War Nightmares
by Michael Montero
AuthorHouse UK

"Tears wouldn’t come. I had seen so much slaughter and death that my feelings were numb forever."

Growing up in the besieged city of Madrid during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), Montero, known as Manolo, seemed at first inured to the chaos around him. His memoir depicts his childlike responses to the war that began when he was ten, a time when Nationalist rebels savagely murdered local priests and dominated the capital city. His father would be supervised at work by a Nationalist operative; his older brothers would be drafted to serve in the military; an older sister was a survivor of the bombing massacre on the town of Guernica.

Gradually, for families trapped in Madrid, signs of deprivation sank in. Electricity was erratic or nonexistent, and food ran out. His mother sewed long pockets into his clothing so he could steal food. He collected coal dust with damp newspapers and hunted with his friends for lizards to eat. He lost relatives, friends, and, finally, his father to destruction, disease, and malnutrition.

Montero is a skilled writer who conveys his story with a rich lexicon including Spanish words as appropriate. Some memories are poignant, reliving his childhood need to cling to a magical, inner space—inventing new forms of weaponry, happily collecting splintered wood from a bombsite, or taking a soothing nap in a makeshift bomb shelter. But he also powerfully recounts his horror at inadvertently discovering a rotting corpse, watching a relative writhing in pain from bloody wounds, seeing relatives and neighbors return from police questioning with shocking injuries, and reaching a point of near-starvation when “hunger had disowned us.” Now residing in England, Montero still has recurring nightmares of “the bullets and terror.” Offering a child’s-eye view of bloodshed and death, the author’s book should be read by all who need a reminder of the “collateral damage” that armed conflict creates.

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