Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Los Surcos del Azar, a graphic novel for the Spanish class

I have been showcasing resources about the Spanish Civil War. It is a very interesting topic to work with our students because they are familiar with the historical events around that time in Europe. It is important that they are aware how these events are interrelated and the fact that the Spanish Civil War cannot be understood outside the rise of totalitarianism in European countries.

I also like graphic novels for many reasons. They can help students to get used to reading in a second language and enjoy it. Another important reason is because authors tell us personal experiences which students can relate to easily. There has been a great production of graphic novels in Spanish speaking countries in the last years and we can use them in our Spanish classes.

Paco Roca is one of my favourite authors. I have introduced his award winning graphic novel Arrugas, which I highly recommend . Today I'd like to talk about his latest work, Los surcos del azar , which explores the lives of Republican soldiers after the Spanish Civil War and their involvement in the Second World War.  It is not the first time that Paco Roca uses the Spanish Civil or post-war as the  setting  one of his stories. In El Faro we read the story of Francisco, a young republican soldier. He became involved in the war by being conscripted like many other young Spaniards. After the war he flees and meets Telmo, an old lighthouse keeper who lives his life freely. Telmo will guide Francisco to a world of adventure and discovery until Francisco finally finds his place in the world away from his traumatic experience in the war.


Paco Roca was also the artist in El Angel de la Retirada published in French with a storyboard by French writer Serguei Dounovetz. More information in a previous entry.

Los Surcos del Azar was published in 2013. It is probably his most ambitious work up to now and  again depicts the lives and fates of the Republican soldiers who had to leave Spain after Franco´s victory in 1939. The title is taken from a poem by Spanish poet, Antonio Machado in his book Campos de Castilla (Proverbios y Cantares II):
¿Para qué llaman caminos
a los surcos del azar?...
Todo el que camina anda,
como Jesús, sobre el mar.

Antonio Machado had to leave Spain in 1939 entering France on foot accompanied by his ancient mother with the rest of refugees. This scene is portrayed in the novel as a token of the helplessness of the situation for the refugees. The poet and his mother died a month later in the small town of Collioure, which has become a place for pilgrimage.

In this article Paco Roca explains how he started the project after meeting Manuel Fernandez and Luis Royo in Paris in 2008 during the presentation of La Nueve, los españoles que liberaron Paris by Evelyn Mesquida. They were two of the few survivors of the company and Paco Roca found the story fascinating. Probably, we would have seen many films about their lives, had they been from a different country. 

The author started to research about these historical facts and found Miguel Campos, another member of La Nueve who disappeared mysteriously just after the liberation of Paris. The novel follows Miguel Campo´s life through his conversations with the author,  like a documentary and 70 years after everything happened. We learn that he is one of 1,800 lucky ones who could board the ship Stanbrook in Alicante port in 1939, where over 15,000 people where waiting for other ships which never came. Then we follow his steps in Oran, Algeria and how the French authorities put them in concentration camps to build the never completed Sahara railways.

With many other exiled Spanish he takes part in the Tunisia campaign against General Rommel and then the group of Spanish republicans joined Leclerc's army to form La Nueve company. The company is taken to England for training and after the D-Day they start their trip to Paris taking part in uncountable battles. When the French leader de Gaulle learns that a revolt has broken up in Paris against the Nazis, he asks the alleys to attack Paris. It is August 1944 and the Americans are not willing to enter the French capital out of fear of the reprisals on the civil population by the Nazis authorities. However, de Gaulle insists and orders Leclerc to enter Paris. La Nueve company, like in many other French cities before, is the one leading the attack reaching Paris city hall on August 24, 1944. The German garrison surrenders the day after (source Wikipedia). The bulk of the Alley troops parade in Paris on the 26th.

Most of the members in La Nueve company have been fighting since 1936, and some will still participate in the battle of Strasbourg and will eventually reach Hitler´s Eagle Nest. However, the main character Miguel decides to abandon the war to head back to Spain with his partner to fight Franco. When his partner dies in a car accident on the way to Spain he decides not to fight any more, settling in France and mourn his dead partner and also his lost country. 

Paco Roca convinced Miguel to talk about all these events 70 years later. He had kept silent for all this time and not even his closest friends knew anything of his struggle. He was a deserter after all! The graphic novel is presented in the form of a documentary. Paco Roca asks questions to Miguel and there are continuous flashbacks to the facts he is recalling. We also are present at the process of getting to know each other until Miguel trusts the author completely.


The real history of Miguel could be the plot for films or TV series however it was lost like the rest of the members in La Nueve. The graphic novel unveils the story of a group of people who lost a war and along with it their home and their country but who never gave up trying to liberate Europe. It is also the story of Miguel who also lost his family, his partner and was condemned to a life of silence. The story is told in a realistic way, like a documentary,  showing the injustice of wars and the cruelties committed by the contestants.

I highly recommend the graphic novel for an ADULT reader.

More information about Paco Roca's work in La guía del cómic.
Interview in RTVE.
Article in El Pais newspaper.
Paco Roca´s website
Post on La Nueve company
Conference by Evelyn Mesquida on Vimeo