Liam Murphy

There is renewed interest in the Spanish Civil War since the 1930s. Waterford-born, Emmet O’Connor is co-author with Barry McLoughlin of In Spanish Trenches (subtitled, The Mind And Deeds Of The Irish Who Fought For The Republic In The Spanish Civil War). It uses previous unseen Spanish archival sources. Liam Cahill, another Waterford man who wrote Forgotten Revolution about the Limerick Soviet 1919, is working on a book and Facebook page about Maurice ‘Mossie’ Quinlan, who fought with ten other Waterford International Brigaders, and he was killed in action at Jarama near Madrid in 1937.

Turas Press will launch, this month, In The Dark, a novel set in Teruel in northeast Spain in 1937. Written by the Irish poet Anamaria Crowe Serrano, it looks at the Civil War in the micro, centred around a family and a house in Teruel, and the conflict between two sisters, Maria and Julita, who are bitterly entrenched on different sides of the conflict. In their house, hidden under the stairs, is a family deserter who has walked away from the madness of civil war.

Back in 1937, the population of Teruel was about 20,000, and during that siege and battle from December 1937 to February 1938, both sides suffered up to 140,000 deaths between them. Today the population is about 35,000.

Crow Serrano writes with an almost frantic anxiety and intensity that mirrors the awfulness of civil war, and this story holds and hurts the reader. Often with the senseless violence, the meaningless, pettiness of people sheltering in the house. Good deeds are misinterpreted, distrust is always in the background, and the reader is kept ‘in the dark’, as the horrors of war filter into the story.

Sections or chapters of the book are interleaved with extracts from a Barcelona newspaper, La Vanguardia (daily at the service of democracy). All the elements are there, the lies, the spin, the propaganda, the manipulation of statistics, the terrible disregard for humanity, and human values in the battle for supremacy and a conflicted view of freedom—all in the shadow of World War Two.

Crowe Serrano has surprises along the way, and a surprise before the end, and a postscript from Seville in 1960.

The blurb says this book is “the struggle to extract truth from a multitude of truths”, and that is Anamaria Crowe Serrano’s powerful achievement.