I’ve picked up Duende many times while in book shops, but have never been convinced enough to buy it. However, while helping my brother redecorate his house he offered me a few books he was getting rid of, including Guerra and Sacred Sierra, by Jason Webster, the author of Duende.
A chance encounter with his neighbour in the mountains (Guerra comes after Sacred Sierra) leads Webster to look into the Spanish Civil war, and Guerra is his recounting of the events, intersped with his travels around his adoptive country investigating the events of 70 years ago, only some of which seem entirely relevant.
And that is the main reason I struggled with Guerra, Webster himself. His retelling of the civil war is detailed and uncluttered, giving great background into the events and their significance. However, his own travelling parts are both hackneyed and seemingly bland fantasy. Webster sets the scene up and when the inevitable happens there is no surprise or concern, or even interest, just a feeling that it all seems made up. While there are no reasons to doubt the veracity of the book, the retelling makes Webster seem incredibly either naive or extremely unlucky. From the mistaken arrest, the abandonment by the taxi driver, to the text book theft in the train station, it seems as if he has pulled out every cliche for a travel book, to make his own story as interesting as the war he is writing about. When he meets a jogger outside Castuera, where a concentration camp had once stood, the jogger tells him that someone in the nearby village saw a ghost, right where he was standing. I couldn’t make up my mind if it was ludicrous or just badly written.
The book picks up when he reaches Madrid and stays with his friend Kiki, who is by far the most interesting person in the book, and despite Webster claiming you can’t explain Kiki, he spends a great deal of time trying to do so. But Kiki is much more engaging and thought provoking than Webster. The scene where Pio Moa gave a speech to a room full of old elitist and students and whipped them into a frenzy was fascinating to read and Webster’s favour for Javier at the end was genuinely touching, but it wasn’t enough to rescue the book from a complete lack of interest.
I don’t really like writing a bad review, but you can’t like them all..and Webster has given me a great introduction to the Spanish civil war, and for that I am thankful.
From his headquarters, General Miaja urgently wired the government in Valencia for more ammunition. In reply he received a counter-order from the Prime Minister telling him to send down the cabinets table silver, which had been left behind in the rush to get away.