*** DEBUG END ***

Conflict, love, and anarchy

20 February 2015

Alexander Lucie-Smith on a novel about the Spanish Civil War


Uncertain Glory
Joan Sales
Peter Bush, translator
MacLehose £20
Church Times Bookshop £18


JOAN SALES (1912-83) is not a household name in Britain, given our minimal exposure to Catalan literature. The subject of this novel, on which he spent decades, is the Spanish Civil War. The action is set on the Aragonese front and in Barcelona, two places that we may think we know well, owing to George Orwell. Sales gives us a different point of view.

Trini, of anarchist stock, takes up with Lluis, by whom she has a child. Soleràs, Lluis's best friend, wants to marry her, but slips away into the unknown. Later, Cruells, a seminarian in the Republican army, falls hopelessly in love with her, while Lluis abandons her for an older woman.

These love complications are mirrored in the tension between anarchism and Roman Catholicism. Trini is baptised and attends secret masses in Barcelona. Cruells prays in desecrated churches. All of them are connected with a Jesuit, Dr Gallifa, who may or may not have been murdered by the anarchists.

The plot, however, comes alive only sporadically. The sections set in Barcelona, which are narrated by Trini, are the most interesting, and reveal the black comedy of anarchism. Episodes at the front (where there is very little fighting) sometimes catch fire; but the novel suffers from slack plotting, and over-long monologues from Soleràs. There are some wonderfully heart-wrenching episodes - the flight of the Republican army in 1938; the desperate search for a serum to save a child's life - but many characters remain obscure, especially Soleràs.

One thing is certain: anarchism was brutal and stupid, and deserved to be defeated. Orwell, notoriously, ignored Catalonian Catholicism; here it is given full expression, but it is of the Graham Greene type, somewhat playful, a little heretical - which explains why the book never won the approval of Franco's censors.

Fr Lucie-Smith is the author of
Narrative Theology and Moral Theology (Ashgate, 2007).

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)