“I believe that on such an issue as this no one is or can be completely truthful. It is difficult to be certain about anything except what you have se
“I believe that on such an issue as this no one is or can be completely truthful. It is difficult to be certain about anything except what you have seen with your own eyes, and consciously or unconsciously everyone writes as a partisan”
Orwell's disillusioned account of his six months in Spain, when he volunteered to fight with the government forces during the Spanish civil war, a time when "the rights and wrongs had seemed so beautifully simple" before they seized to be, had Orwell’s salient captivating style of writing with the vivid descriptions of conditions at the front; fighting the cold and lice in the trenches during the long stationary warfare and the lack of food and ammunition, in addition to his eye-opening account of war propaganda, and partisan politics and inner-fight that plagued the Republican cause during that war.
Over the years, one of Orwell's traits for me as a thinker was his ability to bravely alter his views with new experiences, whenever they prove to be wrong or inaccurate, and what stood out for me in this book is how it drips with honesty and sincerity. Orwell is not ashamed of admitting his mistakes and misjudgements, he rather courageously highlights them. He even warns about his own partisanship in writing. It takes a lot of courage to do so and it makes it easier for the reader to unite with Orwell and see that world with his eyes. Because of that, as well as the superb writing style, I found the memoirs deeply informative and insightful, and successfully conveying the mood of those days; the surreal atmosphere in Barcelona in the early days (in a terrific first chapter), the unbelievable social equality between officers and privates in the classless militia system, how the cold was often worse than enemy, the telling little incidents at the front, the waning interest in the war in Barcelona few months later, and, superbly described, getting shot.
The Spanish civil war for me has been always fascinating and I've always felt it needed to be highlighted more, as a prequel to World war II and for representing almost all wars and struggles of the 20th century. We look back at this war with the advantage of hindsight, and some might be inclined to cynically criticise the simplicity of the raw emotions of that time but back then it was a true call to all idealists and poets to fight for a tangible cause for humanity, and even though 80 years have passed and humanity went a long way since then, it remains a lesson to dreamers and raw idealists out there, even though from personal experience, most people have to learn only through their own experiences even if they read all the books and memoirs in the world. The appendix is a must read for those who are not quite familiar with this part of history as it draws important lines to help understand what all those republican parties were about. It explains the difference between the different factions that formed the government forces and were dominated eventually by Communists supported by former USSR. Otherwise, it can be a quite intricate situation for the general reader to fathom.
Enjoying the book doesn't necessarily mean that one has to agree with all of Orwell’s views there. For instance, he was against what he called capitalist democracy remaining adamant that a working-class-run society is possible and worth fighting for, and he also found glamour in war despite all its atrocities. Many might not share the same views now, and even he, might have changed his views later on as he had done before. There is a risk of over-reading one of my favourite quotes in the book "It struck me that they were indistinguishable from ourselves", which might as well be a misquote out of context. I appreciated the book equally when reading it recently for the second time from a nearly opposite political standpoint from where I was when I first read it several years back, and I found that fascinating for such a heavily opinionated book like this one.
On a personal diversion, going back to my memories of the Egyptian uprising few years ago, some passages in particular resonated much more now than before. When Orwell says "How natural it all seemed then; how remote and improbable now!", or when he tells how in historic events physical details outweigh everything else and correct political analysis of the situation is often not made in the heat of these moments, while a statement like "the whole world was determined upon preventing revolution in Spain“ put a smile on my face; it seems a common attitude in all revolutionary movements.