The Treasure of the Spanish Civil War

Serge Pey

translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith
Archipelago Books 2020
A book review by Danny Yee © 2020
The fifteen short stories in The Treasure of the Spanish Civil War are set during the aftermath of the civil war, among Spanish refugees in France. Most of them are told from a child's perspective, but they span a huge range in subject and mood.

The horrific "The Piece of Wood" is set in a concentration camp for children, while the opening "An Execution" is a disturbingly matter-of-fact depiction of the casual border between life and death. In most of the stories, however, the violence is in the past, or lurking in the background. In "The Washing and the Clothes Line", the narrator's mother is still using the way she hangs the washing to send secret signals, while in "Cherry Thief" the narrator's uncle has planted trees for his fallen comrades. "Morse Code" and "Chess and Beauty" feature the same chess-playing pair, first in prison and then freed.

"The Movies" depicts everyday life, with children watching films from the projector side and having to read the subtitles reversed. In contrast, "The Scarab's Revenge" is a kind of fairy tale and "The White Library" is a Borgesian fantasy. And the title story, describing a hunt for treasure buried during the war, is almost comic.

Pey is a poet and a performance artist, and his pieces here are effectively prose poems, with their power coming from their simplicity and their directness.

Note: The Treasure of the Spanish Civil War was first published in 2011 as Le Trésor de la Guerre d'Espagne.

November 2020

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%T The Treasure of the Spanish Civil War
%A Pey, Serge
%M French
%F Nicholson-Smith, Donald
%I Archipelago Books
%D 2020 [2011]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781939810540
%P 135pp