Blood of Spain:
An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War

Ronald Fraser

Pimlico 1994 [1979]
A book review by Danny Yee © 1997
The Spanish civil war is, for me, the great tragedy of twentieth century history. In quantitative horror it pales beside the Holocaust and many other events, but it has all the classical elements of tragedy: a combination of inevitableness and contingency, the gradual closing of possibilities, and human and organisational flaws aplenty. And it is not one tragedy but many: the failure of the social revolution and its destruction by the communists; the dilemmas of the Basque and Catalan bourgeoisie, caught between the military and the social revolution; the folly of Non-Intervention; innumerable personal tragedies; and the final obliteration of hopes and aspirations, of plans and alternatives, beneath the grim tide of Francoism.

Blood of Spain succeeds better than anything else I have read on the civil war in capturing these tragedies. Formal histories lack immediacy, while personal accounts offer only a single perspective; Blood of Spain is an oral history of the war built around the memories and stories of hundreds of people from all political allegiances and all walks of life — combatants and non-combatants, men and women, rich and poor. It joins short segments of direct quotation with narrative links to produce personal accounts of individual episodes; these are supplemented with quotations from newspapers, laws, and political texts. The result captures something of how the war affected those caught up in it and what they felt and thought — some individuals are followed throughout the war — but individual accounts are also grouped so as to place key events and themes within a broader perspective.

Rather than trying to cover the whole country, Fraser concentrates on particular areas: Madrid, Catalonia and Barcelona, Seville and Andalusia, Asturias/Vizcaya, and Old Castile. Otherwise, Blood of Spain covers the whole sweep of the war, from the first uprising in July 1936 through to the end at Alicante and the fate of the conquered (and the conquerors) in the immediate aftermath of the war. It closes with fifty pages of material in the same style on the "points of rupture" during the years leading up to the civil war — land, religion and the petit bourgeoisie, Catalan and Basque nationalism, the relationship of the libertarians (anarchists) to the Republic and of the communists to the Popular Front, and the role of the army.

Blood of Spain is an ideal complement to a more traditional history of the civil war, but it could be read by itself, even as an introduction for the reader totally unfamiliar with the war. Sections of chronological narrative and summaries of the history and background provide links between the personal accounts, and the volume has a good set of maps, a chronology, a glossary of Spanish terms, and a list of organisations. Blood of Spain is one of the most effective works of oral history I have read and one of the best books on the Spanish Civil War.

December 1997

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%T Blood of Spain
%S An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War
%A Fraser, Ronald
%I Pimlico
%D 1994 [1979]
%O paperback, bibliography, index
%G ISBN 0712660143
%P 628pp