“Brilliantly evokes the realities of living through a war” – No Pasaran Ed. Pete Ayrton
In No Man’s Land Pete Ayrton assembled an astonishingly diverse range of voices from World War One to capture the experiences of soldiers on both sides, as well as that of civilians (from the home front and those caught up in the conflict). In No Pasaran he has collected an equally diverse range of voices of the Spanish Civil War, and again he places civilian next to soldier, Republican beside Nationalist, eye-witness accounts alongside the fiction of a later generation of Spanish writers.
No Pasaran has an ambitiously internationalist approach, the majority of the writers included are in translation (including some who have not been previously translated into English) and while the bulk of the writers are Spanish, even there Ayrton represents the many regional cultures within Spain: the distinct perspectives of Basques, Catalans and Galicians are represented, as are German, French, Polish, Italian and Russian writers. Pete Ayrton’s imaginatively cast a broader span of English language writers than previous anthologies and if expected names such as Laurie Lee, George Orwell, John Dos Passos (though not Hemingway) appear, one of the most intriguing extracts is from an unfamiliar name, Muriel Rukeyser’s memoir of war and feminism Savage Coast, which was first published in 2013 (decades after her death in 1980).
This is not an attempt to outline the complex history of the Spanish Civil War, with its shifting loyalties between various ideological groups, though Spain’s role as a trial run for the Second World War is depicted. Instead No Pasaran brilliantly evokes the realities of living through a war, the focus on recording the individual experience is fitting for this was a war waged on civilians as much as fought between armies. Langston Hughes (the American poet) describes a Madrid where “the houses run right up to the trenches and some of the street-car lines stop only at the barricades” and laments that “Rioja and the best of wine areas are in Fascist hands.”
No Pasaran could easily be read as an anthology of Spain’s twentieth-century literature and an introduction to writers whose work is worth searching out, especially Joan Sales’ Uncertain Glory, which has recently been published in English translation. It is a mark of the range and intelligence of Pete Ayrton’s editorial choices that they give the Spanish Civil War a remarkable resonance when seen from the perspective of 2016: the refugees escaping the destruction of Barcelona echo the experiences of those fleeing Syria while the idealism of the International Brigade, young people travelling to fight in another country’s war (“the chance to make one grand, uncomplicated gesture of personal sacrifice and faith” in Laurie Lee’s words), invite you to wonder, do the young men who join ISIS see themselves in that way?
Any Cop?: An admirably broad range of writers who should be better known, Victor Serge, those everyone has heard of but who are (perhaps) not that widely read any more, Jean-Paul Sartre, and some of Spain’s major writers, Javier Cercas and Manuel Rivas.
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- April 29, 2016 / 9:00 am