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Max Aub: Campo de sangre [Field of Blood]

This is the second of Aub’s Magic Labyrinth series to be published but the third in the series. It opens on New Year’s Eve 1937 and ends a few months later. The style is very similar to the previous two books. Aub focusses on the trials and tribulations of the ordinary people caught up in the Spanish Civil War, concentrating on those on the Republican side. The opening part is set in Barcelona and we plunge straight into the violence. Three men have just been shot by a firing squad, while planes are bombing Barcelona. Two men are discussing the executions. Men fear pain, not death, says one. Aub saw it all as he was in Barcelona at the time, involved in the filming of L’Espoir, based in part on Malraux‘s novel of the same name and which I can very much recommend.

The story focusses on a group of a few middle-class men who are fighting on the Republican side. We have met some of them in the previous novel. The two at the firing squad are Julián Templado, a doctor, and José Rivadavia, a judge. The others are Jesús Herrera, a communist, and Paulino Cuartero, an intellectual and writer. We learn all about them. Templado, for example, was born in Madrid. He has four sisters and an older brother, called Juan, after his father. Juan Jr was a monarchist so Julián, who did not get on with his brother, became a Republican. Juan opened a shop which went bankrupt and his father had to bail him out, putting the family in dire financial straits. Julián became the golden boy, studying hard and becoming a doctor, though his behaviour was not always exemplary. He had a fling with a servant, after his mother died and wanted to marry her but that was soon stopped. (Julián will bump into her and her husband during the course of the novel.) He became a child psychologist but has gone back to conventional medicine since the start of the war. Lo que le gusta a Julián Templado es la vida; le gusta todo: el sol, la lluvia, las rubias, las morenas, las flacas y las gorditas, las altas y las bajas, el cine, el teatro, el vino, el agua, el puchero y el solomillo mejor adobado. [What Julián likes is life. He likes everything: the sun, the rain, blonde women, brunettes, thin ones, fat ones, tall ones, short ones, cinema, theatre, wine, water, puchero stew, well marinated sirloin.] His love for women comes out a lot during the course of the book. He is still looking for the woman of his dreams.

We also learn about the others as well as various other characters. There is Teresa Guerra, the actress, whom we also met in the last book and whom Julián is attracted to. Julio Jimenez is a poor man, whose wife is long since dead, who cannot find work. His son, Miguel, is fighting in the Battle of Teruel and Julio is desperately worried about him. There is the US journalist, Willy Hope, whose Spanish is sometimes an occasion for mockery. We meet Paulino’s wife, Pilar. Their marriage has not always been happy, though they do have five children. They are not having sex, something which worries Paulino.

For much of this section, the various friends meet and talk. They talk about the war, of course, the rumours, the failure of the British and French to intervene on the Republican side when the Germans and Italians are helping the Francoists, the prospects. But they also talk about women and books and Spain before the war and what went wrong and about the difference between the Spanish and the Catalans. The Spanish, says Willy Hope, prefer rapid solutions and rapid solutions are always violent. Templado (who is Spanish and not Catalan), however, comments Laws do not seem to be written for the Spanish. Personal relations are all that matters; it is probably the only thing we inherited from the Visigoths.

The second part of the book is about the Battle of Teruel and starts on 3 January 1938. By this time, the Republicans had entered Teruel (Hemingway was a journalist with the troops entering the city.) Aub does not focus too much on the blood and guts, though he mentions the Battle of Belchite, where there were a lot of men killed. Much of it is again a focus on the individuals and their role. They have to deal with the bitter cold but also the difficulties of gradually taking the town. They have to deal with prisoners and refugees. Jesús Herrera, whom we have already met, and Juan Fajardo, who are the two main characters in this section, capture some men who insist that they are Republicans and have just pretended to be Falangists to save their skin. Are they telling the truth?

We follow Herrera and Fajardo, as the Republicans do manage to take Teruel. When they finally do manage to take the town, Fajardo has to evacuate the wounded from the town. The town archivist, Don Leandro Zamora, is one of the wounded and he is badly wounded. While they are evacuating him in the ambulance, he talks non-stop, talking about various episodes in Spanish history. Cabileños somos y cabileños seremos. Más religiosos que Dios, más leales que nadie, sin respeto para la vida [We are Berbers and always will be. More religious than God, more loyal than anyone, without any respect for life].

The third part takes place back in Barcelona, where the bombing is now more intense. Again we follow the stories of various characters, including Rosario Zamora, daughter of Don Leandro, including her relationship with Paulino Cuartero. Life is becoming much more difficult for everyone. People are arrested as spies and shot. The news from the front is not good. The book ends with rumours of defeat and surrender.

Publishing history

First published 1945 by Tezontle, Mexico City
No English translation
Published in French as Campo de sangre by Les Fondeurs de Brique in 2010
Translated by Claude de Frayssinet
Published in German Blutiges Spiel by Eichborn in 2000
Translated by Mercedes Figueras