Homage to Catalonia
Orwell’s account of his experience fighting for the Anarchist group POUM during the Spanish Civil War is surprisingly compelling. This is mostly due to the understated way in which he narrates the book. To be sure, he is recounting extraordinary events, but in a voice so modest and casual that you can’t help but be seduced. His political analysis and truth-seeking are refreshing, and in the midst of several acrimonious factions he appears uniquely able to maintain objectivity.
Overall, he writes with such sincerity and earnestness — freely admitting when he can’t hope to adequately express the emotional impact of a certain situation, or warning you of his potential bias — that I would bet against being able to find another work of literature that more realistically conveys the insanity of war. The fact that Orwell is an Everyman — idealistic, afraid, and by no means a born soldier — only heightens the impact. His modesty is inspiring in that you can easily imagine yourself in his shoes.
When it was written, this book formed part of a growing contingent of anti-Stalinist literature. For that reason and the political circumstance of WWII (in which Russia was badly needed as an ally), the book was suppressed and/or ignored by most of the Western world. Decades later, after it has gained in popularity, we can see that Orwell’s was one of the few voices of reason during that era. As a book, Homage is a greatly entertaining read. As an artifact of pre-WWII Europe, it is priceless.