There are books like boomerangs that return, offering glimpses of the past with the urgency of the first flight. That is the case of to blood and fire, the book about the Civil War by Manuel Chaves Nogales. The work of the Sevillian journalist —a compendium of stories about militiamen, blacksmiths, nuns, Falangists, mothers, office workers and also real characters, such as André Malraux or Rafael Alberti, turned into victims, anti-heroes, murderers or deserters, trapped between extremism and the madness of war—experiences a resurrection.
Published in the middle of the war, in 1937, by a Chilean publishing house called Ercilla, unpublished in Spain until 1993, when the Renaissance publishing house recovered the work, and relaunched by Libros del Asteroide in 2011; interest in this book revives: in 2018 it had an adaptation in podcast Broadcast on Onda Cero under the direction of Carlos Alsina. At the beginning of 2021, Movistar+ announced a series inspired by the work of Chaves, signed by Rodrigo Sorogoyen and Isabel Peña, director and screenwriter of as beasts either The kingdom, but in April the platform disassociated itself from the initiative. Since then, Sorogoyen has been looking for financing and new allies to move it forward. “It is the project of my life and I am sure that sooner or later it will come out. I’m not in a hurry, ”he confirms in a telephone conversation.
With the working title of Warthe series of six chapters —of which three already have the script practically developed— is inspired “in the spirit” of Chaves, Sorogoyen concedes, but not in his fictional stories of to blood and fire. He does have that point of view of the Sevillian “towards the people who suffered the war from both sides, trying to be objective, something so difficult in a fight like this, without betting on white or black, but on the range of grays”, He says.
Chaves’s work, “so hidden and silenced for so long,” denounces Sorogoyen, he discovered it many years ago thanks to the recommendation of a friend, and he was impressed by that “not a simplistic look” that he wants to apply to his series. “There is less and less talk about war and it is a fundamental fact in our history. If a survey were carried out on young people, very few would know how to explain what happened. And you have to do it.”
The one that is already underway is the project of Juan Antonio Bayona, director of A monster comes to see me either The Snow Society. Bayona is working on the adaptation of to blood and fire with Agustín Díaz Yanes as a scriptwriter and has been immersed in the project for several years. The Barcelona filmmaker explained it in the framework of the Seville film festival, held in November. In a meeting with the public, Bayona explained that Chaves’s book interested him “especially in the humanist vision” of the war, that he had been developing the idea for several years and that this writer had a sentimental meaning for him because his father, originally from the town of Osuna—was from Seville, like the journalist. Bayona has the approval of the Chaves family. He personally knew Pilar, the eldest daughter of the author of Juan Belmonte, bullfighter, who died in 2021 at the age of 101, and has had access to all kinds of testimonies and documents. When asked by this newspaper, neither Bayona nor Yanes have wanted to expand the information, alleging that it is still early to talk about the project.
“It is a book that talks about the impact of war on normal people, about the cruelty and stupidity to which it drags them. Hence the importance of the subtitle: Heroes, beasts and martyrs of Spain”, explains Antony Jones Chaves, grandson of the journalist, about a work translated into German in November by the Kupido publishing house. According to Jones, the effort to disseminate the work of his grandfather implies a commitment to freedom and democracy, and with projects like the one in Bayonne, he aspires to reach audiences of different generations and different points of view. “The idea is that people think, that they reflect,” he adds. “My grandfather highlighted the danger of letting yourself be carried away by extreme factions, those that force you to choose. His warning is that you have to fight to be free and have independence of criteria ”.
Born in 1897 in Seville, Chaves Nogales began writing for the Seville newspaper as a teenager the Liberal. He then went to Madrid, where he worked at the magazine Stamp and the Herald of Madriduntil in 1930 he took charge of the republican daily Now, located on the Cuesta de San Vicente. Those were good times: he lived with his family in a stately apartment, in the same building as the Newsroom, and he was well known and respected. But he did not get carried away by mirages. “I have the impression that all this is temporary. We will end up in a poor attic in an alleyway in Paris, ”he told Pío Baroja, one of the writers he called to collaborate on his newspaper along with Valle-Inclán, Unamuno or Josefina Carabias.
His prediction was accurate: when on November 6, 1936 the Government of the Republic abandoned its post in Madrid to move to Valencia, he abandoned his. He went into exile and, for a time, he and his family lived poorly in a pension of “a suburb of Paris, which is where the residues of humanity that the monstrous edification of the totalitarian States are leaving fall”, he writes in the prologue of to blood and fire“a masterpiece, of exceptional lucidity, uncontaminated by the hatred between sides”, according to Ignacio Garmendia, editor of the complete works of Chaves for Libros del Asteroide, published in 2020.
His nose never deceived him. In the 1930s, she understood the gloomy future that was coming to Spain and Europe, and she conveyed it in articles and reports. He was a direct witness to the impact of the Russian Revolution, the rise of fascism in Berlin and Rome, and he toured the Spanish geography taking notes on lives that were breaking down into increasingly conflicting ideological gaps. With the uprising of Franco’s troops, fighting “against fascism with the weapon of my trade”, as he writes in the aforementioned prologue, he continued to direct the newspaper. And there he continued until he feared for his life. “I was perfectly capable of being shot,” both for those who rose up against the Republic and for the revolutionaries, he argued in the book. That’s why he decided to run away.
From there it arises to blood and fire, “a writing in the flesh”, explains María Isabel Cintas, a researcher and expert on the work of Chaves. The origin comes from the urgency of capturing the pain and unreasonableness of what he saw, heard and lived through the months that he remained in Madrid. “He talked to a lot of people, from different sides. He had many sources. He took notes and did interviews with the militiamen who returned to the city at night and told him episodes of what was happening at the front,” Cintas details. He lived the war in the newspaper itself, on the same Cuesta de San Vicente, where there were barricades. With the transfer of the republican government, he considered the war lost and left, but followed the course of events once he left Madrid.
As Chaves himself explains in the prologue, the protagonists of his stories are based on real people, many of them identified by Cintas. This is the case of “comrade Arnal” in the story briesca’s treasureinspired by Emiliano Barral, an anarchist sculptor friend of Chaves, who went to see him at the Editorial Office and who died defending Madrid in the autumn of 1936. Or the figure of Daniel, the worker allergic to sectarianism who stars in the story workers councila transcript of the figure of the author himself, according to the researcher.
The stories in the book, serialized over the course of the war in newspapers and magazines Argentine, Mexican, Cuban, French, English and New Zealand, and later in book format in Chile, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, speak of the terror that devours quiet men, of sneaky businessmen and cowardly workers, of the outbreak of a hallucinated nationalism that leads some character to shout “long live the stew and down with the Foreign Office”, of weapons and explosives hidden in the basements of the Teatro Real (Madrid), of fifth columnists who see their father shot without even blinking and of gentlemen on horseback through Andalusian fields “capable of dealing the same with a bullfight of a miura than a Town Hall of the Popular Front”.
Rescued from black oblivion thanks to Cintas, the editor Abelardo Linares and the writer Andrés Trapiello, Chaves’ look at the war, raw and boldly free, has been vindicated by authors as diverse as Antonio Muñoz Molina, Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Felipe Benítez Reyes, Jorge Martínez Reverte, Mar Abad or Ignacio Martínez de Pisón.
According to Garmendia, the validity of to blood and fire It is due to the clairvoyance that he transmits for “defending democracy at a time like that, to his power to overcome extremism.” The editor and critic encourages you to read the Sevillian journalist “because of his writing, absolutely modern and current”, and because of his legacy: “Learning that dialogue is the basic tool between people”.
europe on fire
Beyond the Civil War, Chaves was one of the great European chroniclers of the first half of the turbulent 20th century. A journalist who was in the right place at key moments, a writer who walked the streets and villages throughout the continent and who, in turn, interviewed Alfonso XIII, Emperor Haile Selassie, Charles Chaplin, Joseph Goebbels or Winston Churchill.
He didn’t like what he saw. In June 1932, in a conference at the Ateneo de Sevilla, he warned: “I have known the red, black and brown dictatorships up close. And I am an enemy of all of them because they lower the dignity of man. In the world there is only one possible regime: that of the tolerant and understanding democratic republic.
The Spanish war led him to live “for the habitable part of the world that remains,” he wrote. But then came the Second World War and the French capitulation — “The modern masses endure everything except material and physical discomfort,” he said about it in his work The agony of France 1940s—and had to flee again. From Paris he went to London, where he felt free. He worked at the BBC, in The Evening Standard, but he was alone, without his family. He died of peritonitis on May 8, 1944 in the British capital. In Spain, the madness of war had given way to the deranged Franco dictatorship. His brother was prohibited from publishing an obituary in the newspaper abc with his name and, 12 days after his death, the Special Tribunal for the Suppression of Freemasonry and Communism sentenced Chaves Nogales, when he had already died, for “consummated crime of Freemasonry”, ordering the “search, capture and imprisonment of the condemned”.
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