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A great collection... but how much is true?,
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This review is from: Red Sky at Sunrise: Cider with Rosie, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, A Moment of War (Kindle Edition)
I bought this collection for my holiday in Madrid - I like to read something set in the country I travel to and have had this collection on my wish list since I first read Cider With Rosie. I re-read Cider With Rosie before leaving for Spain and loved it as much the second time round as the first. It's not a book with a narrative line; it moves from one year to the next and back again, each chapter focussing on a particular thing - his mother, the kitchen, school etc. But in its totality it paints a heartachingly beautiful picture of a life that has now gone, a poor, insular rural existence which had been the norm for many hundreds of years but which was to come to an end with the coming of the motorcar and the intrusions of the modern world. His love of family and home is infectious, and his descriptions of the English countryside magnificent.
As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning gave a tremendously vivid impression of Spain before the Civil War, the grinding poverty that was beginning to ferment revolt. The first section is about his time in London living with ordinary working people. Contrast that and his time in Slad with what he finds in Spain and you realise the rural poor in Spain were centuries behind us, even though our people weren't living the life of Reilly. I went to some of the places he visited - Segovia, Toledo and Madrid - and indeed stayed in Madrid in the street parallel to the one in which he spent his last night or boozing and whoring in Madrid and which he revisited a couple of years later during the Civil War (in A Moment of War). Reading it on location added an extra dimension, but everything is so vividly described that you don't need to be there to enjoy it - he takes you there.
A Moment of War paints a truly grim picture of the chaos and tragedy of the Civil War. Spain has become a country in which no one is safe, no one trusts anyone, neighbour is set against neighbour, the streets are empty as people stay out of sight, out of mind in their houses.
I loved them all. There's too much to say about them, but the one thing I would say, having read around Laurie Lee's life a little, I wonder how much the poet has papered over the cracks of the truth to build up his own story, his own involvement.
There's a line near the end which for me very simply but very powerfully sums up the futility of war. He has finally seen action and has killed a man; "Was this what I'd come for, and all my journey had meant - to smudge out the life of an unknown young man in a blur of panic which in no way could affect victory or defeat?" Brilliant!