Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Death's Other Kingdom

Gamel Woolsey was on the very edge of the Bloomsbury circle, she loved Llewelyn Powys (who was married to Alyse Gregory) but subsequently married Gerald Brenan (who loved Dora Carrington who loved Lytton Strachey) and helped bring up Miranda, Gerald's illegitimate daughter. Her early life was tragic and later on she became isolated and withdrawn, dying in 1968 from breast cancer, but in the thirties it was a happy time when she lived with Gerald in a small village outside Malaga. I came to this complicated life after reading "Death's Other Kingdom", published in 1939, and wondering about the author.

The book starts with an idyllic description of a day in their Spanish home in 1936 but quickly moves to the drama of fires in the distance, the city of Malaga burning at the start of the Civil War. Most of the foreign community leave immediately but Gerald and Gamel decide to stay, believing that they can save their house and protect their small community of servants and friends. Gamel writes a conscientious eye witness account and describes the descent into fear, violence and anarchy with great compassion, always trying to understand the motivations of people as they burn houses and kill their neighbours. At first, with my limited understanding of the brutality of the Civil War, I thought that her description was naive but I was wrong because the simplicity of the images are piercing in a way that more complex analysis can never achieve. Gamel writes with a profound love of the Spanish people and now, after finishing the book, I am left with a sense of grief for that lost Spain.

I fly to Malaga on Thursday and I can't wait to see the blue colours of the Mediterranean but there will be, at the back of my mind, those vivid descriptions of the flames as the city burned in the first frenzy of the Civil War.


  1. I don't read much, but when I do I completely find myself within the story, the places, the smells, the feelings. Have fun and enjoy the blue. It's totally disappeared here, rain has taken over and it's all wet and gray.

  2. I've now ordered this book at my local library - it sounds intriguing; thank you for writing about it and her. I hope you have a wonderful time in Spain, and maybe bring back some of those blue colours for us to see!

  3. Liz in Missouri USAJanuary 22, 2014

    I know practically nothing about this war, except tiny bits connected to other tiny bits by and about Hemingway. This will be a good book to find an read. Now won't it be interesting when you get to Spain to have this knowledge to draw on? Take lots of pictures! Can't wait to see.

  4. I think I should be unable to cope with the emotions in this book. Enjoy your sojourn.


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