This is the final of autobiographical work of Laurie Lee, a British dude who enjoyed romping around Europe. A Moment of War follows him as he decides to go battle against Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War. As you can imagine, it didn’t go well.
I am not sure what I was looking for when I started reading this book. It had been recommended by a friend, so I plugged away despite the fact that I would have probably gotten more out of the experience in general had I read Cider with Rosie and As I Walked out One Midsummer Morning first. In these books we see a bit of Lee’s youth, and his first attempts to spread his wings. In theory I should have gotten a sense about what I was dealing with. What I DID get from reading A Moment of War was the idea that war can really be senseless, and pointless, and miserable, and sometimes those fighting within the war have motives that they are unsure of. To be clear, none of this information is new, but a re-iteration is always appreciated. What I DIDN’T get from reading A Moment of War was any real chronological, back ground history, or even any cultural significance to the Spanish Civil War. If you want to read this book and have any sort of more profound understanding, you should definitely read Homage to Catalonia, The Battle for Spain, Winter in Madrid, or The Spanish Civil War.
When Lee arrives in Spain after tramping over the Pyrenees mountains (no small task) in winter to fight for the Republicans, he is immediately distrusted and taken prisoner. Lee was ill prepared, ill informed, full of youthful idealism that quickly dissipates as he witnesses (and participates) in horror, after horror. He meets other young men in similar positions and questions his own motivations all while remembering a girl from the past. I probably would have known who he was referring to had I read his earlier books or his poetry, but I hadn’t so it was a tantalizing trail leading to a ‘grass is greener’ attitude. While the narrative itself is disjointed, there is such a beauty in the way Lee writes. Sometimes it is sparse, but often the images his words evoke are so powerful. It was as though I loved the way Lee wrote, but not necessarily what was written. Another disconcerting issue is that Lee’s actual involvement in the war has been questioned. There is no record that he actually fought and his diaries were stolen, so… there has been a bit of speculation that A Moment of War is more of a fiction than a memoir.
In the end, I’m interested in reading more from Lee, either his memoirs or his poetry. As a stand alone book; however, A Moment of War was unimpressive.