Chrissie's Reviews > Homage to Catalonia

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
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bookshelves: history, bio, spain, kindle, 2014-read, classics

I find the Spanish Civil War confusing. Repeatedly I am given different interpretations and different explanations of the events. I have tried to get some understanding by reading many different books. This book is another added to all the others. I have found no one book that explained it all, with a clear overview.

This book cannot be considered an explanation of this war; it was published nine months after Orwell left Spain, and so the war was still not over. He was there from December 1936 to June 1937. The book is instead about his own personal experiences - his time fighting on the Aragon front (Huesca, the Alcubierre Ridge and Monte Oscuro),his participation in the Barcelona street-fighting(May 1937) caused by internecine party conflicts, his return to the front where he was shot in the throat by a sniper and finally his hurried escape from Spain, thoroughly disillusioned with what he had seen and experienced and party politics in general. He went there to fight against the "Fascists"; he went there to fight for independence and to express solidarity with the working class. He fought with the POUM, Worker's Party of Marxist Unification which had Trotsky affiliations, but he was never interested in party politics.

Orwell makes an attempt to collect all discussion of party politics in one separate chapter (in some books an appendix). But to understand the war you have to understand the politics, so I disliked this separation. I was lucky enough to be reading on a Kindle so I could continually look up the numerous acronyms in Orwell's telling. Although the Spanish Civil War can for simplification be seen as a fight between Franco, the Fascists’ attempt to overthrow the Republican Government under Caballero, the Republicans were not a homogeneous group. They were supported by socialists, anarchists and communists, but there was fighting between these groups too and between different communist groups. Stalin and his supporting communists backed the Republicans with military aid but at the same time were fighting the Trotsky communists. Western countries had their own interests in the outcome. The political discussion is not particularly clear: Orwell does not clearly distinguish between the different communist affiliations! Still, I am glad I read the book, to learn a little bit more.

The split between the different sections of the book were for me disruptive. They read almost ad separate essays. How did I react to each? The first part depicting the front was interesting. As with all books depicting trench warfare, the combatants' real war is often more a fight against hunger and lice and rats and cold and lack of supplies and bad planning. Lack of organization was endemic in Spain. The real problem was rarely the enemy! In Barcelona we are shown an eye view of the street fighting. There is a lot of fighting in this book, and his neck wound experiences made me uncomfortable. Finally, the escape from Spain - well, it was sort of exciting.

Three stars.

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Reading Progress

April 13, 2009 – Shelved
April 13, 2009 – Shelved as: history
April 13, 2009 – Shelved as: bio
April 13, 2009 – Shelved as: spain
June 11, 2014 – Shelved as: kindle
June 12, 2014 – Shelved as: wishlist-b
July 27, 2014 – Started Reading
July 27, 2014 – Shelved as: 2014-read
July 28, 2014 – Shelved as: classics
July 29, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Travelin (new) - added it

Travelin Just saw a book by another author about the war. Orwell is the one everyone knows, but were his brief explanations any clearer?


message 2: by Chrissie (last edited Jul 29, 2014 08:52AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie You learn something with every book, but you cannot expect a overview since the war was not over. You more understand why he disliked the Soviet Union and how he came to write Animal Farm and 1984.


message 3: by Diane S ☔ (new) - added it

Diane S ☔ Wonderful review Chrissie.


Chrissie That is nice to hear. The Spanish Civil War was a war of politics and it was very strange for me to have that theme separated.


Michael Great review. Had wondered if this would help my confusion about the war. Sounds like it could help me understand how the conflict drew in so many outsiders. Funny how Spain largely stayed out of both world wars, while this civil war brought so many world powers to play.


message 6: by Chrissie (last edited Jul 30, 2014 01:04AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie I wouldn't go into the book without any previous knowledge of the war, but I did particularly appreciate the discussion of the government's efforts to eradicate POUM supporters, which influenced Orwell's later writing. This clearly showed the divisions among the communists. It is written in a easy to read manner - chatty, like a friend telling you of his experiences. However there are a multitude of acronyms, and as I point out in my review, I disliked his choice in putting the political discussion in one chapter. I suggest you read it.

Maybe Spain wasn't active in WW1 because its power was at that time lessening and its position on the Iberian peninsula doesn't put it in the center geographically. In WW2 Franco had so much on his hands, he just ignored any claims from the Germans and Italians. This must have annoyed them since they had helped him come to power.


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