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Manuel Alvarez.

Vancouver,New Star Books, c1983.
189pp,paper, $15.95 (cloth), $7.95 (paper).
ISBN 0-919573-20-7 (cloth), 0-919573-21-5 (paper).


Manuel Alvarez.

Vancouver,New Star Books, c1980, 1983.
233pp, paper, $15.95 (cloth), $7.95 (paper).
ISBN 0-919573-18-5 (cloth), 0-919573-19-3 (paper).

Grades 12 and up.
Reviewed by Leslie McGrath.

Volume 12 Number 5
1984 September

As a child, caught up in the midst of a battle during the Spanish Civil War, Manuel Alvarez was rescued from the wreckage of a bombed town by a foreign soldier. Alvarez made a vow to his father that he would find the man and thank him, although the nameless soldier had given him only one slender clue to his identity: "Yo Canadiense," I am Canadian. The Tall Soldier tells the story of Alvarez's quest, whkh grew to be an obsession, as he struggled to help feed his family in the harsh aftermath of the war and served as a reluctant draftee in the Spanish navy. Later, Alvarez became an engineer in the Norwegian merchant marine in the hope of immigrating to Canada; this part of his story is described in greater detail in the companion volume, Seven Years At Sea. After many long, frustrating years Alvarez achieved his goal; he arrived in Canada, his new homeland, and succeeded in finding the man who had saved his life.

The Tall Soldier is more than a fascinating personal adventure; it is a background document to the Spanish Civil War and a tribute to the volunteers who travelled from their non-interventionist countries to help the doomed republican government of Spain defend itself against the fascist invasion. Special attention is given to the Mackenzie-Papineau battalion of twelve hundred Canadian volunteers who fought bravely for the republican cause. Many of these soldiers were killed; those who survived and returned home were labelled "traitors" and "communists" by a hostile Canadian government.The Tall Soldier also offers a tribute to freedom through the clear picture it presents of life in the corrupt, repressive regime of post-civil war fascist Spain.

Seven Years At Sea covers Alvarez's stint in the merchant marine, giving a brief outline of his search for the tall soldier, but concentrating on the sights, stories, and adventures of his life at sea. Seven Years serves primarily to fill in the gap in The Tall Soldier, but is well worth reading in its own right; while occasionally raucous and bawdy; it is lively and enjoyable and certainly gives no false glamour or romance to the sailor's lot.

The war and its aftermath left Alvarez with emotional scars that are evident in both books. Along with his loathing of fascism, Alvarez developed an abiding hatred of the Catholic clergy who supported Franco, one of whom was responsible for his father's death. His prejudice does not deter Alvarez from describing incidents in which he was treated with compassion and respect by individuals who belonged to the clergy, however, thus giving a balance to the text.

The Tall Soldier and Seven Years At Sea are sturdily bound, with matching, attractive, attention-catching covers. The print, though rather small in The Tall Soldier, is clear and readable in both volumes. These books, The Tall Soldier in particular, are recommended for senior school an4adult collections.

Leslie McGrath, Toronto, ON.
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