Book Review: Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

Yes: George Orwell wrote more than just Animal Farm and 1984, in fact.

4 comments

Yes: George Orwell wrote more than just Animal Farm and 1984, in fact.

About the Book

Title: Homage to Catalonia

Author: George Orwell

Published: 1938

Genre: classics, memoir, history, politics

My Rating: 4/5 stars

The Premise

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In 1936 George Orwell travelled to Spain to report on the Civil War and instead joined the fight against the Fascists. This famous account describes the war and Orwell’s own experiences. Introduction by Lionel Trilling.

(A very short and sweet synopsis!)

My Thoughts

Homage to Catalonia is Orwell’s account of his time in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, a topic that I know very very little about.

(Perhaps it’s a testament to the inadequacy of the American school system that I didn’t even know Spain had a civil war until I read Ruta Sepetys’ The Fountains of Silence a couple years ago)

Anyway, the book is part memoir of Orwell’s experiences in the war, part attempted explanations of the very complicated politics of Spain during this time.

I found myself heading onto Wikipedia to make sense of the situation described in this book. I mean, in one chapter we’ve got fascists, communists (and “right-wing communists”?), anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, Stalinists, Trotskyists, socialists, liberals– like user flairs on the most unhinged of political subreddits. There were also a ton of party acronyms I had to try to commit to memory: PSUC, POUM, CNT-FAI, UGT etc. etc. Essentially: the war was the fascists vs. all the left-wingers who could not agree on anything.

What was interesting was reading this in light of Orwell’s later books, as it was published 7 years before Animal Farm and 1984. You can see a lot of the same themes coming back, which makes sense and as this book is about his real life.

At the beginning of Homage to Catalonia , Orwell joins the POUM (one of the leftist parties) militia with the intent of fighting against fascism and inspired by what he saw as a promising beginning to a revolution.

“If you had asked me why I had joined the militia I should have answered: ‘To fight against Fascism,’ and if you had asked me what I was fighting for, I should have answered: ‘Common decency.”

However the revolution does not really work out as he wanted, the leftist parties have too much infighting and the book ends (*spoiler*) when the PSUC (one of the parties) maligns the POUM by saying they were fascist spies, the Spanish government outlaws the POUM, declares them “Trotsky-fascists” and begins arresting and executing everyone in it, forcing Orwell to leave the country.

“The whole thing seemed too absurd. I had the ineradicable English belief that ‘they’ cannot arrest you unless you have committed a crime. It is a most dangerous belief to have during a political pogrom.”

Many of the warnings against totalitarianism and failed revolutions that are characteristic of Orwell’s fiction books you can see in this one as well. The PSUC was more affiliated with Stalinism, the influence of which I think is obvious in Orwell’s other books.

“The fact is that every war suffers a kind of progressive degradation with every month that it continues, because such things as individual liberty and a truthful press are simply not compatible with military efficiency.”

The most interesting chapter was the one in which he talked about the propaganda that was being spread throughout the war and how it was very easy for the facts of events to become distorted by journalists and partisan news outlets. At the end of the book he even reminds the reader that this book will inevitably be biased as well. And like Orwell’s other work, his observations in this book are timeless and definitely worth a read.

“It is the same in all wars; the soldiers do the fighting, the journalists do the shouting, and no true patriot ever gets near a front-line trench, except on the briefest of propaganda-tours.”

The Verdict

I would definitely recommend Homage to Catalonia if you want to read one of Orwell’s nonfiction books, or if you’re interested in this part of history.

George Orwell remains one of my favorite authors, and as I mentioned in my review of “Politics and the English Language”, is one of the influences that got me to start paying attention to politics in the first place. I haven’t reviewed 1984 or Animal Farm on my blog as I read both of them before I started it, but perhaps I’ll do a re-read and review those one day.

Have you read Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell? If so, what did you think of it?

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4 comments on “Book Review: Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell”

  1. I’ve only read 1984 by Orwell, and I did enjoy it. You’re right, his writing is timeless as the same themes he wrote about years ago are still relevant today.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read it in two languages, and my impression is that it is a factual draft of 1984. The same ground is covered in the 1948 fiction as in the Spanish war memoir, only recast with artistic license and amplified to include later lessons.

    Liked by 1 person

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