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A Moment of War (1991)

by Laurie Lee

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3161065,918 (3.75)23
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year, the autobiography of a young Englishman in the Spanish Civil War.

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In As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Lee had made his way to Spain. After travelling around the country before being evacuated home by the navy after the Spanish Civil War erupted. Back home in Gloucestershire Lee felt drawn to those fighting the Republican cause, and makes the decision to head back to Spain. Arriving in Perpignan in Southern France he is unable to find anyone to help him get across the border so decides to take a risk and cross the Pyrenees in a snowstorm.

After somehow making it safely across the mountains, he is arrested and imprisoned for being a spy. On the day that his execution was scheduled for, a chance encounter meant that he was released. Lee quickly joins the International Brigade, along with a motley rabble of men from all over the UK and other parts of Europe who felt drawn to the anti-fascist cause too. He was then given limited training, but was arrested again as a brief trip to Morocco when he was in Spain previously had made him a marked man.

He saw very little service, but did travel around to a few locations in the back of an army truck. After the first bombing of a town where he was staying, the realities of the harshness of war, stripped away any romantic notions that he may have still harboured about the fight that he had volunteered for. He has some very near misses, and the impression that you get from the Spanish is that they were not particularly enamoured about having soldiers of other nationalities there, as this was an internal fight that they had to go through. The book is written in Lee’s distinct eloquent style again, making this a pleasure to read even though the subject is not particularly savoury and a fitting end to the series. ( )
  PDCRead | Apr 6, 2020 |
As a impressionable young man Lee wanted to fight alongside the Spanish as a volunteer during their civil war in 1937. He made the trek across the Pyrenees expecting Spain to welcome him to the conflict with arms wide open. Much to his surprise he was immediately arrested as a spy. So begins Lee's memoir of a naive coming of age in wartime Spain. Throughout this short little memoir Lee's disillusionment becomes stronger and stronger until when he is finally sent home he has this last parting shot: "Here were the names of the dead heroes, piled into little cardboard boxes, never to be inscribed later in official Halls of Remembrance" (p 174). Sad. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jul 6, 2017 |
A short but poetic addition to the previous autobiography. The author recounts his memories of a brief time in Spain fighting for the republicans against General Franco and the fascists. An interesting insight into the suspicion, banality and eventually swift brutality of modern war.

It felt like a very real experience, although reading the foreward after I'd finished the book there is some debate about whether or not it was. It was still a good read though and thought provoking in some of its insights. ( )
  fothpaul | May 12, 2015 |
I've never been a member of the armed forces, let alone been in a war, but Lee's writing strikes me as what being in that situation is actually like. Books like Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls paint the Spanish Civil War as disorganized, sure, but on the macro level. Lee shows that the war was disorganized and confusing on the personal level as well, with chance encounters saving foreign volunteers from being considered spies, with random assignments and relocations, with your next meal coming from wherever you can find it. It also depicts killing an enemy in war, not as some big production or a vivid memory, but something that happens in a flash as you are scared for your life. Again, I have no idea if this is true, but it rang true. ( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
Le 5 décembre 1937, Laurie Lee, âgé de 23 ans, franchit à pied et dans la neige la frontière des Pyrénées, et découvre une Espagne ravagée par une année de guerre civile. Sensible à leur colère, il désire s'engager auprès des républicains. L'heure est à la méfiance, mais jamais le jeune Anglais ne se départira de son violent désir de lutter contre la peste nationaliste. Au menu de chaque jour : scènes de désolation, froid implacable, attentes interminables et le silence parmi des ruines. Magnifique conclusion à la trilogie autobiographique de l'Anglais Laurie Lee (1914-1997), entamée avec Rosie ou le goût du cidre (Libretto, 2003) et Un beau matin d'été (Libretto, 2004) ce récit évoque, de façon vivante et poignante, la défaite héroïque de l'idéalisme naïf au cours de cette ' décennie misérable et malhonnête ' tant de fois dénoncée par WH Auden.
  PierreYvesMERCIER | Feb 19, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
But in "A Moment of War," you sense that there was no order anywhere in Spain and that a different kind of narrative is required, a story told in "gritty, throwaway lines -- quietly savage, but with no dramatics." In paragraph after paragraph, scene after scene of this book, the reader comes upon terse non sequiturs, because the only pattern in Mr. Lee's experience of the Spanish Civil War was its lack of pattern. Even the climactic moment, the one scene of battle, expires in derangement: "I headed for the old barn where I'd spent my first night. I lay in a state of sick paralysis. I had killed a man, and remembered his shocked, angry eyes . . . I began to have hallucinations and breaks in the brain . . . Was this then what I'd come for, and all my journey had meant -- to smudge out the life of an unknown young man in a blur of panic which in no way could affect victory or defeat?"
added by Polaris- | editNew York Times (Jul 25, 1993)
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To the defeated
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In December 1937 I crossed the Pyrenees from France - two days on foot through the snow.
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A New York Times Notable Book of the Year, the autobiography of a young Englishman in the Spanish Civil War.

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