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.

1 thought on “Malraux – Days of Hope (L’espoir)

  1. Maurice Foley

    In the Penguin paperback edition of 1968 all the Spanish working-class and peasant characters speak cockney. So one gets the impression that the Spanish Civil War was mostly fought by East End wide boys. It is the most pathetic work of translation I’ve ever seen. Obviously the perpetrators, Stuart Gilbert and Alistair Macdonald, had not the slightest respect for the intentions of the author.


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