Review: On Paris

On Paris
On Paris by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This very brief work is a collection of Hemingway’s writings as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star. The author’s bright prose lights up what I believe to be the most fantastic city on earth, during the turbulent times of the 1920s. Paris was in a post-Versailles dilemma, the politicians fighting for German reparations and dangerously questing into the Ruhr valley. Hemingway vibrantly details the glamorous life in the French capital. The post-absinthe hedonism, the cafe culture, the nightlife of the Moulin Rouge. He contrasts the French joie de vivre with that of other European capitals and with a flamboyant passion for Paris, he brings to life this exotic city for all his readers.

View all my reviews

Advertisements

Review: The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939

The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939
The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 by Antony Beevor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a definitive history of the Spanish Civil War. The book has been regarded by the Spanish themselves as one of the best-researched volumes on this dark period of turmoil in their country’s history. The breakdown of democracy saw the split of the nation and a leftist democratically elected government was forced to deal with the rise of a militaristic fascist rising headed by Franco. The precursor to World War 2, this civil war attracted the interests of the rising Fascist movement across Europe with the Caudillo’s forces being supplemented and supported by Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. They got to test out their modern weaponry in the field of action and a lack of international support for the actual government left them with little alternative but to rely on the Soviet Union for their support. This led to the republicans being over-reliant on the Spanish communists who struggled to take over and erode democracy from their own angle, constantly infighting and vying for strength with the other elements of the Spanish left; the Anarchists and the POUM. This history details how all the events unfolded and describes how each of the key battles was won and lost. There was a ferociousness during this conflict which only civil wars attract. The horrors of modern war truly unfolded disasters such as Guernica only emphasised how critical air support had become. The German Condor Legion and their Meschersmitts, backed up by Italian Fiats, consistently demolished the Republican resistance and paved the way for an overall Nationalist victory. Poor military judgement, combined with Stalinist purges of even the more successful Russian generals, left the Republicans constantly making errors in their military tactics. The lack of proper international support (with the exception of the volunteer International Brigades), in particular from Britain led to the inevitable crushing of the elected government and their forces. Appeasement was in the air as Western politicians tried to avoid the inevitable European conflict that was brewing and the Spanish were sacrificed. It was a war of experimentation which left the Spanish people at the mercy of the violent forces which dominated the time. Franco consolidated his own power well and was relentless and unforgiving, not accepting any olive branch of peace when offered and pursuing an ultimate military victory so he could proceed to rebuild his country in his own image. The book is highly detailed and covers every angle well, though I would have perhaps wanted a more lengthy conclusion to discuss more of what happened in the post-conflict period. I look forward to tracking down some of the author’s other work, in particular, his account of the battle of Stalingrad which was often mentioned in this most excellent history of the Spanish Civil War.

View all my reviews

Review: Siddhartha

Siddhartha
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This short work by German / Swiss author and nobel literature prizewinner, Herman Hesse, was a cornerstone of the hippy movement which emerged during the 1960s. The book explores the journey of a young Indian man through an adventurous life, in which his main quest is to achieve enlightenment. He leaves home, becomes an ascetic and then meets the Buddha (Gotama), before rejecting asceticism and turning to the material world, seeking the pleasures of lust, wealth and gambling. He fathers a child with his lover and then departs off to seek pastures new, depressed and fed up of his life in the city. He finds a middle way between the asceticism of his youth and the high life of his merchanting. As a ferryman, next to the river, he lives with a wise old sage who comforts him and allows him to finally achieve the enlightenment he seeks. His son disowns him and his old friend, who becomes a follower of the Buddha, periodically bumps into him and eventually the story concludes with the two old men sharing views on life and what they have learnt, with Siddharta revealing some of the deep philosophies which have shaped him. It’s an exciting and eminently readable tale, full of Buddhist and Eastern mystical titbits that the reader can relate to and indeed be enlightened by. I can see why hippies favoured this novel and it really can be classed as a true twentieth century classic.

View all my reviews