No Pasaran: Writings from the Spanish Civil War by Pete Ayrton (editor)

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No Pasaran: Writings from the Spanish Civil War by Pete Ayrton (editor)

Category: Anthologies
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Patricia Duffaud
Reviewed by Patricia Duffaud
Summary: A panoramic view of the Spanish Civil War with a majority of texts by Spanish writers.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: April 2016
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
ISBN: 978-1846689970

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In ¡No Pasarán!: Writings from the Spanish Civil War, Pete Ayrton has chosen a majority of texts by Spanish writers, arguing that the conflict has long been written about from the point of view of the international brigades.

The anthology starts with an extract from Luis Buñuel's autobiography, My Last Breath. The passage begins in Madrid July 1936, when Franco arrived in Spain with his troops. Madrid is under siege and Buñuel describes his shock when the revolution he had so ardently desired starts. We get an understanding of the first months of the conflict, when the Republican side was disorganised and split into factions (Communists, Socialists, anarchists and the Trotskyite group POUM). He reminds us of an often forgotten aspect of the Civil War: the revolutionary attempts by the anarchists to organise their ideal world. After persecuting and murdering priests and anyone they suspected of being powerful, they attempted to start communes and to impose free love in villages such as Calanda. Buñuel's clear exposition is a great way to start the anthology; the reader becomes familiar with the protagonists and their rivalries and grasps the state of utter confusion created by the war.

Other voices include Juan Goytisolo's in an extract of his memoir, Forbidden Territory. This time we are in a bourgeois area of Barcelona, in the midst of Franquist supporters (Goytisolo's family were rich and he was later to rebel against his roots). His mother is killed in a fascist airstrike and Goytisolo mixes his deeply personal regrets and sorrow with the political. His family blame the reds for her death, in a stifling whitewashing operation from which he will emerge when he goes to university.

We hear also from the other side with José María Gironella, a Catholic who fought on Franco's side. In this unsettling text, communists break into a Jesuit church. The writer describes brilliantly the rage and thirst for destruction that overtakes the crowd as they smash the Sacred Heart, the confessionals, the immense crucifix at the entrance and still want more, rushing off to find more churches and convents to burn: a reminder that savagery happened on both sides.

In fact, the fiction feels sometimes more real than the non-fiction, or rather grabs us more viscerally. In his short story Butterfly's Tongue Manuel Rivas's narrator is a schoolboy who idolises his teacher. The civil war disrupts the friendship and terror pushes people to react in a shameful and cowardly way.

Another short story, Jean Paul Sartre's The Wall, is tense and beautiful. Cynical narrator Pablo Ibbieta is a prisoner of the Nationalists and will be executed unless he reveals the location of his comrade Ramon Gris. The night he spends in a cell with two other men who have been condemned to death is depicted in chilling detail; we witness the sweat and all the bodily reactions associated with intense fear. Particularly realistic when one knows that Franco's men killed everyone in battle and left no wounded.

Then there is Dulce Chacón, who, in an extract from her novel The Sleeping Voice, takes us to a female prison. In the infamous Prisión de Ventas in Madrid, we see the women fighting to keep their dignity in the face of repressive guards and nuns.

By giving us so many different individual voices (thirty-eight in all), Ayrton gives us a full view of the conflict and of its cultural and political impact. The choice of a majority of Spanish writings enables us to move away from Western viewpoints like Laurie Lee's whose text is almost mystical as he describes the Spanish Civil War as a fight between absolute good and evil. For the Spanish, on whose land the conflict was taking place, the stories are more down to earth. Their texts are grounded in the reality of the war and its shattering impact on the lives of families and on the structure of their country.

For more about the Spanish Civil War, have a look at Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. For another Pete Ayrton war anthology, try No Man's Land: Writings From A World At War.

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Buy No Pasaran: Writings from the Spanish Civil War by Pete Ayrton (editor) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy No Pasaran: Writings from the Spanish Civil War by Pete Ayrton (editor) at


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