Book review: Homage to Catalonia

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Review Homage to Catalonia

Homage to Catalonia is one of the three classical books of British journalist and writer George Orwell. This personal account provides insights of what was happening in Anarchist or Revolutionary Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War, from the point of view of a hot-headed foreign partisan who fought for the POUM, an anti-Stalinist communist organization that was eventually declared illegal due to the progressively stronger influence of the Soviet Union in Republican Spain. He served in the Aragon front for some months, then moved to Barcelona and there he suffered the greatest disappointed he could image: Republicans weren’t fighting the Nationalists, they were fighting against themselves, as the Republican government, with heavy Soviet influence, wanted to take control over all the Republican forces and Anarchist CNT opposed that. That changed his perspective about socialism, as he opposed totalitarianism. Historian Antony Beevor correctly stated that “Orwell’s experiences in Spain formed the start of the road that led to Animal Farm and to Nineteen Eighty-four, two of the most influential novels of the 20th century, but Homage to Catalonia still stands in a class all of its own.”

This is what customers on Amazon say:

This is a classic book is a cure for idealism. It raised my political awareness about the Spanish Civil War and human nature. The tale Orwell has to tell is relentlessly depressing and frequently shocking. Soldiers are rushed into battle with little training and fewer weapons. Idealists take charge and murder innocents on the slightest of pretexts. The weather is terrible, the food worse and despite the optimism of the troops, one feels they know there is little chance of beating Franco.

The text is well written, the images vivid, the characters well drawn. This is enlightening look at one of the darker chapters in history.” – Charlie Calvert

“This book is a wonderfully written nonfiction account of Orwell’s time as a volunteer fighting against Franco’s Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. Even if you have no interest in the Spanish Civil War, you should read this book for its beautiful, evocative writing, the insights into human nature and the often black humor. Besides being one of the great writers in English in the 20th Century, Orwell was a very brave man, both physically and intellectually. He opposed all forms of totalitarianism (both Fascism and Stalinist Communism) and remained a democratic Socialist all his life. If you have read Animal Farm and 1984, you also should read Homage to Catalonia.” – J. C. Beadles

Had it not been for his experience surviving the Soviet-run purge of other organizations fighting fascism in Spain, I doubt he could have conveyed the sinister aspects of a police state in 1984 nearly as well as he did. But here he describes his own, personal experience of seeing friend “disappeared” as a result of Stalinist, fabricated (yes, I know the two words are redundant) charges of the most ridiculous nature. It is a good thing Orwell never learned much in detail about the reasons for Stalin’s purges: monomaniacal paranoia and jealousy of anyone and any organization that gained recognition for spreading non-Soviet forms of egalitarian socialism, as compared to Soviet state consolidation of power to benefit nobody but a hideous group of power-addicted executioners.” – Anthony Murawski

And this is what readers of the Goodreads community say:

“This book is justly famous for its disillusioned account of how the Communist Party—in its eagerness to defeat Franco–betrayed the successful anarchist experiment in Catalonia for the sake of expedience, how it executed and imprisoned its anarchist and socialist comrades for the sake of a temporary alliance with the bourgeois.

I found all this very interesting, but have to admit that the real reason I liked the book so much was for its gritty account of war on the cheap, where guns are poor, marksmanship is worse, and the lack of food, matches and candles is more important than any threat by the enemy. In spite of the generally poor marksmanship, however, Orwell did manage to get himself shot in the neck, and his first-hand account of what it is like to be wounded is vivid and completely absorbing.

The only thing that keeps this book from being superb is its detailed discussion of each of the various left-wing parties and their responsibility—or lack of responsibility–for the internecine battles on the streets of Barcelona that contributed to the subsequent purges, arrests, and imprisonments. Orwell clearly realizes that this account may be a problem for his narrative, for he apologizes for its length, arguing that previous accounts in the international press have been so deceptive that it has become necessary to set the record straight. Now, however, more than seventy-five years later, such a precise accounting is indeed unnecessary–at least for the general reader–and Orwell’s book suffers as a result.” – Bill Kerwin

“Orwell’s memoir of his service fighting in leftist militia in the Spanish Civil War. “A comic opera with an occasional death.” Dangers of extremist politics. Great story telling. It’s all here.” – Hadrian

Summary of reviews: contemporary reviews were mixed, but today it’s considered a classic. Don’t be confused though, it’s not a book to learn about the Spanish Civil War in a broad perspective, it’s a very personal account to understand that the Spanish Civil War was very complex and how dangerous can be totalitarianisms and extremisms. Very recommended, and it’s a short read!

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