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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Friday, 18 June 2021

"A Moment of War" by Laurie Lee

Laurie Lee is best known for his memoir of childhood "Cider with Rosie" but for my money his later works deserve just as much attention. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning records a journey he made through Spain in the 1930s, tramping and busking with his violin. In this book, dedicated "To the Defeated",  Lee returns to Spain to fight in the Spanish Civil War as part of the International Brigade. It is full of incident. He is arrested as a spy ... three times, each time being imprisoned and expecting to be shot. He describes the shambolic training he underwent and how the ragamuffin soldiers amused themselves during the long periods of inaction. He has several encounters with girls and at least one with a boy (provided by the guards on what he expects will be his last night in the condemned cell). He describes the casual killing of those suspected of being spies, fascists or traitors. During a battle he himself kills a man. So there is plenty of excitement.

But the descriptions. Lee was a poet: his descriptions are lyrical:

  • "The guards, in their heavy brown overcoats, began to steam like sweating horses." (Ch 1)
  • "I saw the landscape shudder into shape." (Ch 1)
  • "It was now about noon, with the sun at its low winter strength, and across the northern horizon the mountains caught it like broken glass, each peak flashing with blue and white light." (Ch 2)
  • "Her body met mine with the quick twist of a snake." (Ch 2)
  • "The long-forgotten juices of real home-cooked food, swimming aromas of tomatoes, dried beans, and garlic sausage, and boiled chicken peeling on the bone." (Ch 6)
  • "We ... were faced by a small brass band like a firing-squad. In the dead morning light they pointed their instruments at our heads and blew out a succession of tubercular blasts." (Ch 3)
  • "When a shell hit the ground and exploded near by, the snow rose in the air like a dirty ghost, and hung there spikily billowing, before collapsing into the ground again." (Ch 8)

 The magical moments in this book are even more than ordinarily miraculous:

  • "I was at that flush of youth which never doubts self-survival, that idiot belief in luck and a uniquely charmed life, without which illusion few wars would be possible." (Ch 1)
  • "He didn't like that kind of warfare - mostly hanging about in ditches, then massacre and panic." (Ch 1)
  • "the simple, voluptuous appetite of youth when taste was never jaded." (Ch 6)
  • "It was one of the coldest nights I could remember. I lay with my hands between my thighs, my clenched teeth chattering, my overcoat crackling with frost." (Ch 8)
  • "Under bombardment, the body takes over the mind; it stiffens and melts, the mouth floods and dries, and all one's senses rush to the back of one's neck." (Ch 8)
  • "I had killed a man and remembered his shocked, angry eyes. There was nothing I could say to him now. ... Was this then 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?" (Ch 8)
  • "It was like taking part in some surrealist chess, where pawns became Kings and Queens without warning, and the value of the pieces changed in mid-play." (Ch 9)

Fabulous. June 2021; 178 pages

This review was written by

the author of Motherdarling 

and The Kids of God

This is even better than another great war memoir "Memoir of the Bobotes" by Joyce Cary.

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