Monday, April 7, 2014

Cielo Abajo, the battle of Madrid in a novel

Cielo Abajo by Fernando Marías
Fernando Marías is a writer  and  publisher. He has written novels, film screenplays and short novels for young adults. He has also received numerous awards among them: Anaya award for young adult novels 2005 and the National Award to the best Book for Children and Young Adults 2006 (Premio nacional de literatura infantil y juvenil), both awards for Cielo Abajo.


Plot
Joaquín Dechén has lived all his life in an orphanage in Ávila province. When students are 15 they leave the orphanage with a letter to either become a priest or join the army. Joaquín joins the army when Franco, with a part of the Spanish army, rise against the republican government. In the army Joaquín meets famous pilot Luis Cortés, who becomes his mentor. Luis sends Joaquín to Madrid to spy on Ramiro and Constanza, Luis' dearest friends before the war.

Joaquin discovers the terrible effects of the war on innocent people and realizes that Luis, a Francoist supporter, has not kept his word of defending the republic. Joaquín is torn between this harsh reality and his loyalty to Luis Cortés, the man who taught him everything. Things get more complicated when he falls in love with Constanza, a beautiful, sensitive woman expecting a child. Out of love he decides to help the republic but when both Costanza and Ramiro die in a bombing he joins the Francoist army again.  The couple leaves a daughter also named Costanza in the same orphanage where Joaquin lived.

After the war Joaquin is a respected pilot and spends time looking for the young Costanza. Joaquin tries to help her as much as he can but she disappears from his life again after having a daughter also named Costanza. When he is an old man, after the second Costanza´s death, he renews his relation with the third Costanza, a young independent woman who learns from Joaquín the passion for planes.

Joaquín writes his story in a book that he plans to give the third Costanza as a present. This story was discovered by a young unsuccessful writer who gets a  part-time job decorating old Joaquín's apartment. While he was painting, a book comes in the mail for Joaquin. As a young writer, he couldn't resist taking a look and we follow the story while he reads the book and tells us how he meets Joaquín and young Costanza. We realize that Joaquín is giving him a present too, a good story to write a book about it.

The book is beautifully written and introduces lots of themes that we can use for discussion in a novel study:
  • Love (platonic, filial, admiration...)
  • Loyalty and betrayal: Luis/Ramiro and Vicente Rojo
  • Personal growth and the search for an identity. 
  • The search for dreams
  • Culpability
  • Revenge
  • Loneliness
  • The evolution of the role of women in Spain
The novel depicts the so-called battle of Madrid in the fall of 1936. The Francoist troops were planning the assault to Madrid. Joaquín witnesses the meetings to coordinate the defense of the capital. Historical figures who took part in the battle appear in the novel such as Varela, Lister and Vicente Rojo. Joaquín is impressed by Vicente Rojo's integrity. He was a high rank military man but unlike Franco or Luis Cortés he remained loyal to the government because he had given his word to defend the Spanish republic. He organizes the defense of Madrid and coordinates all the different armed groups that existed at the time.


Cielo Abajo can be a good text to do a novel study with our advanced students. It portrays important historical facts very accurately but it also tells us a beautiful love story. 

More links
Author´s website
Anaya publisher study guide