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89 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Brilliant
This book is truly essential reading for anyone interested in the Spanish Civil War, or for that matter anyone with an interest in war, Communism, Socialism, Anarchism or in Literature. Orwell's account of the Spanish Civil War is more than just a brilliant account of life in a civil war, it is a first hand account of the horrors of Stalinism, and Orwell's experiences in...
Published on 6 Dec 2006 by Wally

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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A memorable account of an almost forgotten war.
The Spanish Civil War of 1936, might make your average 21st Century schoolboy scratch his head in ignorance, and half-imagine some sunny gun battles around the swimming pool of a rowdy Benidorm hotel. But to the idealistic and humanitarian George Orwell, it was the long-awaited chance to do his bit against the ever growing threat of Fascism; the political 'desease' as he...
Published on 21 April 2001


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89 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Brilliant, 6 Dec 2006
By 
This book is truly essential reading for anyone interested in the Spanish Civil War, or for that matter anyone with an interest in war, Communism, Socialism, Anarchism or in Literature. Orwell's account of the Spanish Civil War is more than just a brilliant account of life in a civil war, it is a first hand account of the horrors of Stalinism, and Orwell's experiences in Spain explain why he later wrote his best known works, 1984 and Animal Farm, to warn of the dangers which he knew so well.

The book starts out recounting Orwell's experiences of arriving in Spain as an eager volunteer wanting to help fight Fascism. He is shocked to discover the disorganisation and inefficiency of the Republican militias. The book then goes on to give a telling account of the boredom of trench warfare, where the nave Orwell wants to be able to kill at least one Fascist to do his part in the struggle for freedom, but ends up mainly having to contend with lice, rats and the freezing weather.

This alone might make for an interesting read, but the book really comes into its own in the latter chapters, where Orwell describes the struggle going on within the Republican controlled region of Spain. A wounded Orwell returns to Barcelona, where the Stalinists who have seized control of the government turn on their political rivals. Orwell is well placed to describe the May fighting between the Stalinist police who wish to enforce state control and the idealistic anarchists who want to defend their revolutionary gains.

Following the government victory, Orwell's small political party the POUM is made a scapegoat for the fighting and is outlawed. A stunned Orwell is forced to go on the run from the very Republic for which he had been so willing to risk his life. This makes for a damning indictment of totalitarianism that is still capable of gripping and infuriating the reader generations after the events described. Orwell shows that he is one of the finest writers in the English language, and this is probably his finest work, deserving to be read by all.
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83 of 89 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why did it take me 31 years to read this, 24 July 2003
By 
No, I am not that slow a reader. I have a confession. I tend to prefer fiction, am sceptical about autobiographies and cringe at travelogues. Quite simply I nearly fell off my perch reading this book. I picked up Homage to Catalonia after reading Anthony Beevors history of the Spanish Civil War. I cannot emphasise how much enjoyed these books. Beevor is interesting and educational...I learnt a lot. Orwell...wow! Lucid, vivid, charmingly naive (and aware of it). Ultimately beautiful. Ever wonder why Barcelona has Placa George Orwell? Read this an find out. Read this book to find out what REAL anarchists stand for (actually read both Orwell and Beevor.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A memorable account of an almost forgotten war., 21 April 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Homage to Catalonia (Paperback)
The Spanish Civil War of 1936, might make your average 21st Century schoolboy scratch his head in ignorance, and half-imagine some sunny gun battles around the swimming pool of a rowdy Benidorm hotel. But to the idealistic and humanitarian George Orwell, it was the long-awaited chance to do his bit against the ever growing threat of Fascism; the political 'desease' as he saw it, that would eventually explode across history with the rise of Hitler. What follows is a book of two blurred but seperate parts. The first, being Orwell's diary account of his experiences in the ugly, unromantic, and at most times, incredibly dreary reality of a Spanish trench under-fire.
Orwell's gift of description, and his honest, endearing attempts to make sense of the human and political chaos that ensues, makes this first part of the book a fascinating insight into a war that has been almost blotted from history by the enormity of world war two.
In the following chapters (added on as appendixes) we are given a frank lecture on the political meat of the war itself. This highly informative catalogue of the many bewildering factions of the conflict: the goals, hypocracies, and internecine betrayals, might be dry reading for the virgin Orwell lover of Animal Farm or Nineteen Eighty Four.
Orwell - always political, but usually incredibly subtle in his opinions - has taken his silk gloves off here. This can be heavy going at times, but imagine how tough fighting an actual war was! Casual Orwell fans please persevere. A book you certainly wont forget about a war that just about has been.
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41 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative on all fronts except the conjugal, 22 Jan 2003
This review is from: Homage to Catalonia (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
I first read Homage to Catalonia in the final year of my degree course as required reading for a course on the Spanish Civil War. Orwell's account is well written, descriptive and remarkably fair handed. It also scores over most other accounts as it is written entirely from his own experiences and is a useful counter to academic studies. For a newcomer to the topic the acronyms he bandies around are bound to be confusing, not even an entire chapter on background quite gets around this problem. However this follows from the confusing nature of the subject matter itself rather than Orwell's handling of it.
Orwell had the fortune, or misfortune, to be in Barcelona during the May Days when the Stalinists in the Republican Government turned against their own. It is Orwell's experiences here that prevent this from being merely a routine exercise in decrying the horrors of war. His scathing account of the Stalinist Terror in Spain was the reason this book was long ignored by the European Leftist intelligentsia, as yet unprepared to come to terms with the moral failings of the Soviet Union and prey to Soviet propaganda. So successful was Soviet propaganda in this respect in the west that the history of the Spanish Revolution remained largely unwritten until the 1970s. Orwell was one of the very few to buck this trend (see also Borkenau, "The Spanish Cockpit") and was vilified as a result.

Homage to Catalonia is a homage to the anarchist revolution, "the first time I had seen a town where the working class where in the saddle" and a requiem for its inevitable darkening and ultimate overthrow. For those who see the war in terms of communism/liberalism versus fascism he provides a much needed balance. Infact there is very little about fascism in this account as it did not impinge directly on Orwell's experience at all.
There is also much that is either humorous or strange in this book as befits an account of a time when communists were ruling in the name of the middle classes. In order to evade the secret police Orwell must sleep rough like a beggar but spend his days in restaurants and cafes like a respectable bourgeois gentleman. There is also a marvellous scene where the dreaded secret police ransack his house but are far too gentlemanly to kick his wife out of bed so leave it untouched. Which leads me to my major question with the book. What on earth did Mrs Orwell make of it all? She was clearly a loyal women following her husband at every turn but we never even find out her name. Some more personal comment on her role might have been nice but I guess Orwell isn't really writing that sort of a book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Says Something Universal About Political Change and Warfare, 28 Aug 2012
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This review is from: Homage to Catalonia (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Orwell had six rules for good writing:

Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print
Never use a long word where a short one will do
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Never use the passive where you can use the active
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent
Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous

These rules pretty much describe Orwell's own writing style, which is simple and straightforward, yet elegant and engaging. He was a man who lived a very full and somewhat eccentric life, giving up a career in the Burmese police force to wander around Britain as a Tramp and to live in poverty in Paris. He was very connected to working people and so understandably was drawn to the socialist side against Franco's Fascists in the Spanish Civil War (1936-9).

This is a remarkably detailed account of an ordinary foot soldier's life in wartime - comparable to Robert Graves' `Goodbye to All That' about his time in the trenches in WW1. Orwell doesn't have the big picture of how the war is going or what the strategy is but can see the hopeless organisation and pitiful logistics of the Socialists. He's cold, hungry, ill clothed and badly armed but it's remarkable how cheerful he and his comrades remain. I would guess that this is an almost universal account of the nonsense of war from a soldier's point of view.

In the second part of the book he goes on leave to Barcelona and gives an account of the complex political rivalry between the socialist factions. As an account of the home front this is less successful as the political infighting seems ridiculously petty and un-affecting compared to the soldier's life. Eventually however the group to which Orwell belongs (POUM) losses the political fight and becomes a banned organisation so that he has to flee Spain to avoid arrest.

In many ways this is bang up-to-date - I can well believe that anti-government groups in, say, the Arab spring are very much like Orwell's socialists - fervent for their cause, but badly equipped and divided politically. To that extent this is a very modern book that has some universal truths about revolution and political change and which is well worth reading.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific insight, 29 Aug 2010
Terrific insight. The book quickly takes you into the atmosphere and mood of the region during this time. If you are new to the subject, don't worry about who's who. Just go with the flow of the story.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The road from Aragon to Oceania: this book saves lives, 6 Oct 2009
This review is from: Homage to Catalonia (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
'Homage to Catalonia' is not just one of Orwell's best but one of the essential English-language books of the 20th century. Orwell's record of service with an anarchist militia in the Spanish Civil War is a vivid read and full of well-observed detail. (Not many other writers could make lice, mud and being shot through the neck subjects for wry humour.) However, mainly this book is a salutary reminder of what Stalinist Communism could do and how it misused political idealism to terrible ends.
Finding himself in a suddenly-proscribed organisation meant Orwell had to flee Spain under threat of death. Orwell saw from the sharp end just what Stalin's policies amounted to and the transparent falsity of any claims that Stalin stood for social justice or the workers' state. Orwell was clear-sighted about the important truth that opposing Fascist totalitarianism is not enough if you just end up embracing Communist totalitarianism instead. Just when many would have had us believe you either had to choose Fascism or Stalinism, Orwell stood out resolutely for the truth that you can (and should) reject both. Of course Orwell was right - but at the time this book was turned down by the Left Book Club for daring to suggest that Stalin was anything less than a thoroughly decent sort.
Contrary to what is claimed elsewhere, it was precisely Orwell's vehement anti-Fascism that made him detest Stalin: Stalin's policy in Spain put his own political goals over fighting Fascism and effectively handed the war to Franco. (In this edition, the main political chapters of the book are gathered in two appendixes but Orwell's message is clear throughout.) Very salutary reading, which illustrates how Orwell's thought developed on the way to other key works like `Politics and the English Language' and `Nineteen Eighty-Four'.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant book, author and anarchist, 20 Oct 2007
By 
A. Tatton "Anna Tatton" (Leeds) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Homage to Catalonia (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Orwell has been slandered slightly with the title of socialist. This book well and truly shows his colours - multicoloured of course. The book is an outstanding account and description of the Spanish Civil War, an excellent portrayal of effective anarchism in action in Barcelona in those early days, a brilliant advertisement for pacifism, and an excellent insight into the mind of someone whose lasting influnce in the world has even changed the language. Thought police, Big Brother, Room 101 - all terms inspired by true events outlined in this classic book. There's memorable glimpses into the horrors of life in war - the food shortages, rats, the seemingly-trivial issues of looking for firewood, the lack of actual fighting, but the fun and camaradery too.

There's so much in this little book - masculinity, class, war, socialism, anarchism and descriptions of the Ramblas in Barcelona that have stood the test of time.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great edition of a fantastic book, 29 Mar 2004
By 
Mark Klobas (Tempe, AZ, USA) - See all my reviews
Though best remembered for his novels ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four,’ most of Orwell’s early work was documentary, rooted in his life and experiences. These works cannot necessarily be taken at face value, however, as Orwell often flavored his accounts with fictionalized exaggerations in order to convey the essential truths that he encountered. ‘Homage to Catalonia,’ Orwell’s account of his experiences fighting with the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, is the most accurate of these works. Though many will read it seeking signs of his later work, it deserves to be appreciated in its own right for its engrossing depiction of Orwell’s time in combat and for his insights into the Republican political scene.
This book, part of the ‘Complete Works of George Orwell’ series edited by Peter Davison, offers more than Orwell’s narrative, though. Davison has reconstructed the book based on Orwell’s notes and provided a brief recounting of its publication history, as well as notes regarding variations in earlier texts. The result is to provide a window not just into Orwell’s time in Spain but into how he wrote about it as well, making this the definitive edition for students of this great twentieth century writer.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Famous first-hand account of Spain's 1936-7 Civil War, 24 Feb 2008
This review is from: Homage to Catalonia (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
A recent trip to Barcelona made me pull this book off my bookshelf, where it had been gathering dust since I first read it as a teenager 12 years ago. At the time I was very much into Orwell - his socialism, his hatred of Capitalism and his championing of the working classes. Though writing half a century earlier, he seemed to voice much of what myself and the other youths I hung around with believed.

Out of all Orwell's books that I read, I found this the least enjoyable and the most hard-going. I couldn't make head nor tail of who the different sides were, who was fighting who, what each side was fighting for and the complicated party politics of a Spain that existed nearly 60 years in the past.

The book is akin to Down and Out in Paris and London in that Orwell throws himself into an impoverished and dangerous situation which is not necessary for one of his social class and talents. Yet he does it anyway, mainly, I think, to provide the raw experience from which he can create these masterful literary accounts. In Paris and London Orwell writes about poverty and homelessness. Here he is writing about a war which, at first at least, he sees as being between 'the Fascists' and 'the working classes' (a perfect Orwellian subject). In the earlier book Orwell becomes a tramp. Here he becomes a soldier - a militiaman in a foreign army. Strange and noble that he should suffer so much for his art. However, 12 years on from my first reading, I can't help viewing Orwell's behaviour as a slightly patronising kind of 'social tourism'. When he has had enough, Orwell is able to, and in fact does, escape back to a comfortable middle-class existence back in England. This escape clause is not open to the real tramps, 'peasants' and militiamen he mixes with. This is not a severe criticism, though. Undoubtedly Orwell did genuinely care about the social injustices he witnessed and he was clearly trying to draw attention to them and strive for reform (he was instrumental in setting up the NHS in the 1940s).

This time I understood little more of what was going on than first time round. However, despite my lack of understanding, and despite having a markedly different political stance than I did as a teenager, I found the book to be much more rewarding this time round. Orwell's matter-of-fact reportage of trench warfare and street fighting is fascinating. His vivid descriptions of the antiquated weapons, attacking an enemy position, the freezing nights and the human lice - not to mention of getting shot through the throat ("The whole experience of being hit by a bullet is very interesting and I think it is worth describing in detail") - are vivid and eloquent. Also, you can see here embryonic elements that made it into Nineteen Eighty-Four (the systematic suppression and even murder of those that disagree with the state view, for instance).

This time round I was gripped all the way to the last sentence, by which time Orwell has returned home and finds England "sleeping the deep deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs." Chilling when you reflect that this book was published in 1938, only a year before WW2 broke out.
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Homage to Catalonia (Penguin Modern Classics)
Homage to Catalonia (Penguin Modern Classics) by George Orwell (Paperback - 30 Mar 2000)
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