glimpses of the past and the future, where even as the underlying story is revealed, Lope is constantly seeding the pages with little moments of the future that explain just enough lured you on. It is a difficult balancing act that can easily descend into over powered winks at the reader: you see what I know. It is a fitting style, though, for what has become the emblematic topic of Spanish writing over the last few decades—the Spanish Civil War—and the slow, confused, uncertain mystery of remembrance that often doesn’t completely explain what happened to the participants. The question for readers, though, is does the book work with the materials of history to get at something that addresses the Civil War, or does it just use the past as a backdrop for a well told story?

Most of the action of The Wrong Blood takes place in a small section of the Basque country on the border with Spain and follows two women, Maria, a poor, uneducated girl of 17 whose family owns a rural inn, and Isabel, an upper class woman who lives in a large home and is the young bride of an army captain. The story begins just as the Spanish Civil War starts and the two sides are rushing to put together armies and militias. It is a confusing time and the geography of the war is changing quickly. The young girl is abandoned at the inn when her parents run away from advancing fascist soldiers. The soldiers move into the inn and she works as a servant. Most of them are young militia men and have an ominousness presence. However, it is the sargent, separated his wife during their wedding anniversary, who rapes her. It isn’t a violent moment, he just expects her to because she understands she has no choice. The soldiers will move on and she will live the inn, but the rape, the third one in her short life, marks her with a great distrust and mixed with a rural sensibility, she is becomes a secretive woman.

Marrying on the eve of the war, Isabel has but just a brief honeymoon with her husband before the war starts. It is a moment of great hope, and like many novels that open with a wedding it is doomed from the start. From the beginning de Lope juxtaposes the wedding with the war:

It was the month of may, or the month of June, in any case summer was near, and within only a few weeks the war would break out, although nobody knew this at the time, and those who had premonitions couldn’t go so far as to believe them, because fear rejects what the intuition accepts, and they wouldn’t have been able to convince anybody anyway. And so it was the month of May, or the month of June, in wedding season.

It is an inauspicious moment, as one of the wedding guests has a stroke in the bathroom of Maria’s inn during a stop on the way to the wedding. From there the problems only continue. The region they live in is initially Republican (anti-fascist) but quickly falls and Hondarribia, the small town where she lives which is tantalizingly across the river from France, becomes occupied territory, filled with soldiers guarding every town, summary executions, and privation. And her husband, the only one of his army comrades to join the Republican forces, is captured and executed just months after the war begins.

But even before he describes much of the war, he moves into the future, sometime in the 1960s, when the grandson of Isabel comes to stay at the family home. Yet the house is no longer in the family. Instead, Isabel had willed in to Maria, who is now an old woman. It is unclear why an upper class woman would give a home to a poor country girl, and even more, why the country girl would let the woman’s grandson stay at the family home for a few months. It is the first of many mysteries that begin permeate the story. The above history of the war is not even clear at this point, yet de Lope leaves a feeling that something dark has happened. He is a master at revealing the mystery slowly. Even though the old doctor who lives in the house next door knows the whole story, his hesitation, his doubts about what to reveal and to who, only add to the tension.

Despite the the well written nature of the novel, the strange relationship between the doctor and the grandson, where the doctor wants to reveal all, and the grandson wants to escape the pesky only man, provides the only interesting commentary on the passage of the time and who owns the right to secrets. Is the doctor right to want to explain what happened, or does he just want to make himself feel better? These kinds of questions swirl around the doctor. De Lope is obviously interested in the way ideas are transmitted. For example, in this representative sample of his style, the kind of intra-sentence refinement that works out its ideas through constant use of counter images.

But nobody appeared to be paying any attention to this enigmatic vision, and with the passage of the years, when recalling a wedding celebrated so long ago, it may all seem grotesque, strange, or simply unread–a memory of playing with figures decked out in wedding finery amid flowers and balustrades, or ow wandering in a labyrinth of bushes, or of seeing the bust of a horseman above a garden wall as he rode by during the magic moments when twilight was galling–for real life had offered one of those sequences that would never be repeated except in the theaters where what were then still called talkies were shown. In the end, memory adopts images that originated in films.

When getting at memory he is at his best. He has a good eye for the images that make up a moment and a way of describing them that is concrete and lush at the same time. Reading this book will surely overwhelm one with images and sensations that seem to pop off the page.

Yet, I can’t help but return to the question first asked: are his ample skills at evoking the time, simply used to dress up a mystery? I ask this because the central mystery of the book, which I’m not going to spoil, doesn’t seem far fetched, but feels as if it isn’t explored as well as it could be. Instead, de Lope seems to sidestep the central issue, the real pain it would have caused. And in describing the emotions of that pain he obscures with such strong descriptions, what should by its very weight, its existence, be powerful and reveal the depths of the character’s thoughts that would bring to life the past.

The Wrong Blood is a solid book, well written, and it is not for nothing that Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende give him high praise of the book jacket. Considering how little from Spain is translated into English, it is worth a read. However, despite the perfection of the story and the writing, I think he could have reached just a little father and found something even more humanly revealing in his characters.

FTC note: The publisher sent me this book. For that I thank them.

Writing the Spanish Civil War: Field of Honor by Max Aub – a Review

Field of Honour
Max Aub
Verso ( 2009), pg 253

Political novels, especially those written in the heat of the moment, can suffer from didacticism, that need to explain, justify, or apologize which when read latter makes conversation that was once so important seem stiff, bereft of context. At best it can read as a time capsule, but often the need to explain over powers complexity. Moreover, as history progresses those ideas that were so worth devoting pages to are no longer that important. Sure, they are relevant to a specialist, but they cannot go beyond their moment because the ideas no longer inform the current moment.

Written in 1939, the year of the Republican defeat, Max Aub’s Field of Honor falls into this trap and despite moments of brilliance the book is mired in conversations about the need for communist, anarchist, flangeest (a mix of Catholicism and fascism) and Carlist (a form of monarchism)  solutions to the problems of Spain. The conversations are more fragments of ideas than cogent argument, which is perhaps fitting its timeliness, and they do show a certain side of the coming troubles, but they neither make an interesting argument, or really convey the experience of the times. He is effective in showing the different ideas that were being discussed, but in of themselves they are not particularly compelling.

It is unfortunate the weakness of the political arguments distract so much, because the other elements are very well written. The book follows Rafael Lopez Serrador a poor youth from a small village in Spain as he goes from young man to revolutionary, struggling against industrialists, switching to fascist side, and ultimately finding what he really is. In one way it is a coming of age story as Serrador learns about sex, the avarice of man kind, and confronts violence. As a coming of age story, even one of political awakening, Aub captures a world, an impression that out lasts the times. Aub’s strength is to capture a communal experience and he can convey what a town or a battle is like in a way that goes beyond just a historical description, and gives one the sense of the times. His description of the fire bull (a bull with burning pitch on its horns) is not only an effective symbol of Spain on the edge of war, but an excellent depiction of small town life. His quick, imagistic sentences serve his expansive, summary approach, and the result is a sweeping view of the end of Republican Spain.

Ultimately, Field of Honor has moments of brilliance but is slowed by the political discussions. Since it is part of a cycle it would be interesting to see if he is able to use more of the good parts and avoid the conversational fragments.

Too Many Prizes: España, aparte de mi estos premios by Fernando Iwasaki – A Review

España, aparte de mi estos premios (Spain, Besides Me These Prizes) by Fernando Iwasaki is a very Spanish novel, one whose humor and satire is directed at the literary prizes that fill Spain’s literary scene and Spanish customs as if they were carried out by the Japanese.  The affect is often humorous for one who knows Spanish culture and he manages to create a parody that is often insightful, although a little  repetitive.

The book is structured around 7 literary contests. Each chapter, which is a self contained story, is prefaced by the rules of the contest, followed by the story, and then the results of the judging panel. It is helpful to know before going any farther that Spain has more literary prizes per capita than any other country, so many that it seems as if everyone has one a prize, even if they are from the most obscure organizations. The contests are meant to celebrate whatever body is sponsoring the award, some are nationalist such as the prize for the best story that celebrates Basque food, others are completely ridiculous, such as the Seville soccer team that sponsors a prize for a story that must include something about the team.

The stories all feature at least one Japanese person who has some sort of link with Spain. In the first story, a Japanese soldier in the Republican army during the Spanish Civil War hides in a cave in Murcia for 70 years until he makes a sudden appearance on a Survivor like reality show that takes place in a cave, killing several of the contestants with his samurai sword. At first he is treated as a criminal, but when he is found to be a veteran the parties of the left celebrate him as a heroic veteran and he becomes a national phenomenon. Books about him become best sellers and the media follow him 24 hours a day, showing him when he falls into a coma, on TV on a live feed. He is given awards by the local government for his service. When he wakes from the coma and learns about the last 60 years of history he commits suicide. On finding that he has written hundreds of haikus in the cave, the local government is quite happy because they can now build an amusement park of Japaneses tourists.

The story then ends with the judging. As with all the stories, the story wins, but the judges note that the story has not really celebrated the group’s interests and has only set the story in Spain. For next years contest, they would like the ability to not have a winner, something that is specifically outlawed in the rules of the contest.  In latter stories, the judges will complain that the story had almost nothing to do with the sponsoring organization. In the story about the soccer team in Seville, the story actually celebrates the team rival.

Iwasaki uses these frame stories to make fun of contemporary society and its obsessions. Whether skewering reality TV shows, molecular gastronomy, soccer fanatics, governments only interested in looking good, or the vanity of literary prizes Iwasaki is able to paint a telling portrait of modern Spain. Mixing in the Japanese characters allows him to both show the history of the Japanese in Spain, and to offer the outsider’s view of Spain. While the Japanese act in the same extremes of national character that his Spaniards do, the ludicrous things that become nationally celebrated, such as frying sushi leftovers in oil and serving that only, raise the question, why is this Spanish thing we do so celebrated? If someone use shrimp shells, as one character does, to create flan, is that breaking some sacred culinary tradition and is the opposite, fried sushi leftovers, actually more pure because of its simplicity?

Iwasaki, like a good parodist, doesn’t give any answers, but it is obvious he thinks that the culture of literary prizes has gone to far. At the end of the book, he gives several commandments for creating stories:

The stories that you send to the contest will never be important to the history of literature. In reality, not even for literature.

Los cuentos que envíes a los concursos nunca serán importantes para la historia de la literatura. En realidad, ni siuiera para la literatura.

Write a story that can be like a literary mother cell that you can clone for every contest. Don’t worry. Clones always are better than the original.

Escribe un cuento que sea como una <<célula madre>> literaria que puedas clonar para cada concurso. No te preocupes. Los clones siempre salen mejores que le orininal.

If you characters are going to be divorced, make the divorce happen before the story starts. People don’t like it when you only write about problems. In addition, four out of five literary judges are divorce or soon will be.

Si tus personajes van a estar divorciados, procura que el divorcio se haya producido antes de que comience el cuento. La gente ya lo está pasando muy mal para que encima tú sólo escribas sobre problemas. Además, cuatro de cada cinco miembros de jurados literarios están divorciados o les falta poco.

My only complaint in an other wise fun book is the repetitiveness of some of the stories. Every story includes a passage about the Japanese soldier that was found on a Pacific island in he 1970s who didn’t know the war ended. While that statement fits within his overall parody and his notion of the mother cell, it practice it is a little tiresome. If he could have found a different way to approach the idea it would have been better.

Over all, España, aparte de mi estos premios is a fun read by one of Spain’s newer generation of writers. I’m sure the book will never make it into translation because it is not universal enough, it would good to see one of the chapters in a collection some day.

The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade – A Review

The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade: Americans in the Spanish Civil War

Peter Carroll, 440 pg.

The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade is the definitive account of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, not only during the war, but the before and after. The book is also a labor of love and it some times colors the otherwise solid writing in the book. Carroll clearly loves his subject and it shows in the lengths he goes to show the veterans as committed anti-fascists. Yet as a true believer he is blinded to a few contradictions that should have been addressed in his book.

The book is roughly divided into three parts: before the war; in combat; and after the war. In part one Carroll shows that most of the veterans were already radicalized workers, many who were already communists or labor activists. Many had spent time in jail during labor unrest and were politically aware of what was going on in Europe. There were some college graduates, but most were workers. As the call for volunteers went out, the Communist Party organized the recruitment and because of fears of spies primarily communists were sent to Spain. Others such as socialists were excluded for lack of commitment. What is clear is that most volunteers believed in the party.

Once in Spain the Brigade was not well trained and suffered high losses from initial lack of leadership, training, and bad strategic decisions. Never equipped adequately, the Brigade did their best but suffered high losses. Carroll notes that several times the men expressed discontent with the war and there were some desertions, but in general the men continued to believe in the war and follow the leadership. Carroll goes at great length to show that the men were brave and good soldiers. It often seems that he is determined to show that despite any myths people have heard, they were brave men. He also wants to show that the men were committed and few wanted to desert. While from his numbers that seems to be true, he repeats this several times and one gets the impression this was more than a fact but a detail personally dear to him.

Once the war ends the veterans return to the US where they try to support the defeated republic, a commitment that would follow them throughout their lives. The biggest controversy in this period is when the veterans follow the party line after the Soviet-German non aggression pact and say that it is no longer their business to be anti-fascist. It is here that Carroll doesn’t really examine the case particularlly well. If they were anti-fascist they should have continued with that line, but instead they changed, and Carroll suggests that it was natural, that it wasn’t their fight any more. It is not exactly an apology, but it is a soft peddle that underscores the weaknesses of the book: the soldiers were brave and fought the good fight, therefore, criticism should be kept to a minimum. For Carroll the important thing is to restore the honor of the Brigade, not to find the mistakes they made.

His coverage of the McCarthy era is solid and shows some of the excess of the period quite well. Yet he would have done well to have explained a little better how some veterans were not a threat, while in one case one was a spy for the Soviet Union. He is a little quick on passing over that veteran. And while the McCarthy era was excessive, he needed to better explain what the veterans were and were not. Just because the supreme court found that the enemy agent laws were illegal and suppressed free speech, doesn’t explain the history of the veterans.

Overall, the book is an important resource for the era, but has some weaknesses. I find it hard to imagine that many of the veterans he wrote about in the book would have ever agreed with Antony Beevor that the battles on the Elbro were mostly pointless political theater, and not of strategic value. Nor would Carroll, I suspect.

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.