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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Covering the war..., 30 April 2014
This review is from: Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War (Hardcover)
The Spanish Civil War, a prelude to WW2, began in 1936 and ended almost three years later. In the war years, Spanish cities and towns were turned into battlegrounds and hundreds of thousands of Spaniards were killed. Also killed in the fighting were foreigners sympathetic to one of the sides in the war and had traveled to Spain to take part in the war. The "International Brigades" were made up of men from the US, Britain, and European countries, wanting to help the Republicans, fighting off Franco and his Nationalist troops. The Germans sent men and materiel as well; looking forward to their own coming war, they tested out new weapons on the hapless Spanish. In addition to the fighters, the press came to Madrid and other Spanish towns. Writers and photographers hoping to both let the world in on what was happening in Spain. And if they also gained a bit of fame while covering the war, well, that was good, too. Certainly many war correspondents who became famous in the following big war, gained experience in covering the Spanish Civil War.

Amanda Vaill, author of two other superb works of non-fiction, looks at three "couples" who were part of the press coverage of the war in her new book, "Hotel Florida: Truth, Love, and Death in the Spanish Civil War", Two of the six were writers, Ernest Hemingway and his soon-to-be third wife, Martha Gellhorn. Two were photographers, Hungarian Robert Capa (he changed his name from Endre Friedmann when he began his career) and his companion and photographic partner, Gerda Taro. The other two highlighted by Vaill, were Spaniard Arturo Barea, who ran the press office in Madrid. He was joined by an Austrian woman, Ilsa Kulcsar. The Hotel Florida was the main hotel in Madrid, used by the correspondents and photographers covering the war.

Vaill does an excellent job at looking at all six main characters, as well as secondary-to-the-story characters. She doesn't only write about what was happening in Spain; she puts her subjects in Madrid only after telling how they got there. In most cases, their lives were building to the point of covering the battles, and most enjoyed success after the war was over. And by writing in shortish chapters, giving month, year, and place, she is able to control the narrative.
She writes with a bit of a cutting edge, but that makes her book even more interesting. Amanda Vaill has written a superb look at people and places in a certain time.

By the way, if the Spanish Civil War is of special interest, you might like to look into the work of Rebecca Pawel, who has written four mysteries starring a Nationalist police officer in Madrid, at the end of the war. The first book is called, "Death of a Nationalist" and is a great book about a man who fought for a cause he believed in. Most of the readers would not be sympathetic to the character but Pawel writes with such nuance that her characters and plots are excellently drawn.

Also, Amanda Vaill refers to the International Center of Photography in New York City. Begun by Robert Capa and continued after his death in 1954 by his brother, the museum is filled with the photographic work of Robert Capa and other war photographers. A great place to spend a few hours.
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