Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Cypresses Believe in God was José María Gironella’s third novel and the first to attain widespread success, being translated into several other languages. It is the first part of a trilogy about the Spanish Civil War, the other volumes being Un millón de muertos (1961; One Million Dead, 1963) and Ha estallado la paz (1966; Peace After War, 1969). A subsequent volume, Los hombres lloran solas (1986; men cry alone), was not as successful. Critics agree that The Cypresses Believe in God is the best book in the four-volume chronicle of the Alvear family.

The author wanted to accomplish a threefold task in his study, set in the years preceding the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War and ending with the first incidents of the military insurrection that was eventually victorious under General Francisco Franco. His first concern was a chronicle of the Alvear family, with the coming to maturity of the three children the central feature. His next concern was the portrayal of the small city of Gerona with its population of twenty-five thousand as represented by the characters with whom members of the Alvear family interact: Ignacio’s fellow workers at the bank, César’s career as a seminarian, Pilar’s maturing and falling in love with Mateo Santos, fellow law student with Ignacio, son of the tobacconist with whom Matías plays dominoes, and organizer of the Falange in Gerona. Finally, as a backdrop there are the incidents of the coming of the civil war, at first distant and then increasingly closer.

Several influences are apparent in Gironella’s novel: The family chronicles of Benito Galdós and John Galsworthy are most frequently mentioned, as are the historical novels of Honoré de Balzac and Charles Dickens. Gironella read Leo Tolstoy’s monumental Voyna i mir (1865-1869; War and Peace, 1886) shortly before beginning work on The Cypresses Believe in God. Negative influences were the...

(The entire section is 822 words.)