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Alvah Bessie's Spanish Civil War Notebooks

by Alvah Bessie

Out of Printcloth$22.00s 978-0-8131-2214-4
168 pages  Pubdate: 01/04/2002  5 x 8  illus

From an American perspective, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade is arguably the most famous group of soldiers to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Hollywood screenwriter Alvah Bessie (who later blacklisted as part of the Hollywood Ten) was a foot soldier with the Brigade and kept a riveting hand-written diary of his activities in four pocket notebooks. Carefully transcribed for the first time, these journals begin with his arrival in Spain in January 1938, then depict his training, battle-field experiences, work on the battalion newspaper, and departure almost a year later. This never before published raw material formed the basis of Bessie’s classic 1939 book Men in Battle, but in several ways these journals are even more vivid than the memoir.

Bessie’s notebooks reflect the fast pace of a soldier’s life as he jots down impressions, often while under fire. He and his comrades stumble into a fascist camp and must flee for their lives. They enduring the shelling and bombing from the forces commanded by Francisco Franco. Ernest Hemingway visits to provide moral support and cigarettes. The squad must lead Spanish recruits as young as fifteen into a sea of deadly fire. Bessie learns that his best friend has been killed.

Not simply a combat record, the notebooks also record songs the soldiers sang, diagrams of loyalist and fascist positions and combat formations, arguments among the men about politics and the conduct of the war, opinions of their officers, and the desire of many to go home.

Alvah Bessie’s Spanish Civil War Notebooks lend a fresh perspective to one of the most important conflicts of the 1930s and to a historically crucial opening chapter of World War II.

Alvah Bessie is best known today as a member of the Hollywood Ten, black-listed in the 1950s. He died in 1985. Dan Bessie is, like his father, a screenwriter, as well as a film director.

Offers an unexpurgated account of the life of a soldier during war. -- Bulletin of Spanish Studies

A valuable record which offers a useful corrective to the sometimes hagiographic literature of the Spanish Civil War. -- Canadian Military History

Alvah Bessie’s notebooks give immediacy and historical basis to his Men in Battle yet stand alone as a readable record not only of Bessie’s activities but also of his impressions of the moment. -- Edward M. Coffman

An interesting account of the Spanish Civil War, and the author’s frankness and the narrative’s sense of immediacy recommend it. -- Journal of Military History