Entre el roig i el negre

Last night someone passed me, and I speed-read, Entre el roig i el negre (previous ref), a historical novel that claims to be based on the memoirs of an anarchist gunman. The expository device – documents found in an English flat relating to a mysterious Spanish Civil War past – is probably taken from Ken Loach’s Land and freedom, but the ineptitude with which author Miquel Mir Serra handles it relegates him to the company of fellow-users like Josep M Miquel i Vergés, whose truly dreadful Un deliri de mar was published recently with council subsidies. The content of the extended sections of diary “quotation” includes a wealth of information which would not have been available to a vehicle mechanic here in the 30s or in subsequent London exile. The narrative style is that of an amateur historian, and the author did indeed work for several decades as a municipal archivist. No attempt is made to help us get to know the characters, and their experiences often remind one more of a 70s sociology department – at one point the “diarist” tells us the struggle is against “social marginalisation” – than in a 30s truck garage.

So why is such a lousy novel selling reasonably well? Because there is a great hunger for historical truth (or whatever passes for it) concerning the Civil War. And, although the flap says “historical novel”, the author makes every effort to have us believe that he is presenting historical truth. The flat at 48, Inverness Terrace, Bayswater where the diary is said to have been found does indeed exist, as do the other locations mentioned in the scene-setter, and much of the information presented in the “diary” I know to be accurate.

However, while we are encouraged to take the novel as history, its broad thrust is clearly the falsification of the past. Mir was also for years a local party hack for the Catalan ethnic supremacists, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, and his book is an assault on his party’s declared enemies: anarchists, the complex coalition for which he uses the national-progressive name “fascists”, and “espanyolistes” of the left. And who emerges guiltless? Those who his party has chosen as its forebears, despite clear historical evidence of their acquiescence and participation in the killing and burning of 1936, as well as their crucial role in kicking to death the republic in the pre-war years. Shamefully, this crude political apologia was published with assistance from Barcelona Council, the Barcelona and Girona regional delegations, and the Institute of Catalan Letters.

(Here‘s Nihil Obstat’s view and here‘s what current anarchists (or whatever) say.)

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