When it comes to reading books set in Spain, I’m finding myself pretty much obsessed with those that have something to do with the Spanish Civil War. I’m sure there are lots of fascinating periods of Spanish history – but none seem to tickle my curiosity as much as this one.
Luckily for me, there are lots of books which explore this subject from various different angles, and I have been hoovering them up over the last couple of years.
Novels inspired by the Spanish Civil War
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway – this classic novel of the Civil War written during Hemingway’s time spent covering the conflict for the North American Newspaper Alliance is considered one of the best novels of all time.
Guernica – by Dave Boling – Harrowing story of a Basque family and the bombing of their town of Guernica, the subject of one of Pablo Picasso’s most famous works.
The Return – by Victoria Hislop – semi chick lit and semi historical novel, this book reveals an engaging story of one family in Granada during the war.
Seven Red Sundays – Ramon J. Sender – A story of workingmen in Madrid during the lead up to the Civil War.
Soldiers of Salamis – Javier Cercas – In the final moments of the Spanish Civil War, a writer and founding member of Franco’s Fascist Party is about to be shot, and yet miraculously escapes into the forest.
Winter in Madrid – C. J. Sansom – Set after the Civil War but with flashbacks to the conflict itself, this novel sees British man, Harry Brett, sent into Spain to spy on an old school friend who is doing shady business deals in Madrid.
The Time of the Doves – Mercè Rodoreda – I haven’t read this short novel originally written in Catalan but it gets a rapturous reception on amazon.com. There is some criticism, however, of the translation and as it looks as if there is a new version coming out next year from Virago Press, I might wait and see if that contains a translation people are happier with.
So what was the Spanish Civil War?
What followed was a period of political instability between left and right-wing groups, with both winning time in power and forming elected governments. But while a left-leaning coalition won an election in January 1936, there was increasing violence between the two sides. On the right the Nationalists included monarchists, Roman Catholics and the fascist-inspired Falange, while the left included urban workers, agricultural labourers and the educated middle class.
By mid-1936 the country was so politically unstable that a military coup led by Francisco Franco on July 17 led the country into a war which was to last until 1939, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands from the fighting, and many more from starvation and disease. Franco then ruled the country as a dictator until his death in 1975.
The great thing about the list of books available to you is that you can pick just what kind of novel you are after. If you want something light(ish) and accessible (bordering on chick-lit) then The Return will be ideal. For something a little more intense, then Guernica would work. If you prefer a spy drama, then there is Winter in Madrid, and if you really want to get to the heart of the battle and those who fought in it, then you can’t go past the Hemingway.
Let us know if you have decided to delve into Franco’s world for this challenge, or if you’d prefer to explore something far from the horror of war…there are plenty of other books set in Spain you can choose from.
I look forward to reading your comments and reviews….