Wednesday, 2 February 2011

A Writer and his Notebook: The Forging of a Rebel

For four Friday evenings in January I was at the Instituto Cervantes watching 'La Forja de Un Rebelde' (The Forging of a Rebel). It's a very well-made, inspirational Spanish TV series set for the most part in Madrid from 1900 to 1940. The central character, writer and journalist Arturo Barea, was born into a family impoverished by the death of the father. Adopted into the home of a childless aunt and uncle of better means, he was educated at a Catholic school run by priests. Later, disillusioned by hypocrisy and the church's suppression of dissent, he served as an intern bank clerk at a time of high unemployment, but fell foul of his bosses when he became a union organiser. He joined the army and witnessed the embezzling of funds by officers and their incompetence during the occupation of Morocco.

It was in Morocco, forced on account of his book-keeping skills to collaborate in diversting public money into officers' pockets, that he began keeping a record. He was typically seen, whether in a tent or a bar, scribbling in a small notebook.

During the seige of Madrid he worked to counteract propaganda accounts by Franco and the fascists, and made morale-boosting radio broadcasts to supporters of the Republican government. This horrific episode showed citizens enduring blitz conditions as well as international soldiers and visitors keen to support the resistance.

Eventually Barea came to England, where he continued broadcasting for the BBC for twenty years. The film ends, though, with Barea, by then in his forties, telling his wife that he has at last found his way in life, after searching for years. He realises, of course, that he must continue to record and report on the world around him.

There were many emotional parts in the film, but for me this was the most affecting moment. Nobody advised Barea to keep a notebook, but he seems to have realised that in the face of so much repression and contradictory accounts, writing reinforced his sense of reality; it became a touchstone for truth.

Barea's continual note-taking seemed to illustrate Aristotle's 'mimesis', the imitation and perfection of nature. It incidentally supported Barea's humanitarian impulses and, for me, added to the inspirational aspects of this excellent film.

The Instituto Cervantes has a programme of free cultural events.

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