‘Cry, Mother Spain’ by Lydie Salvayre – The Atrocities of Fascism

‘Cry, Mother Spain’ by Lydie Salvayre (2014) – 240 pages     Translated from the French by Ben Faccini

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Although Lydie Salvayre’s novel ‘Cry, Mother Spain’ won the Prix Goncourt in 2014, there has been little fanfare and few reviews for the English translation which was released in June of this year.  This is unfortunate, because ‘Cry, Mother Spain’ is an excellent passionate fictional account of the events leading up to the Spanish Civil War which occurred before World War II.  At that time Lydie Salvayre’s own parents had to flee Spain and take refuge across the border in France where Lydie was born.  ‘Cry, Mother Spain’ is the account of a daughter listening to her ninety year-old mother tell of the tragic and ugly events that led to their fleeing Spain.

At the end of World War II, fascism was defeated in Europe.  Only one country retained its oppressive fascist rule, and that country was Spain.  Francisco Franco continued to rule Spain with a heavy hand up until his death in 1975.

Salvayre tells of the summer of 1936, the last summer before the civil war.  It is not at all difficult to tell where her sympathies lie.  Her mother and her father were Republicans.  In order to give her story more depth, Salvayre often quotes from an account of the events of that time (A Diary of My Time, 1938) by French author Georges Bernanos.  Although deeply Catholic and conservative by nature, Bernanos became repulsed by the atrocities committed by the Spanish nationalists under Franco.

  “Month after month, squads of killers were transported from one village to another by trucks which had been requisitioned for one purpose alone, to murder thousands of so-called suspects in cold blood.”  – Georges Bernanos

“I believe my greatest service to honest men is to warn them against the imbeciles and bastards who cynically exploit their deepest fears.” – Georges Bernanos    

Lydie Salvayre implicates the Catholic Church and its priests in the atrocities more directly than Bernanos:

“The Nationalists were carrying out a systematic purge of suspects and between killing sprees Catholic dignitaries were granting them absolution in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  The Catholic Church had become the executioners’ whore. “ – Lydie Salvayre

Salvayre does mention some of the violent attacks against priests by the Republicans before the civil war began, but this violence seems minor compared to the wholesale execution of Spanish citizens carried out by Franco.

“The bonfire of hatred was lit, and it spiraled out of control.” – Lydie Salvayre

This systematic extermination of whole groups of liberals in Spain reminded me of the systematic murder of leftists carried out by several South American dictators in the 1970s.  The threat of fascism has not gone away.  In fact as we forget the circumstances of Hitler and World War II, fascism has become even more of a threat in the 21st century.  We are seeing fascism rear its ugly head in places like the United States and Russia that had fought most valiantly against fascism in World War II.

 

Grade:    A-

 

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11 responses to this post.

  1. I’m surprised that a book like this hasn’t received more exposure, but I’m not surprised about the subject matter – Carmen Callil’s “Bad Faith”, which exposed the role of the Catholic church in France during WW2 was a real eye-opener so I’m not shocked to hear the same thing had been happening in Spain.

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    • Hi kaggsy,
      I might take a look at that Carmen Callil book ‘Bad Faith’. According to Wiki, a lot of Catholic priests in Nazi Germany were persecuted, and a lot of the Polish Catholic church was against the Nazis. There was a clergy barracks at the Dachau camp. I suppose every country had a different situation. In Spain a lot of the church helped Franco because the Republicans were very anti-religious, probably for good reasons.

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  2. Perhaps this will be a slow burner in the English speaking world. It’s not possible to visit Spain without learning about the destruction of countless churches and the hatred of the church (unless you spend all your time on the beach, I suppose).
    I read a book a while ago (Ghosts of Spain, I think) that explored the reasons why there hasn’t been much in the way of reconciling the past … in villages where neighbours and friends killed each other and there are still mass graves, there is a fear of resurrecting old grievances long suppressed by the iron fist of Franco.
    So this is a brave book, as well as an interesting one.

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    • Hi Lisa,
      Yes, Lydie Salvayre is brave, but she lives safely on the French side of the border now. I get the impression that the big city of Barcelona is much different from the more southern parts of the country. It might be an interesting place to visit.
      I suspect that even today the tensions of the Spanish Civil War are still prevalent. As the novel shows, many of the servants and farm workers of the big landowners were the Republicans that Franco cracked down on.

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  3. I’ve only seen one other review of this book so far. I agree, it seems to fallen under the radar somewhat, which is a shame as it sounds excellent. I’m very interested in this period. It calls to mind some of Guillermo del Toro’s films, The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth.

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  4. I was struck by the way Jose’s revolutionary zeal turns to inevitable hopelessness, as if zeal has no place in politics. Having just read the book in recent post-election times, I felt it had a great deal to say about our current world imbalance.

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    • Hi Jeanne (Deborah),
      In Spain, the dictator Francisco Franco ruled for 38 years, so it was a rather hopeless desolate situation. However after Franco’s death, Spain was able to successfully transition back to being a democracy. So even dictatorships can end if you wait long enough. Russia was never quite so bad after Stalin.

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