Sunday, 9 October 2011

Spanish Holiday

A picture of the cover, just not the one I own
A while ago I wrote that I had acquired a number of more contemporary books on the Spanish Civil War. One of these was a translation of Andre Malraux's novel "L'espoir", which was published in 1938. In Anglo-Saxon cultures it is much less well known than Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls", which was published two years later which to my mind is our loss, both as a culture and as wargamers.

I became aware of Malraux through French Literature A Level as I had to study "La Condition Humaine", his novel about the Chinese Revolution. The difference between the two novels is that Malraux was actually in Spain at the time of the events described.

My translation dates from 1938 and is called "Day's of Hope", so like the novel itself dates from before the end of the war. There is another translation called "Man's Hope", which you may find as a pair with a translation of "La Condition Humaine" called "Man's Estate". The translation I have was obviously done very quickly as it was published almost contemporarily with the French original so some of the phrasing is a bit clunky as it follows the French sentence construction in places.

I may have written elsewhere that I'm not a fan of Hemingway and his novel is of limited use to the wargamer or anyone interested in what actually happened in the war (ie what was it actually like for the people who took part). Neither of those is true of Malraux.

The novel mostly tracks the experiences of a group of airmen in an international volunteer unit (presumably based upon the unit formed by Malraux), but it weaves in the experiences of those in  the militias and also of a young Communist who rises from the ranks to become a colonel and brigade commander. Various other colourful characters appear along the way, - anarchist "leaders" and traditional officers who end up fighting for the Republic.

The book starts with phone reports of Franco's rising, covers the failed attempt to stage the coup in Barcelona and ends up with the Battle of Guadalajara. As such it ends on an uplifting note with the prospect that the Republic might win.

There's lots of little details in the book you might not get elsewhere, - from the way the militias look to the way they and other units fight. There's a lot about conducting bombing raids which will be of interest to those of you who are interested in those sorts of things. Overall, whilst fiction, the book has an air of verisimilitude.

One word of warning, - the book is very "gallic". Characters sit around and discuss philosophy and the human condition a lot and that may not be to everyone's tastes, and I suppose you could easily skip those passages. Internal monologues agonise over the choices of the central players as the go on with their lives or stumble inevitably to their deaths. It is very much of its time.

However I would recommend it to anyone not familiar with Malraux and wants to read about what are in many way personal reminiscences written by someone who could write and clearly cares about the fight against fascism. Find some time in your schedule to read it, - there are plenty of copies for next to nothing on Abebooks or Amazon.


  1. Have it, very much enjoying it. Though I wish I had a kindle version.

  2. Glad you are enjoying it. How are you finding the existential angst and political posturing?

    This is the sort of book not to read on a Kindle. Don't you want everyone to know you're reading classic French literature?