Book Review: Barcelona and the Spanish Civil War

August 25, 2016

Nick Lloyd, Forgotten Places: Barcelona and the Spanish Civil War, Barcelona: Nick Lloyd, 2015, 392 pp.

Lloyd_BCNThis is a wonderful hybrid of a book. The text tells much about Barcelona and the Spanish Civil War and much else mostly about the radical history of the city. But its other purpose is to be a companion while one is in Barcelona itself to provide information and illumination about the city’s terrible, dramatic, and heroic Civil War history. Approximately the first third of the book is a history of Barcelona and the Civil War, and then the remaining two-thirds is divided into 14 sections covering the various neighborhoods of Barcelona, with the chapters divided into numbered sections indicating places and the individuals and events associated with those particular areas. There is a wide historical range including discussions of both periods prior to the Civil War, like the Tragic Week, and later events, such as the basing in Barcelona of the American Sixth Fleet after the Second World War. Lloyd imagines his readers dipping into the book as needed and not necessarily reading all of the second part. In order to make the various sections of the second part somewhat independent of one another, there is some repetition but it does not become excessive.

Lloyd illuminates the city’s terrible, dramatic, and heroic Civil War history

The book also contains wonderful primary source material, including grainy illustrations, the most moving of which shows the author, a resident of Barcelona who provides his own guided tours of the city, reading an excerpt from Homage to Catalonia to Richard Blair, George Orwell’s son, and Quentin Kopp, the son of Georges Kopp, Orwell’s commander in Spain. There is one glorious image, used for the jacket, of the 17-year-old Communist militia woman, Marina Ginestà, on the roof of the Hotel Colón on 21 July 1936, with a borrowed rifle slung over her shoulder. Her look is full of happy hope and confidence. In the book, she recounts her memory of the taking of the image, speaking about it in 2008. “It is a good picture. It reflects the feeling we had at the time … There was euphoria. … They say that in the Hotel Colón photo I have a captivating look. It’s possible because we lived at the same time as the mystique of the proletarian revolution and the images of Hollywood, of Greta Garbo and Gary Cooper.” (p. 169) Lloyd recounts many more fascinating stories, many involving death. It is a grim story, but the book provides a unique, usable telling of the history of Barcelona in the War.

Peter Stansky has written about the Spanish Civil War in Orwell: The Transformation and Julian Bell: From Bloomsbury to the Spanish Civil War.