Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell – Book Review

Summary

I review Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, his sixth published book and a commercial failure. An historically important account of the Spanish Civil War and featuring the seeds of some themes which were developed on in 1984. 

The Spanish Civil War

Eric Arthur Blair (George Orwell) volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the Republicans. The Republicans were made up of left leaning groups such as socialists, communists and anarchists. They were at war against the Nationalists, a more conservative right leaning group which was ultimately led by Franco.

The above description of the war sounds rather straightforward. However, the reality of the war was much more complex. Amongst the many varied groups fighting on the side of the Republicans were many differences of political opinions. As a result there was a large amount of fighting between them. The only thing that they seemingly could all agree on was their opposition to Franco and the Nationalists.

Reader feel free to skip!

Orwell acknowledges in the book that the political background to the war is a rather dry topic. Consequently he invites the reader to feel free to skip a couple of the chapters where he explains this. I must admit that with all the various acronyms, it is rather difficult to follow. The couple of chapters dedicated to this clearly convey the confusion that must have existed. People fighting on the same side ultimately began fighting against each other. The group that Orwell joined to fight with was the POUM. The POUM were actually outlawed as the war progressed. POUM soldiers returning from the front were arrested or even worse shot. They were shot for being a member of a political group that was now illegal.

Trench Warfare

Orwell is very readable and brings alive what could have been a very dry subject. Trench warfare is described in vivid detail. As you read the book you feel that you experience the trenches of the Spanish Civil War.

Interestingly there is a complete lack of action in the trenches. Soldiers were ill equipped with a lack of guns and bombs. Equipment that was provided to soldiers was often dangerous and very old. Next to no training was provided to the soldiers. As a result a very hopeless picture is painted.

The trenches were too far apart for any real fighting to take place. Soldiers were wounded mostly be stray bullets or a lucky shot landing. Orwell himself was shot in the trenches. His description of this is very powerful and he also discusses the mental effects that this had on him.

Rumble on La Rambla

La Rambla is the lovely main street that runs through the city of Barcelona. It is a wide avenue with beautiful old buildings, flowers sellers and newsagents. Upon arriving in Barcelona, Orwell finds a city owned and run by the people. A city where tipping is outlawed and everyone is a comrade.

Orwell describes how La Rambla is transformed into a battle ground. As a result of the fighting amongst the republican groups, street fighting broke out. Orwell details his experience of this and also the many differences in the reported versions.

La Rambla – Barcelona – the scene of street fighting in Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

A very understanding Mrs Blair

As you read this book, Orwell happens to mention that his wife is with him! He occasionally mentions that she is in a hotel in Barcelona whilst he is at the front fighting the forces of Franco! Mrs Blair’s account of the whole experience would have been very interesting too. As the book draws to a close, we see Mr and Mrs Blair trying to escape Spain. Orwell is wanted by the police for having been a member of a now outlawed political party. It is quite clear how lucky they were to escape and that Orwell lived to write his future masterpieces.

The Truth is what we say it is – origins of 1984

In Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, the writer states from the outset that he is describing his personal experiences of the Spanish Civil War. He makes this clear because his account differs to some of the widely accepted accounts or facts of the war.

Orwell discusses how every event that took place was subject to propaganda and spin. We often hear the phrase that the victor of a war writes the history. In this situation we become aware of how printed propaganda just serves to confuse historians. Just because something is written down does not make it true. The irony of this is not lost on Orwell as he is writing his own version of events. His version of events that will be flavoured with his own political opinion and leanings.

Let us remember that we are also talking about propaganda amongst the forces fighting Franco. During the street fighting in Barcelona amongst the Republican forces there were many differing accounts of events. For each event that took place there was at least the Government’s official version, the anarchist version and the Communist version.

Orwell reflects on the in-fighting and war in general;

Everyone believes in the atrocities of the enemy and disbelieves in those of his own side, without ever bothering to examine the evidence.

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

As the war progressed, Orwell states that it became evident that some form of dictatorship would result. He reflects on the political leaders who he saw as having power to say that 2 + 2 = 5 and for it to be held as true. These themes of propaganda and control of truth are explored and developed in 1984.

La Sagrada Familia

Barcelona is a beautiful city and has wonderful architecture. La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s cathedral, is a huge tourist draw. The cathedral is completely unique and is unlike any other in the world. The way it is constructed allows for a beautiful and magical dance of colours inside from its stained glassed windows. Orwell describes it as “one of the most hideous buildings in the world.” Sorry Eric but I must disagree with you there!

Described as hideous in Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
La Sagrada Familia interior – roof detail

In Summary

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell is an interesting book from a number of perspectives. It is a first hand experience of trench warfare in the Spanish Civil war and also of the Barcelona street fighting.

The book also explores themes that Orwell developed later in 1984. Themes of totalitarianism and government controlled rewriting of history.

I knew very little about the Spanish Civil War before reading this book. As a result this is what attracted me to the book. Following the yogic concept of self-study, svadhyaya, I set out to learn!

Find out more about George Orwell here: https://www.orwellfoundation.com/the-orwell-foundation/about/about-george-orwell/

Eric Arthur Blair aka George Orwell

Check out our other book reviews here: https://yogasmiths.org/category/book-review/

World Book Day 2020

World Book Day 2020 – Svadhyaya (self-study)

Today is World Book Day 2020 and we are going to look at how it links with the 8 limbs of yoga.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali one of the 8 limbs of Yoga are the Niyama (limb number 2). These are five virtuous behaviours that Patanjali recommends that we cultivate in ourselves. The 4th Niyama is Svadhyaya. This translates as self-study. How does this fit in with World Book Day 2020?

There are two elements to this idea of self-study. There is the study of the self and there is self directed study. As today is World Book Day I am going to discuss the later.

Svadhyaya as self-directed study is the reading of books that will enrich our lives. Books that allow us to develop in a positive way. This is very much in line with what we would call “life-long learning’.

It is the study and reading of texts / films or documentaries that will enrich our lives. Material that will result in increase our knowledge of ourselves. Modern research has shown that continuing to learn new things late into life can in some cases help to fend off dementia and cognitive decline.

In his book Samadhi, Gregor Maehle interprets Svadhyaya as prioritising the desire to answer the following questions;

  • Who are we?
  • What is our true identity?
  • What is the purpose of our life?

Applying svadhyaya to life

Svadhyaya has quite a life changing implication here around our consumption of such things as newspapers and television. Are we watching television programmes that inspire us and enrich our lives? Or do we use television as “chewing gum for the eyes”? Are we reading newspapers that educate us? Or do they instil us with fear of the world? Svadhyaya is mindful consumption of television and media. Being aware of how such things make you feel.

Over the years I have reduced my consumption of television dramatically. As a result only choosing to occasionally watch documentaries and films. This has had a positive effect for me, I became aware that often certain television programmes left me feeling annoyed, frustrated or down. Removing this source of negativity can have an uplifting effect on your general mood. This all comes down to mindfulness and having a greater awareness of how such things make you feel. I have found more time to read books and to undertake study. I have always found books to be a rich source of inspiration not just philosophical books or yoga books but also biographies. Biographies can give us a good insight into other peoples experience of life, this can help us foster feelings of empathy and compassion allowing us to put ourselves in the place of the author.

My own love of books and reading

I have always enjoyed reading and this is something that my parents encouraged in me as a little boy. Growing up we didn’t have a lot of money but my parents always bought me a new book when I had read my current one. As a result this was encouragement to read! Mum would take me down to Chapter One bookshop in West Kirby and I would pick a Willard Price adventure book. These books transported me to exotic lands and exciting adventures and gave me a desire to travel when I was older.

I also loved Enid Blyton. Newton Post Office had a selection of children books and I would love looking at the selection of Famous Five titles. I read some of the Secret Seven books but my favourites were the Famous Five. The escapades of the five and Timmy the dog had me enthralled. Their adventures on Kirin Island felt almost possible for me with Hilbre Island sitting in the estuary. I remember my Dad telling me that smugglers used to use Hilbre Island and this made it all the more exciting and real!

When I was 7 years old we got a lovely little dog called Sandy and she was my “Timmy the dog” from the Famous Five stories. We would have lots of adventures in the fields around Newton, finding dens and watching foxes, rabbits and hares. This sense of exploration and interest in life and nature came directly from the books that I read.

This interest in books and knowledge stayed with me into adulthood and is a continuing gift that my parents gave to me by providing me with books as a child and by taking me for walks in nature.

World Book Day 2020

Today is World Book Day, Thursday 5th March 2020. The impact that reading and access to books can have on a child and the subsequent adult is great. I feel that encouraging reading is as important as ever in this age of modern technology. The purpose and aims of world book day from their website are below;

World Book Day is a registered charity on a mission to give every child and young person a book of their own. It’s also a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) it’s a celebration of reading. In fact, it’s the biggest celebration of its kind, designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and marked in over 100 countries all over the world.


This is the 23rd year there’s been a World Book Day, and on 5th March 2020, children of all ages will come together to appreciate reading. Very loudly and very happily. The main aim of World Book Day in the UK and Ireland is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own. That’s why we will be sending schools (including those nurseries and secondary schools that have specially registered to participate), packs of Book Tokens and age-ranged World Book Day Resource Packs (age-ranged into Nursery/Pre-School, Primary and Secondary) full of ideas and activities, display material and more information about how to get involved in World Book Day.

From www.worldbookday.com

Support World Book Day in any way that you can, it is a fantastic initiative!

Here is a link to the World Book Day website where there are lots of great resources; https://www.worldbookday.com

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