I like books that stay with me after I’ve finished reading them. The re-telling of the Spanish Civil War by Victoria Hislop in The Return made me want to read more history books about the period. Before we lived in Spain I knew little about the Civil War. If pressed, I would quote only Picasso’s Guernica, the death of Lorca, and George Orwell fighting with the International Brigades. That, and Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman in the film of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.
So, The Return added a new layer to my understanding of Andalucía’s experience in the war and particularly of Granada. The legacy is there, if you look for it. Even in modern-day Malaga, evidence of the savage bombing of the port can be seen in the ugly apartment blocks built on derelict land. Thankfully the Old Town, catedrál and Alcazaba survived reasonably unscathed. It was impossible to visit Ronda for the weekly supermarket shop without seeing the Puente Nuevo and shuddering at the memory of the 512 suspected Nationalists who were marched off the bridge into the Tajo, the gorge, in the first month of the war. The atrocity is said to be the inspiration for a similar scene in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Both sides committed unaccounted-for atrocities. Even after Franco’s death in 1975 many people did not discuss the war in what was an unofficial pacto de olvido, a pact of forgetting.
There are tales today of Andalucían villages still split by Republican/Nationalist sympathies and modern-day incomers innocently putting their foot in it. Thankfully that didn’t happen to us. But the frequent small memorials at the roadside are 21st century reminders of men marched out of villages, executed and their bodies dumped. Spain is still coming to terms with its past. In 2007 the Socialist Government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero passed the Law of Historical Memory condemning General Franco’s uprising and dictatorship, banning symbols and references to the regime on public buildings, and ordering the removal of monuments to Franco. Many roadside remains of the executed have been located and reburied. Victoria Hislop’s The Return makes the subject more alive than many history books.