In Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, Adam Hochschild (To End All Wars) moves beyond the familiar image of the Spanish Civil War shaped by Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls* and Robert Capa’s iconic photographs. He uses the experiences of less famous volunteers—a young economics professor and his wife, a college senior who was the first American to die in the battle for Madrid, a nineteen-year-old idealist who cut short her European honeymoon to join the Republican cause, a New York socialite turned war correspondent—to tell a story of the war that is both larger and more intimate.
Hochsfield brings each of his characters to vivid life, but does not reduce the war to a simple story of idealism and heroism. He contrasts the idealism of the international volunteers who flooded Spain in support of its democratic government with the brutal actions taken by partisans on both sides of the war. He details the political infighting between the Soviets, anti-Stalinist communists, and anarchist revolutionaries. And he demonstrates how fascist sympathizers in Britain, the United States, and France kept those countries from supporting the Spanish government. (One of the most interesting sections is the previously untold story of how a Texas oilman with Nazi sympathies illegally provided Franco with oil.) Most important, he highlights Germany’s overt use of the war as a training field for a European war in the making.
Spain in Our Hearts is gripping, illuminating, and ultimately heartbreaking. I’d recommend it over Hemingway any day of the week.
*Not a big fan.
This review, minus my opinion of Hemingway, previously appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.