Books: Divisions in dark days of Spain

Written By: Stephen Kelly
Published: September 24, 2016 Last modified: October 25, 2016

A Most Uncivil War
by Nicolas Lalaguna
Matador, £9.99

Wars inevitably generate a deluge of novels, and civil wars in particular lend themselves to an array of conflicting human emotions that lend power to the novel form. The Spanish civil war is no exception; indeed it has possibly spawned more  fiction than any other war. Hemingway, Orwell, Malraux and CJ Sampson are but a few who have delved into the pain of a nation torn apart by antagonistic political beliefs and cultures.

But whereas many of these writers concentrated on the war itself and on events in the industrial centres of Barcelona and Madrid, Nicolas Lalaguna, in this snapshot of the war, concentrates on the pre-war years and the rural oppression.

His novel concentrates on two boys, both fathered by the same man, Pedro, who manages an estate for a wealthy Duke. One son, Raul, is an illegitimate child by Marienela, the other Juanico, is by his wife who has died in childbirth. Marienela works in Pedro’s house where Pedro is not afraid to dole out his wickedness on her in much the same way as he treats the estate workers.
The two boys are brought up together, but whereas the illegitimate Raul is sent at an early age to the fields to become another workhorse, the other son, Juanico, is sent to be schooled by the sadistic local priest.

For centuries this has been an oppressed and poverty-stricken community where no one dares to question authority. All power lies with the local land-owning Duke who governs with the connivance of the church.

However, whatever tranquility that may exist is finally shattered by the arrival of Salvador, escaping Barcelona and on a political mission to ferment revolution and liberate the land from tyrants.

The spirited Raul quickly falls under the spell of Salvador and is soon politicized, eager to play his part in the revolution. And that inevitably leads to conflicts, not only with Pedro but also with his friend Juanico, still in the clutches of catholicism.

It is a conflict that was to be mirrored throughout Spain, splitting villages, families and friends.

Nicolas Lalaguna has written a sensitive and pacey novel worth its place in any collection of Spanish civil war literature. Even now, 80 years later, there are villages in Spain where people remember the war by refusing to speak to neighbours who took a different stance in those dark days.