It has been suggested that Federico García Lorca has become the best known and most frequently translated Spanish writer primarily because of the circumstances of his death. As a victim of the Fascist forces in the first days of the Spanish Civil War, García Lorca quickly achieved the status of martyr. A half century after his death, his name still evokes the turmoil and conflict that would continue through the years of World War II.
Outside the Hispanic world, interest in García Lorca’s life and work has always been dominated by the subject of his homosexuality and the unanswered questions surrounding his assassination. For years, some have claimed that he was murdered because of jealous rivalry among his circle of homosexual acquaintances, while others have insisted that he was killed because of his political sympathies. This new biography by Ian Gibson clarifies much of the mystery surrounding the Spanish poet. It presents for the first time in English a thorough record of García Lorca’s personal and professional life, from the time of his birth on June 5, 1898, in Fuente Vaqueros, to the night of his death on the outskirts of Granada on August 18, 1936.
Gibson’s detailed reporting of eyewitness accounts to the assassination and details gleaned from persons living in Granada in 1936 confirms that García Lorca was murdered primarily for political reasons. He was not an active participant in politics, but his activities in the popular theater were evidence of his commitment to democratic ideals, and he was very outspoken about his criticism of middle-class values. He was murdered because he had aligned himself with those who were identified as leftists. The brutality of the assassination, however, was probably a result of his increased openness about his homosexuality in the last years of his life.
Gibson’s account of García Lorca’s life ends with a chilling description of the assassination by the Fascist death squad, based on information supplied either directly or indirectly by those who participated in or witnessed the events of that night in August, 1936. A short epilogue describes the death of García Lorca’s last lover, Rafael Rodriguez Rapun, a Republican soldier who died of injuries received in 1937 when he refused to take cover during an attack by Franco’s forces. He died on August 18, exactly one year after the assassination of García Lorca.
The poignance of this final moment is fitting, for this narrative of the poet’s life is sympathetic and touching, even though García Lorca was sometimes not a very attractive person. Gibson, however, refrains from taking a judgmental stance. At no point does it seem that he is trying to substantiate a prevailing thesis. Rather, he is reporting the fascinating, sometimes astounding information that he has gathered during the twenty-five years that he has been devoted to researching the life of García Lorca. Gibson’s previous books on Lorca include The Assassination of Federico García Lorca (1983) and a two-volume biography published in Spanish in 1985-1987, on which this biography is based.
In his introduction, Gibson offers the opinion that García Lorca’s poetry is rooted in a prelogical, animistic world. The story of the poet’s life reveals that he lived as if he were not a part of the established social order; his poetry and drama were radically innovative and his behavior and ideas iconoclastic. When the Spanish Civil War began in the summer of 1936, García Lorca’s friends begged him to leave the country immediately, knowing to what extent he had alienated the conservative Nationalists who controlled the south of Spain. Ignoring the pleas of people such as Margarita Xirgu, the actress who starred in many of his plays and who knew that the Fascists would try to kill him, García Lorca went to his parents’ home in Granada, the home from which he was taken days later to face death by firing squad.
The version of García Lorca’s life that Gibson narrates—a version that on all counts seems authentic—reveals a...
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