Doves of War by Paul Preston

Doves of War by Paul Preston is a book about four women who fought in the Spanish Civil War. Even if you are not interested in the subject, reading about them might be very interesting. There are some war-related details, they are there to create the bigger picture. What I loved most about this book is that is the story of 4 women, 2 on the left side and 2 on the right side. I will share my thoughts on each story.

Doves of War by Paul Preston

PIP SCOTT-ELLIS, the British aristocrat, fell in love with a Spanish prince. She wanted to help in the war effort and joined Franco’s side. I imagined, before reading the book, that she would be out of her depth, but she learned Spanish, worked very hard on the front line as a nurse, despite having to stop a few times due to illness. She went on to work with the Polish in WWII, after learning Polish too. Unlike the other three in the book, she was not too politically involved and surely not a “true believer” in the fascist cause.

NAN GREEN, the British communist, annoyed me even before she left for Spain. So, she was considering her mother a slave to her Tory father, but, as a young married woman… she would bring her husband’s mistresses at home, to have tea with them. She left her children in England to fight, alongside her husband, in Spain, saying, more than once, that her children are not more important than the children of Spain. Not sure how delighted were her children to hear that. Preston tries to white-wash her decision to leave the children to private school (paid for by someone else, as they were poor), but the reason she left her children in boarding school was not that it was better for them, but because it was a good way to escape an inconvenience.

MERCEDES SANZ-BACHILLER, the Spanish fascist, was my favourite. Her husband was killed in the war and she miscarried when she heard the news. As a young mother with small children, she realized that widows and their children will need help and she started an extensive network with thousands of soup canteens open in the Nationalist zone. What I liked is that, despite pressure from the fascists, she wanted to help everybody, including the widows and the children of the “reds”. She seemed warm and lovely, but, at the same time, she knew how much her decisions will impact her life, after remarrying.

MARGARITA NELKEN, the Spanish Intellectual, was the least favourite. She was so annoying that the Socialists were happy for her to leave and join the Communist side; that happened only because the news from Moscow that she was not to be allowed in the party arrived after she joined it. In the beginning I had mixed feelings about her, but, by the end of the story, I was annoyed. For example, she said in an article: “I have no pity for the mothers who wail like wounded beasts for the sufferings or loss of their children.” A couple of years later she would see her son killed, in WW2, as a soldier in the Red Army, and she did wail for her child, for years, as any loving mother would do, something she could have considered when she wrote that hateful article. She also praised Stalin for decades.

I think it’s interesting that from four stories I liked best the ones on the right, when the author is, obviously, a left wing sympathiser. Maybe it was because Pip and Mercedes were milder in their convictions than Nan and Margarita. I would highly recommend this book.

Doves of War by Paul Preston

Details about the picture: –
My rating: 5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: yes
Published by: HarperCollins Publishers
Year it was published: 2002
Format: Paperback
Genre(s): History – Spanish
Pages: 480

About the author: Paul Preston, born in Liverpool and educated at Oxford, is passionate about the Spanish Civil War. He is the author of Franco and Juan Carlos, holds the Príncipe de Asturias Chair of Contemporary Spanish History at the London School of Economics. He lives in London.
Books by Paul Preston: The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution, and Revenge; The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain; Franco: A Biography; A Concise History of the Spanish Civil War; We Saw Spain Die: Foreign Correspondents in the Spanish Civil War; A People Betrayed: A History of Corruption, Political Incompetence and Social Division in Modern Spain; The Last Stalinist: The Life of Santiago Carrillo; The Last Days of the Spanish Republic;
Website & Social Media Links: –

5 thoughts on “Doves of War by Paul Preston”

  • When I saw your stash of books on Spanish history in another post, I knew that I would be most interested in reading the review of this book. I would love to read it, it sounds fascinating. Different stories, opposing beliefs and sides, how riveting!

    • There are bits of history in the book, but only to support the story, so I can’t say I learned a lot from this book about the civil war. At the same time, it was fascinating to learn how women from both sides were treated, especially as it happened in the 30s.

  • Hi Anca,

    I don’t tend to read a lot of non-fiction, but when I do, history is by far my ‘go to’ book of choice.

    I also like that this one is broken down into four individual stories, which means that I wouldn’t have to read the entire book at one time.

    Thanks for sharing and for the recommendation 🙂

    Yvonne xx

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