The Spanish Civil War: Beyond the Legends

June 1990By Jose M. Sanchez

Jose M. Sanchez is Professor of History at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri. He is the author of The Spanish Civil War as Religious Tragedy.

The Cypresses Believe in God. By Jose Maria Gironella.

The Spanish Civil War, perhaps more so than most epochal events, was two wars, a war of legend and a war of reality. The war of legend still has the greatest currency today, as the spate of works published on the 50th anniversary of the conflict reveals. The glamour of the International Brigades and La Pasionaria still retain their popularity. New printings of the war’s most famous novels, Ernest Heming­way’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and André Malraux’s L’Espoir (Man’s Hope), continue to ap­pear. The war of reality is forgotten.

But not in Spain itself. There, the most popular novel of the war remains Jose Maria Gironella’s The Cypresses Believe in God, which has gone through dozens of printings since it was first published in 1953. The American edition, translated and published by Knopf in 1956, was widely hailed, especially in the Catholic press, as the best book on the war. Gironella published three sequels, One Million Dead (1961 in Spain, 1963 in the U.S.), Peace After War (1966 in Spain, 1969 in the U.S.), and the yet untranslated Los hombres lloran solos (1986). But, while Hemingway and Malraux can be found in practically any bookstore, Gironella has been remaindered by his American publishers.

There are, I suspect, several reasons for this neglect. Cypresses is a sprawling thousand pages long with a Tolstoian cast of characters. Hemingway’s and Malraux’s novels are shorter and more finely crafted, and their authors be­came more famous than Gironella. But the main reason Cypresses is more neglected in the non-Spanish world is because it conveys a spiritual message that falls on unreceptive minds today.

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