We Saw Spain Die

Issue section: 
(330)

Paul Preston, Constable, £20

The Spanish Revolution and ensuing Civil War (1936 to 1939) represent one of the most misunderstood and often ignored events of the 20th century. Their history is one of bravery, defiance and betrayal resulting in the catastrophic victory of the rebel fascist army under Francisco Franco. This struggle had a defining effect on the history of Europe from the 1930s onward, its outcome arguably affecting the collapse of Europe into the Second World War.

We Saw Spain Die brings to light some of the most eloquent reports of the horror written both by war correspondents and some of the world's most prominent literary figures. While much of the honest reporting from the Republican side was ignored or misrepresented by the popular media of the time, the right wing propaganda from the rebel side under Franco was given free rein.

This led to much confusion and misunderstanding of the conflict, which continues to this day. Ken Loach's film Land and Freedom had a profound effect on the people of Spain as it revealed to a whole generation an account of a hidden part of their history. There were huge queues to see this film outside the cinemas in cities such as Barcelona.

Paul Preston is a British historian specialising in the Spanish Civil War, which he has studied and written about for more than 30 years.

The book is divided into three sections - The Journalism, Beyond Journalism and After the War - and contains extensive notes and some excellent photographs. It is well structured and extremely accessible. The writing style is clear and invigorating, quickly drawing the reader into the narrative.

Nearly one thousand newspaper correspondents went to Spain, along with some of the world's best known writers, including Ernest Hemingway, John dos Passos, Martha Gellhorn, W H Auden, Stephen Spender, George Orwell and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The reports came back from the international journalists and these and the debates and distortions are documented. The nature of censorship and bias is examined. Views from the left and right are honestly chronicled, although the author is clearly sympathetic to the republican and socialist cause.

It is beautifully written and reads like a novel, revealing the hidden reporting and adding immensely to our knowledge of this world shaking event. For other easily accessible introductions to events in Spain at this time read Orwell's Homage to Catalonia and get hold of the DVD of Ken Loach's excellent film, Land and Freedom.

This meticulous history book adds an invaluable insight into these events as documented in the heat of the struggle and as such is highly recommended.