War Is Beautiful: An American Ambulance Driver in the Spanish Civil War

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A beautiful, never-before-published memoir from the trenches of the Spanish Civil War, by an award-winning poet and novelist.
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A beautiful, never-before-published memoir from the trenches of the Spanish Civil War, by an award-winning poet and novelist.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Elegant prose, brutal description, and a wry sense of humor characterize this journal by a poet and aspiring fiction writer during his months as a Spanish civil war volunteer in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Although a part of history largely ignored in favor of World War II, the Spanish civil war was a testing ground for German, Italian, and Russian political and territorial ambitions, as well as a passionate cause for idealists, Communists, and anti-Fascists. Neugass records his observations with prescience and an eye to posterity. After returning from Spain, he sought to have his journal published but failed to do so before his untimely death in 1949. The typescript, only recently found, has been edited and annotated by two board members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives. They fill in details about Neugass's comrades and add notes that put his remarks in context. Although Neugass served for only about five months in 1937-38, he saw the fall of the Spanish Republic to the better-equipped Fascist forces under General Franco. This valuable addition to Spanish civil war history also attests to the timelessness of a soldier's wartime emotions-the boredom, excitement, fear, pain, and loss. Published in time for the 70th anniversary of the Great Retreats of the Republican forces, this work is highly recommended for academic libraries and libraries with Spanish civil war collections. [See "Editors' Fall Picks," LJ9/1/08.-Ed.]
—Maria C. Bagshaw

Kirkus Reviews

Fluent memoir by a veteran of a war that ended 70 years ago and is swiftly being forgotten.

Born in New Orleans in 1905, Neugass was a man adrift, a published poet who studied mining engineering, archaeology and history at several schools without a degree, then worked for a newspaper in France before returning to the United States, where he worked as a cook, shoe salesman and janitor. In 1937, he volunteered for service in Spain, driving an ambulance through some of the worst fighting of the war. He died of a heart attack in 1949, just after Harper & Brothers accepted his novel Rain of Ashes for publication. It is clear from these pages, edited by Carroll (The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1994) and Glazer (Theater, Dance and Performance Studies/Univ. of California, Berkeley)—both associated with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, which focus on a unit of American socialists and communists who fought for the Spanish Republican government—that Neugass was both a capable writer and a somewhat doctrinaire leftist ("I was unable to enjoy the dancing although, out of a sense of political duty, I danced with Pepita, the ugliest and most carefully gotten-up of the Villa Paz chicas"). Neugass writes carefully of the soldiers with whom he served, such as a Finnish driver who habitually called Francisco Franco a "shon of a bits" and another ambulance crew that kept the dried head of a dead enemy as a kind of mascot. He also has a sense of the bigger picture, of Spain as a proxy war fought between the Axis powers and the Soviet Union. Sometimes telegraphic ("Fascists have big feet. Killed three, five, eight of them. One with knife, otherswith bombs. At night. May have to kill more."), sometimes lyrical, Neugass depicts war from a worm's-eye view. It is most certainly not pretty, but occasionally humorous.

A complement to the memoirs of George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway, as well as Javier Cercas's novel Soldiers of Salamis (2004)—not quite in their league, but not far from it.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781595584274
  • Publisher: New Press, The
  • Publication date: 11/17/2008
  • Pages: 314
  • Product dimensions: 9.50 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations

Afterwards 2

Pt. 1 Base Hospital 5

Pt. 2 In Reserve 45

Pt. 3 Teruel: The Front 91

Pt. 4 Segura: Counter-Attack 207

Pt. 5 The Ebro: Retreat 255

Pt. 6 Barcelona: Demobilized 299

Farewell 303

Sources 309

Glossary of Foreign Words 310

Acknowledgments 313

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