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"A Moment of War" is the magnificent conclusion to Laurie Lee's autobiographical trilogy begun in "Cider with Rosie" and "As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning". It was December 1937 when the young Laurie Lee crossed the Pyrenees and walked into the bitter winter of the Spanish Civil War. With great vividness and poignancy, Lee portrays the brave defeat of youthful idealism in Auden's 'low dishonest decade'. Writing in the "Literary Review", John Sweeney praised the memoir as, 'A great, heart-stopping narrative of one young Englishman's part in the war in Spain ...crafted by a poet, stamping an indelible image of the boredom, random cruelty and stupidity of war'.

192 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1991

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About the author

Laurie Lee

79 books229 followers
Laurence Edward Alan "Laurie" Lee, MBE, was an English poet, novelist, and screenwriter. His most famous work was an autobiographical trilogy which consisted of Cider with Rosie (1959), As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning (1969) and A Moment of War (1991). While the first volume famously recounts his childhood in the idyllic Slad Valley, the second deals with his leaving home for London and his first visit to Spain in 1934, and the third with his return in December 1937 to join the Republican International Brigade.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 147 reviews
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,565 reviews1,892 followers
September 13, 2018
An absolutely remarkable memoir, I guess continuing from Cider with Rosie but a world away in subject, tone and style despite being the same author.

I was struck throughout by the tone:
"I found I'd stood out in the open and watched this air-raid on Valencia with curiosity but otherwise no emotion. I was surprised at my detachment and lack of fear. I may even have felt some queer satisfaction. It was something I learned about myself that night which I have never quite understood" (p.53)
Detachment is the dominant note and is carried throughout the book despite or because of mid-winter crossing of the Pyrennes, abrupt arrests and imprisonments, absurd experiences in camps, air raids and artillery shelling, and one intense experience on the front line - around twenty pages from the end of the book - that two an oddity a memoir of war in which the main business of war always seems to be taking place away from the fighting, in that way it is distinct from Homage to Catalonia, indeed because of that statement of detachment Lee's book put me in mind of Goodbye to Berlin. Isherwood says that he is a camera, but it is Lee who achieves something cameralike in his narrative voice. Isherwwood's theme is the outsider observing the rise of Fascism, Lee a participant in the fight against Fascism, a fight which rapidly seems essential but naive, never before has the horror and brutality of the Democratic states non-involvement in the Spanish war ever struck me so profoundly "we displayed perhaps a harmonious gathering of oddities and a shared heroic daftness. Did we know, as we stood there, our clenched fists raised high, our torn coats flapping in the wind, and scarcely a gun between the three of us, that we had ranged against us the rising military power of Europe, the soft evasions of our friends, and the deadly cynicism of Russia?...Though we may have looked at that time, in our wantonly tattered uniforms, more like prisoners of war than a crusading army, we were convinced that we possessed an invincible armament of spirit, and that in the eyes of the world, and the angels, we were on the right side of this struggle. We had yet to learn that sheer idealism never stopped a tank." (pp90-91). The whole story is adrift in time, everything seems to take place in a perpetual winter, there are shortages of everything except defeat, the paragraphs stink with the smell of further war, in Barcelona before leaving Spain Lee works on a card index of international volunteers: "Here were the names of dead heroes, piled into little cardboard boxes, never to be inscribed later in official Halls of Remembrance. Without recognition, often ridiculed, they saw what was coming, jumped the gun, and went into battle too soon" (p.174).

Profile Image for Laura .
378 reviews151 followers
September 8, 2018
"In December 1937 I crossed the Pyrenees from France - two days on foot through the snow." Aged 23 Laurie Lee crosses into Spain, to fight alongside other volunteers in the International Brigade, against Franco and his Nationalist army. This book is small in size, but in the course of Lee's 'Moment Of War', he is arrested three times, and thrice accused of being a spy. Each time he is saved from incarceration and a firing squad by luck.

I started Lee's story a month ago, and after the first couple of chapters I put it down, not particularly drawn to war-torn Spain, and the shenanigans of the volunteer soldiers. At the same time I was reading Ngugi's Petals of Blood, and struggling with it. And so I picked up 'A Moment of War'. I read a sentence or two: realized exactly what was missing from Ngugi's writing; gorgeous, precise, elegant prose. Lee is one of those writers who doesn't cheat in his descriptions.
He works in clear, precise statements slowly building the panorama and action, so that you can see, feel and hear what he sees and feels; stark, vivid, pictures of scenes, events and people, a country destroyed by war. Lee's writing is so honest and skilled that I read this book for his writing, and only later realized there was an understated narrative.

First a look at the descriptive writing: Lee, along with the hundreds of other men, collected at Figueras Castle are transported south to Valencia. Just as their train arrives, German and Italian warplanes fly in from Majorca, and bomb the city.

"The airplanes swung casually over the city, left now to their own intentions. Just a couple of dozen young men, in their rocking dim-lit cabins, and the million below them waiting their chance in the dark. A plane accelerated and went into a dive, followed by the others in a roaring procession. They swooped low and fast, guided perhaps by the late moon on the water, on the rooftops and railway tracks. Then the bombs were released - not from any great height, for the tearing shriek of their fall was short. There followed a series of thumping explosions and blasts of light as parcels of flame straddled the edge of the station. I felt the ground jump at my feet and smelt the reek of burnt dust. A bomb hit the track near the loading sheds, and two trucks sailed sideways against a halo fire, while torn lines circled around them like ribbons. Further off an old house lit from inside like a turnip lamp, then crumpled and disappeared."

The book is structured around the movements that Lee makes from the north border to various encampments, where he is billeted, and finally he is sent to the mountainous city of Teruel, which has become a critical position in Franco's front line as he tries to move north and east. If Franco captures Teruel, he will divide the Republicans to the north and south; as Lee explains, the loss of this fortified city in the mountains is the beginning of the retreat for the Republican army. There is a map of Spain, at the front of the book, marked with all the relevant towns and cities, and the text is interspersed with line drawings by Keith Bowen which complement Lee's descriptions perfectly.

The front cover of my book, I think shows a picture of Teruel, but Lee's writing far outweighs the cover photo:

"As the daylight came, I left Serrano huddled by the fire, and went outside and got my first view of Teruel. It stood some five miles distant and slightly above us, a gleaming city of ice, its cathedral, castle, turrets, towers, all dusted with silver, shimmering light. A city of silence, without dimension; it could have been a life-sized mural, or an intimately carved ivory for some medieval Cardinal or Pope. A perfect relic, in its brilliant stillness, chaste and bloodless as a martyr's tomb. Yet already, I was to learn, within the last few days, its citizens were walling up and massacring each other."

Lee reports many disturbing sights, and relates stories of atrocities which are told by the other soldiers and recruits, but through-out he maintains a sort of impassive calm; he never indulges his writing with his own sentiments or fears. He writes as if he is there to report and report he will do even if he is in the direct path of bullets and grenades. He describes the endless privations: nowhere to sleep, insufficient clothes to keep warm, potatoes which are black from frost, beans and bits of donkey to eat if they are lucky. But we never at any point hear him complain, even when he is locked up in a gaol for three weeks, in Barcelona, all he says is this:

"I was sick now, shivering on the concrete floor, scraping the mould from the wall with my finger-nails. An escalating series of panics broke away from each other and led nowhere except back to my head. Only night, the black skylight, and the noon-whispering of the nun bearing the half sandwich in her small lace-lined basket, looped the empty silence of the sprawling jail."

In the chapter entitled - 'Death Cell: Albacete' this is the second time where Lee, is singled out and held in confinement. His passport is the cause of the problem; a year previously he had travelled to Morocco, visiting the exact places where Franco and his generals were plotting.

"Sping '36. Melilla. Ceuta. Tetuan. That's where it was all cooked up, wasn't it?" says the Intelligence officer, Captain Sam. The officer allows him to write letters to his next of kin. He is given the comfortable treatment of a man on death row. He is taken to a small courtyard, "snow falling from a sunset sky."

"One of the guards gave me a cigarette, the other touched my arm. 'Don't worry,' he said. 'It's easy, brother.'... Then I heard a murmuring of voices in the next room, ... Faces peered at me briskly, one by one ... then, framed like some fake Van Gogh freakishly elongated, appeared the unmistakable face of the giraffe-necked Frenchman who had guided me the last steps across the mountain frontier. One look at me and he covered his eyes in mock horror.
'Oh, no!' he groaned, 'not him again, please. Turn him loose - for the love of heaven.'

Lee manages to covey intimately, the muddle, the mistakes, the hierarchy, the comeradary of men at war.

Only because I returned to this book, did I discover the narrative, but I think I was put off at the very beginning because of a lack of internal or personal style. Just after he crosses the border Lee is arrested, interrogated, and accused of spying. He thinks he is about to be shot, along with a young deserter, but he is instead brought to the recruiting centre at Figueros. He describes in detail all the other men collected there and then is seduced by Eulalia of the "long Spanish-Indian" eyes. I felt such a jarr between his internment in the hole and then this youthful seduction that I put the book down.

It's only as I complete the book that I stop to consider a couple of facts. Lee wrote this in 1991, almost 54 years after his experiences in this war. It is considered the third book in his autobiographical series which began with "Cider with Rosie", and then "As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning". In "A Moment Of War", he barely touches on his personal feelings and yet the experience was deeply etched in his memory - he wrote it so much later.

I suspect that his purpose in writing the book was to bring home the horrors of war, and he does this remarkably well with his beautiful descriptive writing. His personal story is related as a very minor secondary element, which is how he wanted it. It also helps to explain why I was dismayed at the beginning; there was such an emotional gulf after the execution of the young deserter, and then his detailed account of the volunteers at Figueras. Nothing about his own feelings at almost being executed.

If you come new and fresh to this book, then don't be put off, every sentence is worth it. And I will leave you with this short description of the bugle player at the barracks in Tarazona.

"Before light next morning, I was awakened by the sound of a bugle - a sound pure and cold, slender as an icicle, coming from the winter dark outside. In spite of our heavy sleep and grunting longing for more, some of us began to love that awakening, the crystal range of the notes stroking the dawn's silence and raising one up like a spirit. There were certainly those who cursed the little bleeder, but the Brigade was proud of its bugler; he was no brash, brassy, spit-or-miss blaster of slumber, but one who pitched his notes carefully to the freezing stars and drew them out like threads of Venetian glass."

Don't you want to run for your copy of 'Cider with Rosie'?
Profile Image for Jim.
371 reviews90 followers
January 30, 2020
I had never heard of this writer before, at least not consciously. I had heard of the book Cider With Rosie, which, as it turns out, was just the first book in an autobiographical trilogy. This is the final instalment in that trilogy, and it would have gone right by me had I not seen a friend's review here on goodreads.

As a young man Lee, despite carrying the burden of two girl's names, decided he had to go and fight fascists in Spain. He crossed the frontier on foot from France:

"I was at that flush of youth which never doubts self-survival, without which illusion few wars would be possible." (P.12)

On entering Spain unexpected and unannounced, he is suspected of espionage and held prisoner, narrowly avoiding execution. Far from being hailed as a liberator, he is regarded with suspicion for much of his service. Lee soon finds out that there isn't a lot of glamour in this war; fatigue, hardship and hunger are the order of the day. Equipment and weapons are in short supply. Encounters with the enemy are rare and one-sided as the fascists are reinforced and supplied by the Germans of the Condor Legion. Personally, I couldn't drum up a lot of sympathy...communists fighting fascists....who to cheer for?

Lee is a great observer and a master of descriptive prose. This from Page 49:

It was then that I began to sense for the first time something of the gaseous squalor of a country at war, an infection so deep it seemed to rot the earth, drain it of colour, life, and sound. This was not the battlefield; but acts of war had been committed here, little murders, small excesses of vengeance. The landscape was plagued, stained and mottled, and all humanity seemed to have been banished from it,

War isn't all about fighting; there is plenty of drudgery and idleness to go around, and seldom a glance at the enemy except when he flies over and bombs hell out of you. Lee dutifully reports on this aspect of his service, while giving descriptions of his fellow men-at-arms and the hardships of his daily routine. All is not lost: Lee does manage to get laid a couple of times, and occasionally they are able to scrape up enough cash for a meal in a bar. Finally, in the waning hours of the battle for Teruel, Lee comes to grips with the enemy, but there is no gruesome detail. Lee sees all this through a fog of war. Apparently he kills an enemy, but does not elaborate on how that went down. He didn't feel particularly proud of his kill, and in fact is showing disillusionment with his decision to fight when he writes:

"Was this then what I'd come for, and all my journey had meant - to smudge out the life of an unknown young man in a blur of panic which in no way could affect victory or defeat?"

Overall, I think this is a decent book by a great writer. It could have used some photos, and I think that Lee holds off on saying things that might make himself look bad, but the writing and story are superb. I'm sure I'll find myself reading more of his work in the future.

Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,780 reviews1,458 followers
December 24, 2022
This is the third and last volume of Laurie Lee’s Autobiographical Trilogy. Having left Spain in the second volume, he returns again to Spain in the third. A year and a half has gone by. It is 1937. He enters via France over the Pyrenees. It’s an extremely cold winter of record-low temperatures and blizzards. He has come to join the International Brigade, to fight fascism and to support the Republican cause.

The start of the book packs a punch. What plays out is not at all what you expect. He is accursed . One cannot help but view the events that play out, first with surprise and then irony.

Alongside Laurie Lee, we experience how it was to be one of the International Brigade as well as the horrific suffering of both ordinary and destitute Spanish people. We and he rub shoulders with others who experience cold, starvation and the war. We are in Valencia during an air raid. We view Madrid after two years of siege and extensive firebombing under the orders of Franco and Nazi forces.

Lee is told to return home--he can best help the Republican cause through his writing from home base. He departs by means of a truck convoy to Barcelona. Once again, in the hands of the authorities, problems arise. Having entered Spain illegally, exiting is no simple matter…..

As in the previous book, Laurie Lee is an ace at capturing time and place! Small details make the telling the opposite of dry textbook reading. We are served up the nitty gritty of actual people’s lives. Reality is neither simple nor pretty! It is reality that Laurie Lee delivers.

The audiobook I listened to is read by Stephen Thorne, not the author. Thorne’s narration is fine. It’s good. It’s easy to follow, but it doesn’t reach halfway up to the magnificence of the author’s own reading of his books. It simply does not have Laurie Lee’s superb inflection. The essence of prose poetry is lost. In addition, when you’ve got a word that is French, I think it should be pronounced as the French do. It irritated me that “la grippe” is by Thorne pronounced as the English word “gripe”, which has a very different sound and meaning! I have given the narration three stars.


*Down in the Valley: A Writer's Landscape 3 stars

Laurie Lee’s Autobiographical Trilogy
1.Cider with Rosie 4 stars
2.As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning 4 stars
3.A Moment of War 4 stars
A Rose for Winter takes readers back to Spain after the Civil War. For this reason, it seems to me it might be considered a continuation of the series. In any case, it should be read after the books of trilogy.
Profile Image for Begona Fernandez.
82 reviews15 followers
October 25, 2011
Unfortunately this memoir left me rather cold. I am obsessed with the Spanish Civil War so this book was a obvious choice. But with not enough personal details that make you care for any of the characters, the detached quality of the narration and when spaniards appear at all you feel Laurie is dealing with a different race he doesn't particularly like, to the point that you start to wonder what on earth he is doing in Spain in the first place.

He starts the book tired and ends it exhausted and this feeling was passed onto me. In fact I was so exhausted I had to master all my patriotism in the cause of reading to end this book at all. This is a book written by an old man that has lost all spark of hope in humanity or idealism, can remember that at one time he used to have them but can't invoque their ghost
Profile Image for Sarah Foster.
12 reviews2 followers
January 5, 2013
I fell in love with Laurie Lee's writing a few years ago, reading 'Cider with Rosie'. I begun reading Lee because he was from a village close to where I live, in Gloucestershire. Cider with Rosie, did not disappoint my want for nostalgia for my beloved Stroud(ish), however I stopped here for a while before reading 'As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning', which I knew would have very little to say about the rolling hills of Slad. However I started seeing a Spanish guy, and so, with a little more relevance to my life again, the literary journey continued.

I read 'A moment of War' in a little over a week and for the most part enjoyed it. It is not the same as the other two books, it evokes, in Lee's rich descriptive, poetic prose the atmosphere of war, and particularly of a country at war with itself. It is in stark contrast to 'As I walked out', it could barely be recognised as the same country, the searing heat, swapped for the bitter searing cold, the jovial, welcoming, slightly bizarre characters turned to hostile, terrified and sick. The inns are exchanged for barracks, his violin for a gun.

The book is not an action packed war adventure, far from it. It is a seemingly honest account of a winter spent in Spain in the grips of war. And I am glad of it. Lee's words painting a vivid picture of the realities of this war, which my British curriculum education all but forgot, and all through the eyes of a British writer, who I understand (and not critically) to be a mere tourist of war, rather than any kind of hero.

The book is highly eroticised in places. Once could argue that much of Lee's writing is rich in eroticism, however in this book I must have noticed it more. Perhaps only appearing more shocking on a backdrop of bullets and bombs than breezey Gloucestershire meadows and wine-soaked Spanish bars.

Overall I enjoyed this book very much, and the trilogy marks one of my favourite literary adventures. As I walked out, perhaps being my favoured of the three (and hence the 4 x stars for this particular book), but I still strongly recommend it, it is a brilliant, if dark book.
Profile Image for Lori.
308 reviews99 followers
February 3, 2018
The kid who runs away to join the circus Spanish Civil War. It is remembrance, not history. Another soldier summarized their effort.
'We were outnumbered. We were betrayed. We were punished. God froze us.'

'God what?'

'He froze us with his mighty breath.'

Profile Image for Paul.
2,143 reviews
July 16, 2017
In As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Lee had made his way to Spain. After travelling around the country before being evacuated home by the navy after the Spanish Civil War erupted. Back home in Gloucestershire Lee felt drawn to those fighting the Republican cause, and makes the decision to head back to Spain. Arriving in Perpignan in Southern France he is unable to find anyone to help him get across the border so decides to take a risk and cross the Pyrenees in a snowstorm.

After somehow making it safely across the mountains, he is arrested and imprisoned for being a spy. On the day that his execution was scheduled for, a chance encounter meant that he was released. Lee quickly joins the International Brigade, along with a motley rabble of men from all over the UK and other parts of Europe who felt drawn to the anti-fascist cause too. He was then given limited training, but was arrested again as a brief trip to Morocco when he was in Spain previously had made him a marked man.

He saw very little service, but did travel around to a few locations in the back of an army truck. After the first bombing of a town where he was staying, the realities of the harshness of war, stripped away any romantic notions that he may have still harboured about the fight that he had volunteered for. He has some very near misses, and the impression that you get from the Spanish is that they were not particularly enamoured about having soldiers of other nationalities there, as this was an internal fight that they had to go through. The book is written in Lee’s distinct eloquent style again, making this a pleasure to read even though the subject is not particularly savoury and a fitting end to the series.
Profile Image for Thomas Stroemquist.
1,520 reviews126 followers
January 30, 2022
Written long after parts one and two and quite a short volume, this still is a very interesting read with a lot of the traits that is Lee's great narrative. It also, even if memories is a bit jumbled and less than perfectly clear maybe, delivers a chilling account of the absurdity and randomness of war. Even if the horrors of war is described with much less details than many others have given, there were times when I was a bit relieved that it was such a short book.
Profile Image for Sylvester (Taking a break in 2023).
2,041 reviews72 followers
April 29, 2013
I only gave this 2* out of respect for Lee's talent as a poet and writer. I would otherwise have given it only 1*. This is one of those times when I am reviewing based entirely on my response to the subject matter - and has nothing to do with the quality of the writing. I hated the meaninglessness so much, not to mention the little situation with the 13 year old boy they threw into his cell to "warm" him (????) the boy's words, "You can hurt me." made me ill, and I had a hard time reading the rest of the book. Not for me. A chasm lies between this and "Cider For Rosie", let me tell you!
Profile Image for Rhys.
Author 245 books290 followers
July 3, 2019
After reading Orwell's superb Homage to Catalonia I jumped straight into Laurie Lee's own memoir of his time as an anti-fascist fighter in the Spanish Civil War. Orwell comes across as utterly honest, a writer who even cautions the reader about possible inaccuracies in his understanding of the military and political situation. I am left with no doubts whatsoever that his account is true. He spent a lot of time waiting in the trenches. He was stuck waiting on a roof for three days during street fighting. He was on the run when the POUM was outlawed and slept in ruined buildings and just waiting. Then he escaped back over the border into neutral France. He is always very precise with details. His memoir was written within a few weeks of his departure from Spain.

Lee, on the other hand, comes across as a bit of a fibber. He crosses the snowbound Pyrenees in the middle of winter on his own without hiking gear. He is immediately arrested on suspicion of being a spy and kept in a dungeon for two weeks without food. He is threatened with execution. Then he is released and joins the International Brigades and bonks a beautiful woman within minutes of meeting her. Then he is sent to Madrid to play the violin on the radio because he is such a great musician. Then he is sent to the front again and takes part in the fighting for Teruel where he kills Nationalist soldiers. Then he is threatened with execution again but escapes to bonk a beautiful woman again. He is always vague with details. His memoir was written 53 years after his departure from Spain.

I regard the Orwell as a better book; yet the Lee is beautifully written and is true in spirit even if the facts are perhaps dubious...
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,799 reviews296 followers
February 13, 2017
interesting final part of laurie lee autobiography where he goes to fight in the spanish civil war on the side of the republic and talks about his time there and how lucky he was to survive in the struggle and the lack of organisation.
Profile Image for Caroline.
781 reviews231 followers
February 26, 2014
Very good, very different from Homage to Catalonia. Lee is, if we believe this, oblivious to politics and strategy. He simply exists.

The bleakness and almost absolute zero cold are all one senses. Lee experiences five minutes of battle in the entire book; the rest is the curious sequence of sneaking into Spain, being taken for a spy, twice, narrowly missing being executed, twice, and completely random, disorganized movement toward the front. Then equally bolloxed up retreat.

And yet there is an evanescent, very knowing sensibility at work as well, especially exposed in the murky, fluid issue of sexuality.

A valuable addition to my accumulation of 20th century Spanish memoirs.
Profile Image for LauraT.
1,093 reviews78 followers
March 27, 2018
Morire a Madrid - ciao papà...

Did we know, as we stood there, our clenched fists raised high, our torn coats flapping in the wind, and scarcely a gun between three of us, that we had ranged against us the rising military power of Europe, the soft evasions of our friends, and the deadly cynicism of Russia? No, we didn’t. Though we may have looked at that time, in our wantonly tattered uniforms, more like prisoners of war than a crusading army, we were convinced that we possessed an invincible armament of spirit, and that in the eyes of the world, and the angels, we were on the right side of this struggle. We had yet to learn that sheer idealism never stopped a tank.
Profile Image for rachy.
193 reviews13 followers
August 25, 2023
I won’t write too much for this review, largely because all the issues I had with ‘When I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ still stand here and I don’t want to overly repeat myself from a review I’ve just written. There are a few reasons I’ve downgraded ‘A Moment of War’ even further. Firstly, there are very few sections where Lee’s prose gets a chance to shine here due to the subject of this book, so while the previous in the trilogy was slightly dull, it always had this going for it, which is much more (but not entirely) absent here and so isn’t able to carry the book’s weaker components.

I also felt that the issues with the last one were much more detrimental here, given the subject matter of ‘A Moment of War’. Lee literally risks life and limb to get back to Spain because he feels so strongly about the war and the people fighting there, but I felt the book gave no insights into this. Really, there’s such little emotional at all I couldn’t tell how Lee felt about anything, or if he really even cared to be there. Even when his life was in danger or he was reunited with people he had met before, I barely sensed a glimmer of an emotion. Similarly, nothing really happened. It felt more egregious this time given that he had literally snuck into a country to join a war - how can you write a book about that where it still feels like absolutely nothing happens within it? I didn’t need hideous descriptions of brutal battles, but something more than him getting constantly imprisoned but never really minding, travelling around again at others behest, doing menial tasks and meeting other ‘soldiers’ with whom he didn’t seem to have much of a relationship. Just a series of names with nothing attached to them. It made the whole thing feel ridiculous.

So there it is, as far as I’m concerned, people only talking about ‘Cider with Rosie’ when they talk about Laurie Lee are pretty justified. It’s not that his other books have nothing to offer, but very little by comparison, and they do get worse or at least more tiresome as they go on. I really do think Lee is a truly wonderful writer, but these last two books were not enjoyable to read for me and quite frankly, just felt a little pointless. I’m not the biggest fan of memoir in general, but ones where almost nothing happens and no emotion is shown to me are kind of inexplicable. I can say for sure, any future rereads, it’ll be the first (and best) in the trilogy only.
Profile Image for Louise.
188 reviews12 followers
February 26, 2014
A Moment of War is the third and final book in Laurie Lee’s autobiographical account of his childhood and youth. I read the second, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning a couple of months ago but, as with this one, had read bits of it before while studying the Spanish Civil War and the role of foreign volunteers.

As I Walked Out… finishes with Lee’s decision to return to Spain now that the Civil War was underway, to fight for the Republican cause, and making a difficult journey alone and on foot over the Pyrenees. This is, then, where A Moment of War starts as he is briefly taken in by a family and then promptly arrested as a spy. It wasn’t the done thing, to simply turn up on your own, most had their passage secured by the Communist Party, for example, and many people assumed that this young, blonde foreigner was German. He is eventually released and taken to be with other International Brigaders in Figueras. After a period of inactivity, he is arrested again. On inspection of his passport, it is revealed that he spent time in the South and in Morocco, the birthplace of Franco’s coup attempt at the time the plotting was taking place. Once again, he is released and returned to do, well, not much really.

The bulk of the book is made up of Lee and his fellow volunteers sitting around, underfed and cold in the bitter winter, waiting for something to happen. What this account really makes clear is how boring war is for so much of the time, when you are fighting a losing a battle and stuck behind the lines. It also highlights perfectly some of the reasons why the Republic eventually succumbed to Franco’s Nationalists. They were poorly resourced, and very quickly sapped of morale when faced with German bombing raids. The Republican side was an uncomfortable mix of Spanish socialists, anarchists, and liberals along with apolitical people who just wanted to defend their homes and families, alongside well-meaning but ultimately naive foreign intellectuals and labourers. It is an understatement to say that they just didn’t really get along all the time that well. See George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia for the proof of this playing out in the bloody Barcelona May Days.

As I said when reading As I Walked Out… this book benefits greatly from hindsight. It was not written/ published until 1991, and thus is full of comments about how the Spanish Civil War can be seen as the opening shots of the Second World War and is clearly written with the Republic’s forthcoming defeat in mind. But unlike the previous volume, it is not as poetic and lyrical, taking a colder eye on the unfolding tragedy.
Profile Image for Grant Price.
Author 4 books40 followers
December 30, 2020
This is the distorted reflection of A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls and Homage to Catalonia in a muddy puddle. In this novella, there are no redeeming features to war: no beautiful landscapes, no simple pleasures, no laconic philosophy spouted by Spanish peasants, no drinking and bravado at the press officers' club. It is simply misery and more misery, and it passes in a horrific fever dream (in a style reminiscent of Going After Cacciato). I'd say this is a very brave book, because Lee doesn't seek to put a shine on any of his exploits or make any grand statements about the International Brigades; he simply exists within its environment, and he suffers more than some and less than others. He even goes so far as to have one character say something along the lines of, "But then, it's as if you were never really here", directly acknowledging the futility of his decision to cross the Pyrenees. Some might think it's too short, but 'A moment' is all you need to understand how utterly awful war is.
Profile Image for Nigeyb.
1,243 reviews281 followers
June 23, 2012
Laurie Lee did an amazing thing. One midsummer morning he walked out of his childhood home in the Cotswolds (described in entertaining detail in the fabulous ‘Cider With Rosie’) and walked to Spain via London (described in ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’). The final part of the trilogy - ‘A Moment Of War’ – covers Laurie’s return to Spain during the Spanish Civil War. The introduction is brilliant. Laurie schleps across the Pyrenees to volunteer only to be arrested as a spy. I won’t say anymore, suffice to say it is gripping stuff. If you have the time and the inclination then read all three books. By the time you get to ‘A Moment Of War’ you’ll adore Laurie’s fabulous powers of description and understated bravery.
Profile Image for Jan Hawke.
230 reviews14 followers
March 28, 2016
This sombre book was starkly different to the heat, colour and gaiety described in 'As I walked out one Midsummer Morning'. Spain in the middle of the Spanish Civil War was 'stretched dead on a slab'. However despite its gloominess there are characteristic flashes of humour and some beautiful lyrical passages. Particularly memorable is the description of the air-raid on Valencia and the depiction of a country at war with itself 'an infection so deep it seemed to rot the earth, drain it of colour, life and sound.' Laurie Lee describes not only the inhumanity of war and its casual murders but also the monotony and the muddles so accurately it seems inconceivable that people should doubt the veracity of this book.
Profile Image for Huw Evans.
444 reviews25 followers
October 27, 2011
I really resented having to wait nearly thirty years to read this book. I read Cider with Rosie and As I Walked Out One...and the simplicity of the writing style and the small details made it absolutely captivating reading. Also, the idea of just walking away from everything stirred my wanderlust, even though I did little about it for many years. This book compares favourably with anything written by Hemingway and Orwell on the same subject and exposes the individual's fragility in the face of political ambition.
Profile Image for Rachel Stevenson.
337 reviews14 followers
September 13, 2021
This memoir is almost diametrically opposed to Homage To Catalonia: there are no politics in it, no-one discusses socialism vs communism or anarcho-syndicalism. Lee seems to have joined the International Brigades basically because he liked Spain (I too am very keen on Spain, but if they decided to go to war against Portugal in order to take Braganza, I very much doubt I’d be taking up arms). Orwell was a political writer, and so wrote about the POUM, the FAI, and CNT, the Soviet backed Spanish communists and the Republican in-fighting. Lee, if not wholly a nature writer then definitely a naturalist, beautifully describes the landscape, the mountains and villages, the cities and the seasons, and it's kind of fascinating, in a morbid kind of way, to read about the towns I know through tourism being places of war and bombardment. Like Orwell, he talks of the shortages, disorganisation and eventual hopelessness of the Republicans, but Orwell makes them sound heroic, Lee only pathetic (in the old sense of the word), but Orwell was in Barcelona, a Republican stronghold and Lee was in the mountains and plains of la Mancha and Aragón, isolated and marginalised.

I don't really care if the book is all truthful or not – the episodes with the 16 year old girl Eulalia certainly seem like the fantasies of an old man and I'm sure he wasn't so often almost killed as he states, but the Spanish civil war was over 50 years old by the time Lee was writing about it and no-one's memory stands up to that much time, no matter how memorable the incidents.
Profile Image for Carole Frank.
253 reviews3 followers
July 27, 2020
Laurie Lee was back in England after his visit to Spain which ended in the start of the Spanish Civil War. However, later on he decided to go back and fight, as he felt he owed it to the country. In midwinter he journeyed through France and walked over the Pyrenees into Spain only to be arrested straight away as a spy. The cold that winter was the most severe the country had ever known, people froze to death as well as were killed in the fighting. Lee writes about all the scrapes and near-death situations he gets into - and miraculously out of. It is beautifully written with wonderful descriptions of the freezing countryside, but I have awarded it only three stars as I am not fond of war books, but read it as it is the final part of a trilogy.
Profile Image for Angela.
Author 18 books46 followers
October 14, 2018
Having read As I Walked Out, I knew i would have to re-read A Moment of War straight away. The story begins precisely where As I Walked Out ends. As a result, I've wondered more than once why Lee separated the two texts by more than 20 years. It seems quite clear to me, from the flow of the narrative and language that they both appear to date and may have been drafted at around the same time. Nevertheless, A moment of War, is a chilling expose of the futility of warfare, the pointlessness of killing, the destruction of a society and the stagnation that pervaded the civil war in Spain. This is another book that will remain on shelves until I feel able to re-read again, and I know I will be not be disappointed when I do.
Profile Image for Luke.
84 reviews4 followers
February 21, 2022
“But still my situation didn’t disturb me too much, but rather injected me with a sharp sting of adventure. I was at that flush of youth which never doubts self-survival, that idiot belief in luck and a uniquely charmed life, without which illusion few wars would be possible. I felt the seal of fate on me, and a certain grim intoxication, alone in this buried silence. But macabre as things were, I had no idea then how very near to death I was . . .”
Profile Image for Ankara Cabeza Lázaro.
Author 6 books3 followers
December 8, 2017
“At the sight of the instrument faces softened, eyes brightened, sleeping children were awoken with pinches. ‘Música! Música!’ The whisper went around. And I saw again those expressions of gentle pleasure and anticipation that I’d known in poor Spanish villages before the war.”
Profile Image for Catullus2.
165 reviews5 followers
February 3, 2019
Not as good as “As I walked out” but still very readable. Lee was so lucky, he seems to have had a charmed life as he should have died about three times!
251 reviews8 followers
August 5, 2022
I am pretty sure that this book would have been improved had I read it as the final part of the trilogy, it doesn't stand alone. It is a slim volume and I didn't feel invested in the characters.
7 reviews
February 3, 2013
I am repeating myself, since what I wrote earlier disappeared all of a sudden. I had heard that sometimes people adorned their own biography, claiming participation in historical events in which they had no pat at all. This 'autobiographical' memoir of the war is a good example of that sort of deception. I would argue that Mr. Lee had absolutely no participation in the Spanish Civil War. The inconsistencies and contradictions are all too obvious. Let's look at the narrative:
In page 1 of my copy (The New Press, New York, 1991) Mr. Lee claims he crossed the Pyrenees into Spain in December 1937. Let's assume he did it on December 1st., in order to give him more time to accomplish everything he claims he did. On the second night, he's helped to find his way by a mysterious shepherd, who reappears a couple of times later (the Guardian Angel?). When he knocks at the door of the hut he has reached, he's met with some suspicion, apparently insofar as he's carrying a violin and books (incidentally, he never, never, plays the violin during the time he spends in Spain, nor does he ever reads any of the books he was carrying around). The following day (third) he is delivered to the authorities, and formally charged with being a spy, since it is hardly believable that any body could cross the mountains on foot and without a guide. He is handcuffed and thrown in a dungeons, where he spends two full dadys (4th and 5th days of the journey). On the third day (6th of the journey) a certain Capt. Perez comes to his cell, and, after refusing to believe the version of young Laurie Lee, hands him over to four guards, the same guards who had met him the previous day. They throw him into a hole in the ground and padlock the lid. He cannot tell how long he's been there (a couple of days or a couple of hours)when they come back with another prisoners, who is also thrown in. They stay there for about a week, let's say six days, 7h, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th day of the journey). After those six days, the other guy is pulled out and shot. A few days later (let's say two, that is to say, the 13th and 14h day of the journey) he's pulled out of the hole. He thinks he's going o get shot,
but, instead, he's delivered to the International Brigades' Headquarters in Figueras, where he's offered prophylactics by the officer who takes his passport. Note that on page 25, he talks about his 'two weeks underground', so, I am not too far off. In the Castle at Figueras he meets a bunch of young volunteers like himself; they go into town, smoke, drink, and Laurie gets laid. The skin of the girl was mottled by small purple bruises. She keep calling him 'Frenchman' and he keeps correcting her. So end the first days in Figueras, roughly the 15th day of the journey. The following day (the 16th) they, the young volunteers, were paraded. The following day, the 17th, he gets a message from the girl, asking him to come visit her. When he gets there, she's gone after allegedly killing her 'father'.
"Ten days after my arrival at Figueras Castle...", (that is to say, roughly the 24th day of the journey) the whole bunch are pushed into a train, on their way to Albacete. The train took 24 hours to get to Valencia, that is to say, they'd arrived there on the 25th day of the journey.But the train doesn't leave until the following day, that is to say, the 26th day of the journey, after experiencing a bombarment by the German and Italian airplanes.That day, they arrive at Albacete, the training ground for the International Brigades. That ends the 26th day.
Now, in Albacete, Laurie is accused of being an agent of the Franco rebels, interrogated by Sam, an American volunteer, told he's probably going to get shot, and thrown in a cell. He's told to write farewell letters, which he does, and, that night, they bring a gay to sleep with hm. Now we are into the 27th day. About 4pm he's taken out of the cell. The mysterious shepherd appears, who is now a Frenchman, who, miraculously, saves him. So far, we are vey close to the end of December, but, according to Laurie, now starts the offensive against Teruel, something that had started on December 15th!
Another weird fact is that, after spending quite a few days at Albacete, he never mention André Marty, the much-feared psychotic French Communist who was in charge of the International Brigades. And he keeps talking about the Azaña Largo Caballero as though it were one person. And he tell us that Madrid is a mile-high, when, in fact, the altitude of Madrid is only about a third of that. Or perhaps he was thinking of Denver...
I strongly suspect that Mr. Lee was never in Spain during the Civil War, and that, writing half a century later, he thought nobody was going to read his little book carefully enough to detect the inconsistencies and half-truths. The book does not deserve even one star, unless we classify as a word of fiction, not even a historical novel.
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