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The Library of Babel

A Spin-off of http://bookwormshead.blogspot.co.uk

Homage to Catalonia - Lionel Trilling, George Orwell Reading anything by Orwell is always worth and rewarding.
And "Homage to Catalonia" makes no exception.
As someone pointed out somewhere the way Orwell understood and described Spain surpasses by far what Hemingway wrote pretty much in the same years about the same country.

But while Hemingway spent his Spanish time in a sort of cosmopolitan way drinking, waking up late, watching bullfighting, munching tapas and generally having fun (Fiesta!), Orwell was freezing in trenches, picking up cigarettes butts in the mud, being assaulted by rats, dealing with faulty guns and being hunted down for no reason in a hostile Barcelona.

Now, nobody forced Orwell to have that kind of unpleasant experience and he later reckoned how he was pretty much a fool in volunteering among the socialist forces in the Spanish Civil War, but let's be frank: could you picture Ernest doing the same without asking for a bloody daiquiri?
The toll of that bell didn't really sound.

The less convincing part of this book is actually the first one when Orwell reports about his -rather modest- military actions with that sort of detailed step by step account that I don't really like although we knew he had a diary with him so that we expect how every tiny detail here is true.
But this doesn't happen very often and the most clever and interesting part of this book are the ones in which Orwell struggles with cold, lack of hygiene, disillusion and boredom. Something that another idealist like his countryman Lord Byron would have never mentioned.
Orwell's observations on the people who fought (or better waited) with him in the trenches are also very good in pointing out the absolute naivete of the whole combatants, mostly teenagers coming from peasant families which were hardly able to communicate with the foreigners fighting at their side and for the same cause.

And then come the hectic Barcelona days and the whole book stands up on a higher level.
What we have is now Orwell at his very best. And writing about real paranoids, not fictional ones, in a way that wallops master Kafka. What I can say is that I have not only read but felt the feverish state of Orwell and a whole town where good and evil, friends and enemies got suddenly all mixed up with no apparent logic.

This is a book to reread and to hold in a visible shelf.
This is a book that teaches you something in its own way and will always do.