Gilmour (Quartet, £12.95) I FIND IT odd that a man born as recently as 1952 can write with such knowledge, insight and comprehensiveness about Spain over the past half century as David Gilmour does in The Transformation of Spain, subtitled "From Franco to the Constitutional Monarchy". After all, he can scarcely have known Franco's Spain himself; yet his book reads like the result of a lifetime steeped in Spanish history and culture, very inaccessible subjects to most outsiders.
And I find it hard to praise too highly the clarity of his exposition of recent Spanish history, again a subject so tangled that even enthusiasts for it tend to become confused; or his fairness in the face of much that engenders prejudice and (perhaps particularly in Catholics) a sense of retrospective guilt; not to mention the excellence and readability of his writing, which raises the book far above ordinary journalism, or the range of his sympathies and his degree of understanding of a people very far from his own in culture, way of life and recent attitudes. Even the very full notes, footnotes, glossary and bibliography are well worth having.
Born in Spain and brought up as "Spanishly" as a foreign child could be for my first eight years, I myself experienced a wide range of political views in Spain, from far right through every shade of middle to left. Having known or corresponded with a number of those mentioned in this book, I have often been astonished by the criss-crossing of views and even of friendships in so complex a situation.
An old man in my birthplace told me recently how in the Civil War they shouted news across from trench to trench, enemies who came from the same area swapping information about the way things were at home: it seemed an image of the whole situation. Civil war must be the oddest, probably the bitterest, of all conflicts. Its postwar adjustments must be correspondingly difficult and Franco did little to reconcile old enemies to his regime.
On Franco, personally and politically, David Gilmour is clear, vivid, and I think fair. Cold, calm, patient, methodical (he had a passion for field sports and kept careful tallies of what he bagged — 8240 partridges in a single year), "a harsh and cruel man without magnanimity, but . . not a sadist", "a devout, conservative, military
inan with a small basic stock of highly reactionary ideas", he was certainly not an attractive character. Nor was he a monster, and "whatever else he was", Mr Gilmour says, "Franco was not a fascist".
Yet because of his coldness ("he showed an astonishing coldheartedness and lack of humanity towards everyone outside his immediate family and his circle of shooting companions") and his indifference, to death, he was able to order the killing of an enormous number of people after the war had ended — official Spanish figures put it at 193,000, an American jouranlist made it 200,000, but Hugh Thomas makes it much less.
Whatever the final figure, there is no doubt of his terrifying responsibility, not just in the civil war when he accepted unnecessarily large casualities, but after it, for a vast number of deaths.
For Catholics in particular, there is much of interest in the book's discussion of the Church in Spain at various stages in the past four or five decades. The Iposition and power of Opus Dei. in Franco's government (one of the ministers it produced was Gregorio Lopez Bravo, killed with all others in the recent appalling plane crash near Bilbao), the shifts and changes of emphasis in Franco's relations with the Vatican, with Spanish bishops, with the Catholic world outside Spain, especially after Vatican II, are discussed and evaluated in what seems to rue an even-handed way.
Perhaps at no time in the modern world were Catholics more torn than they were in relation to Spain, when support for the Church involved support for Hitler and Mussolini's armies fighting beside Franco's, and antagonism to them implied support for the "Reds" on the other side, with their churchburning, nun-raping, priesttorturing reputation. (Last summer 1 went to Mass in the rebuilt church where I was baptised, in which horses were stabled for the troops during the war before it was burnt down).
The liberation theology arguments, the conflicts of left and right, were very much part of Catholic thinking (and, perhaps, more, feeling) about Franco's regime and the Civil War that preceded it. Less than five years ago as 11 walked around Santander looking for a Sunday morning Mass I ran straight into a uniformed church parade with all the paraphernalia of franquista salutes and the rest of it. If my blood didn't quite run cold, at least ttly heart sank a little.