This is a historical book about the Spanish Civil War, so there are a lot of things I knew and didn’t know.
In the first chapter we get to meet Gerda Taro and Robert Capa when they take their famous photograph, the falling soldier. The Falling Soldier (full title: Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936) is a photograph by Robert Capa, claimed to have been taken on September 5, 1936. It was said to depict the death of a Republican during the Spanish Civil War. The soldier in the photograph was later claimed to be the anarchist militiaman Federico Borrell García.
Robert Capa (born Andre Friedmann; October 22, 1913 – May 25, 1954) was a Hungarian war photographer and photo journalist, arguably the greatest combat and adventure photographer in history. From 1936 to 1939, Capa worked in Spain, photographing the Spanish Civil War, along with Gerda Taro, his companion and professional photography partner.
Gerda Taro (real name Gerta Pohorylle; 1 August 1910, Stuttgart, Germany – 26 July 1937, near Brunete, Spain) was born into a Polish-Jewish family that migrated from Galicia to Germany. She became a war photographer, and the companion and professional partner of photographer Robert Capa. Taro is regarded as the first female photojournalist to cover the front lines of a war and to die while doing so.
Charles witnesses Gerda’s death in Brunete. During her coverage of the Republican army retreat at the Battle of Brunete, Taro hopped onto the footboard of a car that was carrying wounded soldiers when a Republican tank crashed into its side. Taro suffered critical wounds and died the next day, July 26, 1937.
The characters talk about the Nationalist uprising. The war began after a pronunciamiento (declaration of opposition) by a group of generals of the Spanish Republican Armed Forces, originally under the leadership of José Sanjurjo, against the elected, leftist government of the Second Spanish Republic, at the time under the leadership of President Manuel Azaña. The coup was supported by military units in the Spanish protectorate in Morocco, Pamplona, Burgos, Zaragoza, Valladolid, Cádiz, Córdoba and Seville.
The characters mentioned one of the Nationalist generals, Queipo de Llanos. Gonzalo Queipo de Llano y Sierra (February 5, 1875 – March 9, 1951) was a Spanish military leader who rose to prominence during Francisco Franco‘s coup d’état and the subsequent Spanish Civil War.
Another figure that is mentioned is Millan Astray, who founded the Spanish Foreign Legion. José Millán-Astray y Terreros (July 5, 1879 – January 1, 1954) was a Spanish soldier, the founder and first commander of the Spanish Foreign Legion, and a major early figure of Francisco Franco‘s Regime in Spain.
Charles and his friend Hugo join the International Brigades and fight against the Nationalists. The International Brigades were paramilitary units set up by the Communist International to assist the Second Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War. The organisation existed for two years, from 1936 until 1938. It is estimated that during the entire war, between 32,000 and 35,000 members served in the International Brigades, including 15,000 who died in combat; however there was never more than 20,000 brigade members present on the front line at one time.
The Republican government moves to Valencia in November 1936.
Rosa is from Granad and claims to have met Lorca at Concurso del Cante Jondo. El Concurso del Cante Jondo was a well-known celebration of the art of flamenco, its music, song, and dance, held in Granada, on Corpus Christi, the 13th and 14 June 1922. Its original organizer was composer Manuel de Falla, with early and strong support from poet Federico García Lorca.
When Freya first goes to Spain, she works at a war hospital in Morata de Tajuña.
There she meets Tom Henderson, who works for the Canadian Blood Transfusion Service, and he mentions Bethune as the person responsible for this organisation. Henry Norman Bethune /ˈbɛθˌjuːn/ (March 4, 1890 – November 12, 1939) was a Canadian physician, medical innovator, and noted anti-fascist. Bethune came to international prominence first for his service as a frontline surgeon supporting the democratically elected Republican government during the Spanish Civil War. Shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, with the financial backing of the Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy, Bethune went to Spain to offer his services to the government (Loyalist) forces. He arrived in Madrid on November 3. Unable to find a place where he could be used as a surgeon, he seized on an idea which may have been inspired by his limited experience of administering blood transfusions as Head of Thoracic Surgery at the Sacred Heart Hospital in Montreal between 1932 and 1936. The idea was to set up a mobile blood transfusion service by which he could take blood donated by civilians in bottles to wounded soldiers near the front lines. Though Bethune’s unit, the Servicio canadiense de transfusión de sangre, was not the first of its kind, Bethune’s Madrid-based unit covered a far wider area of operation.
Charles hang out not only with Robert Capa and Gerda Taro. There are other important figures. For example Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn. In 1937, Hemingway agreed to report on the Spanish Civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance, arriving in Spain in March. Journalist and writer Martha Gellhorn, whom Hemingway had met in Key West the previous Christmas (1936), joined him in Spain.
Another important person who is mentioned is Ted Allan. Ted Allan (January 26, 1916 – June 29, 1995) was a Jewish Canadian writer, several of whose books were made into motion pictures. In 1937, Allan joined the Mackenzie–Papineau Battalion to fight against fascism in Spanish Civil War and met up with Bethune again.
There is also a reference to La Pasionaria, whose speech Rosa and Freya hear. Isidora Dolores Ibárruri Gómez (9 December 1895 – 12 November 1989) – known as “La Pasionaria”was a Spanish Republican heroine of the Spanish Civil War and communist politician of Basque origin, known for her famous slogan ¡No Pasarán! (“They shall not pass“) during the Battle for Madrid in November 1936.
In July 1937, the Battle of Brunete takes place and Gerda is killed there. The Battle of Brunete (6–25 July 1937), fought 15 miles west of Madrid, was a Republican attempt to alleviate the pressure exerted by the Nationalists on the capital and on the north during the Spanish Civil War. Although initially successful, the Republicans were forced to retreat from Brunete and suffered devastating casualties from the battle.
In October 31, 1937 the Republican government abandons Valencia for Barcelona.
In January 1939, Barcelona was under fire, and we learn that the Italians dropped packets marked with the word ‘chocolate’ when in reality they were bombs, and many children died. They hadn’t had chocolate for years – and they just blew their hands off.
In March 1939 Freya is in a refugees’ camp in Cerbere, and it is here that Rosa finds her and asks her to look after her daughter.
Rosa is incarcerated and sent to the Ventas prison for women in Madrid. Ventas Women’s Prison (Madrid) was ne of the most formidable Francoist prisons, and one of five women’s prisons in the capital. Ventas was built in 1931 in the Ventas area of Madrid on Marqués de Mondéjas street, under the direction of Director General of Prisons, Victoria Kent.
Freya took Liberty to England, but then they got word from the Falange that the children had to be repatriated. During the civil war, many parents sent their children to foreign countries – including Britain, France, Russia – out of concern. Franco, after winning the war, declared that those children needed to return to Spain, with or without parental permission. The regime turned the repatriation of these minors into a large propaganda operation. A 1940 law stated that the legal authority of children in facilities belonging to the human rights’ group Auxilio Social (“Social Aid”) would automatically be transferred to the state. This created the risk that parents would forever lose their children if they sent them to foreign countries.
In England Freya has a cottage in St Ives, and Emma goes there after Joe’s death. She goes for long walks along Bamaluz Beach. St Ives is a seaside town, civil parish and port in Cornwall. The town lies north of Penzance.
We also learn that Emma studied in Grasse. Grasse has had a prospering perfume industry since the end of the 18th century. Grasse is the centre of the French perfume industry and is known as the world’s perfume capital.
Emma meets Luca in Valencia’s cathedral where there is the Holy Grail, which is something I didn’t know. The catherdral was consecrated in 1238 by the first bishop of Valencia after the Reconquista. One of the supposed Holy Chalices in the world is revered in one of this cathedral’s chapels; this chalice has been defended as the true Holy Grail.
The novel ends in the Torres de Quart where Emma finds Delilah after the latter had kidnapped Joseph.