My reading project for 2020 was going to be the works of Victor Hugo – I even read the first 20% or so of Les Miserable.
But then the Corona virus came out of China and changed all that. It didn’t take long before I’d lost all interest in Hugo and the government reaction to the pandemic put me in mind of George Orwell. So during the lockdown I read two of his novels: Animal Farm and 1984 and his memoir of his time fighting in the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia.
The first two I had already read, of course, but not for many years and definitely not a perspective of being in a government lockdown and being increasingly suspicious that the pandemic – like crises before – were being used as an excuse to limit civil rights and extend government controls.
I’ve no great insight into either of the fictional works that others haven’t already discussed except reading them back-to-back I’d realized that one was a history and the other a projection. Animal Farm, written first, tells the story, allegorically, of Stalinist Russian. While 1984 gives us a future England/Airstrip One that Orwell envisions. We are still between those two – falling backward and forward to one or the other.
Homage to Catalonia is not so much a story about the Spanish Civil War so much as a story of how the left always manages to eat itself. Animal Farm is pretty much the same thing. In Homage, Orwell details how he went to Spain to fight Fascist but joined the wrong kind of communist unit and in the end had to make a break for the French border before the Russian backed communist tossed him in jail or put a bullet in his head.
Throughout though, his story of fighting – such as it was – at the Spanish front makes for some nice scenes and his own story of being shot through the neck is gruesome. My only gripe about the book is a lack of footnotes. It read like a newspaper article and not being an expert on the war, I had a hard time keeping up with the players, especially when many of the parties were abbreviated.