Book Review: Franco's Crypt: Spanish Culture and Memory Since 1936


by Jeremy Treglown

New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014. Pp. x, 322. Illus., notes, index. $16.00. ISBN: 0374534659

Reflections on Spain’s “Memory Wars”

British literary critic and biographer Treglown addresses two interrelated subjects in this work, remembering and memorializing the Spanish Civil War, and the Spanish art and culture of the Franco and post-Franco eras. In keeping with recent trends in scholarship on Spain, Treglown avoids knee-jerk criticism of Franco and the Nationalists, and, despite clear sympathies, criticizes the Republic and the Loyalists when appropriate. He divides his subject into two parts.

In the first part, titled “Sites and Sights,” Treglown deals with the physical manifestations of the war and the decades long Franco regime which followed it. So he looks at graves, other memorials, representations in graphic art, and even dams, discussing how these played a part in commemoration and examining and symbolism involved. He also discusses the importance of the recent increase in the search for mass graves, though noting that there seems little interest in mass graves left by the Republicans. Some of the best discussion involves the monumental crypt in the Valle de los Caídos, in which Franco actually takes second place to José Antonio. 

In the second and longer part of the book, titled “Stories and Histories,” Treglown looks at commemoration in literature and film. Of particular interest here is that despite the Franco regime’s opposition to modernism or realism, a surprising number of writers, artists, and several film makers did some excellent work. Unfortunately, they usually received little international recognition due to overall hostility to anything emanating from “Fascist” Spain, so such notable films as ¡Bienvenido, Mister Marshall! and El Verdugo are virtually unknown outside Spain.

While the book throws little light on the Civil War proper, it’s certainly a useful read for anyone interested in Spanish history in the twentieth century, or in issues of memory and commemoration.


Note: Franco’s Crypt is also available in hardback, $30.00, ISBN 978-0-3741-0842-7 and as an eBook, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-4299-4342-0.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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