Los Girasoles Ciegos – Alberto Mendez

Los Girasoles Ciegos es un libro que se compone de cuatro historias más o menos interrelacionadas.

El primer cuento es sobre un Capitán Carlos Alegría, miembro del Ejercito Nacional  que se rinde a los republicanos solo un poco antes que las fascistas ganan la guerra. Está sentenciado a muerte por fusil, pero milagrosamente sobrevive el capitán, y regresa a su ciudad natal solo para estar capturado otra vez (voluntariamente). No entendí esta historia y me frustró un poco leerlo. Una persona con tantas oportunidades para vivir en la vida no debería desperdiciar todas así.

La segunda es una historia angustiosa sobre una familia rota por la guerra. Un joven de 18 años intenta escapar con su novia embarazada a Portugal; en camino hacia allá la novia da a luz a un niño y se muere. Luego el joven y su hijo mueren también.

La tercera historia cuenta de Juan Senra, un profesor de chelo republicano quien se cae en las manos de las fascistas. La única cosa preservando su vida es que conoció el difunto hijo del coronel fascista. Senra fabrica historias sobre el hijo para que se sientan orgullosos sus padres. El momento que expone la verdad, le disparan a Senra.

La última historia es sobre Ricardo Mazo, un republicano que se esconde en el armario, pretendiendo de no existir en la casa de su familia después de la guerra civil. Toda está bien y su familia cuida por él, pero su estilo de vida está en peligro cuando su esposa Elena atrae la atención de un diacono salaz. Un día, Ricardo se expone para defender a Elena mientras el diacono intenta violarla; Ricardo decide suicidar y salta de la ventana.

Cada historia es una tragedia terrible, donde nadie tiene una conclusión feliz. Quizás quiere mostrar Alberto Méndez que nadie gana en la guerra, ni siquiera la partida victoriosa. Las familias son separadas y destruidas. Las personas temen por la vida cada día, esperando por el día que la policía les encuentre y les coja. Creo que la primera historia era un ejemplo muy ridículo de esa noción que nadie gana, que Alegría no pudiera vivir con si mismo venciendo los republicanos. La historia era uno de los pocos que cuentan la historia del punto de vista de las fascistas, pero me sentí que era estirada y forzada para ser inclusivo de todas partidas. Pienso que la mayoría de las fascistas pudieron vivir con si mismos después de la guerra; quizás no les gustó la administración de Franco después, pero todavía continuaron a vivir.

Un gran tema de esos cuentos cortos es la perdida de ganas de vivir. Alegría sin duda lo pierde, donde una y otra vez ofrece su vida a sus captores aun cuando puede escapar. El joven pierde ganas de vivir mientras sus seres queridos se mueren alrededor de él. Senra no quiere mentir más y dice la verdad. Ricardo también lo pierde después de ser expuesto.

En total, fue un libro extremadamente deprimente.

Hemingway: For Whom the Bell Tolls

In Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, we acquaint ourselves with the protagonist Robert Jordan, an expert dynamiter from the US who has given up his life at home to participate in the Spanish Civil War. By orders of a General Golz, he is to strategically blow up a bridge at the precise time of a Republican offensive in order to hinder the mobilization of Fascist reinforcements. In order to do this, he enlists the help of mountain guerillas of the area; he is led to guerillas’ hideout by his guide, the elderly Anselmo.

What is notable about this book specifically is its strange diction in which it goes about telling the story. Indeed it really incorporates an almost Spanish type of grammar, yet it is largely executed in English, with light Spanish punctuations here and there. The sentences are not incorrect, but they feel like direct translations of sentences first written in Spanish. This is particularly true for inter-character dialogue, but less so for the narration.

What I particularly enjoyed about this book is that it portrays very real experiences, human experiences, and with that, clear and substantial emotions. Hemingway deliberately takes the more palpable parts of the war and the human condition to his audiences, depicting the more basic, primordial side of people: hunger, lust, killing, and death. There is much that goes on behind the lines and in between battles; people get hungry, and food must be prepared (as in the first chapter). As well, Robert Jordan and Maria make love in the woods. There is constant talk of killing and death among the guerillas of the camp, and later in the book, the actual killing commences. As discussed in class, there is indeed a certain universality to this book and its characters, where such experiences could have been lived by anyone and at any time; war, killing, and love are forever.

Hemingway moves on to create more complex emotions as well, putting the reader in difficult situations just as the characters face. As an example, there is a very real uneasiness as the people of the cave plot to kill Pablo, and we later find out from Pilar that almost certainly has Pablo overheard the conversation.

In the same vein, he neglects to substantially explain the political motivations and underpinnings of the war. Perhaps Hemingway did not want to bog down his book with overly complicated and hardly relatable struggles of ideal (and the inevitable battle of acronyms) that plagued the earlier books we have read. We learn very little about the situation in Spain of that epoch, and as a novel of historical fiction, it serves more as fiction than historical.

Nonetheless, I enjoy its simple prose and I look forward to reading the rest of this book.

Class Discussion Reflection – Homage to Catalonia

Sebastian Lee and Annie Lu

Annie and I both thought that the class discussion went well. We initially created a surplus of slides on our PowerPoint presentation, with various questions that we had about the book and the war, as well as passages and quotes we found interesting. In particular, we had many questions centered on the politics of the civil war.

Ultimately, the slides were sufficient in provoking discussion for most of the class period, and there were very interesting points brought up by our classmates throughout.

Topics that frequently came up in discussion included Orwell’s motivations for writing the book (as a form of “propaganda”), Anarchist, Communist and Socialist policies, and what made foreigners want to participate in the war.

I felt that we presented some decent ideas, but to improve for next time, we could phrase the questions differently in order to make it easier for our classmates to respond. For a book discussion, I would make the questions more answerable by (and more specific to) the contents of the book itself, rather than more general questions about the civil war.

Also, the digressions from the planned topics of interest were quite entertaining and informative (e.g. the Cricket test matches), but as regulators we could keep the discussions a little more focused.

Overall, we felt that we asked significant questions, questions that went deeper than the superficial layers, and that the class generated good dialogue about the book.

Class Plan: Homage to Catalonia


Sebastian Lee and Annie Lu


We created a PowerPoint presentation with our personal questions regarding Homage to Catalonia to facilitate the class discussion.

We divided the questions/quotes into general categories, sharing and discussing the topics with the class in approximately the following order:

-The purpose, style and tone of the book (How was the book written? Why so?)

Point Of View

What was Orwell trying to achieve?


-The setting of the book (What kind of atmosphere did it create?)

Also: “Spanish” qualities, and their take on the war (“Mañana”)




War vs Revolution (What’s the difference?) – simplifying to “Fascism vs Democracy”

Motivations of the War (foreign interests, interparty skirmishes etc…)

The USSR’s effect on Spain

Anarchist and Egalitarian societies: how would they work?

Motivations of international fighters in Spain (e.g. Bob Smillie)

Skirmish of the Telephone Exchange: could it have been avoided?

The POUM microcosm: why was the class system unable to be abolished?

What happened to Georges Kopp?


Miscellaneous: events of the book (Orwell getting shot in the neck, Rats, rats, rats! Weapons distribution to the public…)

-Religion: changing roles of the church

Homage to Catalonia

So far on the reading list, Homage to Catalonia appears to be the only one non-fictional, a memoir that recounts the real-life experiences of author George Orwell during the conflict. It is told in first person, narrated by Orwell himself. The story follows him as he first joins the ranks of the POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) rather than the International Brigades purely by chance, because he was first issued with papers from the Independent Labour Party (ILP). There, he found a society most resembling and embodying socialism, where people were truly comrades in a fleeting egalitarian realm.

One recurrent theme within the story was the fact that both sides, but especially the Republicans were frequently inadequately armed, with hopelessly obsolete rifles, shells that didn’t explode, and limited ammunition. There were boys as young as fifteen fighting in their ranks in order to support their families.

In addition, there was a lot of intra-Republican squabbling where they would produce nasty, unconstructive rhetoric in the newspapers about their own comrades from different parties. When distributing rifles, this same type of petty politics was present as seen when weapons weren’t distributed to Republican soldiers that needed them most, but rather to those that aligned most with their party (as the Soviets did).

I found it quite interesting that on one hand he constantly berated the Spaniards for their lack of military prowess, terrible marksmanship, lack of organization etc., but on the other hand he praised them for their generosity, their largeness of spirit and their indomitable idealism. Nonetheless, in Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, the Spanish civil war is almost portrayed as a farcical war, a joke war waged by people who don’t know how to handle weapons.

One notion of the book I don’t completely understand is the part about revolution in chapter 5. According to Orwell, “the whole world was determined, upon preventing revolution in Spain. In particular the Communist Party, with Soviet Russia behind it, had thrown its whole weight against the revolution. It was the Communist thesis that revolution at this stage would be fatal and that what was to be aimed at in Spain was not workers’ control, but bourgeois democracy… Foreign capital was heavily invested in Spain… If the revolution went forward there would be no compensation, or very little; if the capitalist republic prevailed, foreign investments would be safe. And since the revolution had got to be crushed, it greatly simplified things to pretend that no revolution had happened.”

What difference would it make whether the press called it a revolution or not? The land reforms were still taking place as they spoke, and the foreign investments still in danger of being relinquished by the state. In fact, when the foreign press simplified the war to merely a struggle between “fascism and democracy”, were they still not lending their propagandist support to the Republicans who were instituting this land reform? Also, why were the communists against the land reform?

Malraux – Days of Hope (L’espoir)

Malraux’s Days of Hope is a far-reaching, albeit fictitious, account of the Spanish civil war told through the perspectives of various combatants of the Republican side throughout the conflict. It is far-reaching in that the novel hops from character to character, detailing the varying experiences and thoughts of each, from town fighting, to life at the aerodrome, aerial skirmishes, guerilla warfare with tanks and dynamite, flamethrowers, and commonplace executions by firing squad. Casualties are described in great detail. As such, because of the character hopping, there is no clear protagonist, where the author stays only long enough with one character so that the reader gains a basic understanding of his thoughts, and simply moves on to the next and does the same; the antagonists are the fascists. Such characters include captain Hernandez, who is executed at the end of part 1, Colonel Magnin (a French pilot), Manuel (an Anarchist I believe), Garcia (a professor turned officer), Golovkin (a Russian pressman), Sibirsky (a mercenary), the Negus, Slade, and more. Who exactly is the Negus?

In part 1, the Republicans lay failed sieges on the fortress of Toledo and on Alcazar; also, a temporary ceasefire is organized at Alcazar between the Republicans and Fascists, where soldiers exchange goods and mail.


The story was rather difficult to read at times because of the transitory nature of the book, flitting from character to character in a way that could be hard to follow, especially when trying to match dialogue with the corresponding person who said it and dialogue fragments follow each other in rapid succession. In addition, certain characters have odd syntax to represent regionalisms. However, there were many memorable quotes from the story as well that effectively captured the zeitgeist of the war era. One scene that struck me was when the Republican soldiers came to a town and asked why the villagers had burned a church down when instead they could have used it as a school to replace their substandard existing one. To which a peasant replied: “Well, my kids – they’re my kids aren’t they? – and it can be main cold here in the winter. But sooner than have my children in that there building, I’d see ‘em frozen stiff!” The peasants expressed that the church was sponsoring a Holy War against them, and their distaste for the clergy stemmed from the clergy’s support for the fascists, and their spurning of the poor in favour of the upper class. Such was the peasant’s contempt for them that even the vestiges of their presence could not remain. Another particularly interesting scene was during the ceasefire, when soldiers from opposing sides approached each other, and finally produced some much-anticipated dialogue between the two parties to gain a better understanding of why everyone was fighting. We realize that both sides are fighting for their own ideals, ideals that they actually believe in, and the conflict is not as simple as good versus evil as commonly portrayed in their media.

Semana 1: Requiem por un campesino espanol

No he completado toda la historia a este punto, pero sino hasta el medio; sin embargo tengo un sentido muy extraño y familiar cuando leo Réquiem por un Campesino Español. Había una gran influencia de la iglesia en mi vida también durante mis años de infancia, exactamente como Paco. El padre de Paco desaprobaba de las acciones de la cura, quien llevaba a su hijo Paco a hacer las extremaunciones a los enfermos de la cueva; se sintió que el cura era un poco extraño y no quería que su hijo gastara más tiempo con este hombre. Al paralelo, mi papa también tenía estas sensaciones sobre la iglesia, que el clero adhería a las reglas ridículas al punto que no tenía sentido.

A veces, yo me pregunto: si esta gente tiene tanto tiempo y recursos para ayudar espiritualmente a los enfermos y los pobres, porque no abordar los asuntos más cercos e inmediatos como el hambre u el frio?

Pienso que era muy gracioso durante la parte donde Paco llevó a la pistola cuando era monaguillo durante la misa, y la pistola se cayó. Después, Paco pretende como nunca pasara. El contrasto era muy aparente, con la arma al dentro de un lugar de paz. Y también creo que eran muy profundas las palabras de Paco, cuando respondió a la cura por que tenía una pistola. Dijo algo como: Tengo la pistola así que los niños más peores no lo tengan y no maten a alguien. Es una frase muy común entre los políticos y las personas que hacen algo malo. Es el mismo argumento por los países que tienen armas nucleares, y dicen que los tienen porque es mejor que estos países tengan que las dictaduras tengan.

No es una gran parte de la historia, pero las prácticas de Jerónima, son muy interesantes; por ejemplo pone las tijeras debajo de la almohada de los infantes así que no tengan herraduras de hierro.

Pienso también que es muy interesante lo que dice la cura, cada vez que Paco habla de las pobres. Dice que siempre hay lugares peores por la gente sin techo en otros pueblos. No es una buena respuesta y pienso que solo dice para evitar los problemas reales.

Tengo unas preguntas sobre el monaguillo que ayuda a Mosen Millon durante la misa de réquiem de Paco: ¿por qué sabe tanto sobre este hombre, al punto que puede escribir canciones sobre él? ¿De qué relación es este niño a Paco?

Y por fin, ¿Por qué nadie vino por la misa de Paco?

SPAN 430 introduction

Hola todos, me llamo Sebastian y soy estudiante de las fisicas. Acabo de completar mi segundo año a UBC. Soy de Vancouver, y me gusta mucho jugar al futbol y rugby, y tambien tocar el piano y la trompeta. La lengua de espanol me interesa mucho, y quiero aprender mas sobre su literatura este verano. Espero que vaya bien el 430!