ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This week, the city of Barcelona and the surrounding region of Catalonia voted to break away from Spain. This doesn't mean they'll actually become independent anytime soon. The Spanish government didn't recognize the results. But the referendum reminded poet Rowan Ricardo Phillips of a favorite book. His wife is Catalan, and Phillips himself is a resident of Catalonia. He's here as part of our series, This Week's Must Read.
ROWAN RICARDO PHILLIPS: On Sunday morning, as I cast my vote in the Catalan election, I thought of the day that George Orwell arrived in Barcelona. It was 1936, the day after Christmas, and the city was in the middle of a terrifying and chaotic civil war. Orwell was shot in the throat and barely survived. But two years later, he published "Homage To Catalonia." It was a personal account of the nearly six months he spent on the front lines of the Spanish revolution. I had come to Spain with some notion of writing newspaper articles, he wrote. But I had joined the militia almost immediately because at that time and in that atmosphere it seemed the only conceivable thing to do. Not many stories of conflict can create such a moving mix of horror, grace, brutality and even humor. The Spaniards are good at many things, but not at making war, he wrote. In Spain, nothing, from a meal to a battle, ever happens at the appointed time. This is the story of an individual determined to do what he thinks is the right thing, caught in the spiraling conflict that had long since spun out of control. Today, that messy war in Spain has been replaced by a messy political situation. Those traumas of the past still play out faintly in the current politics of the country. At the time, Orwell wrote, the rights and wrongs had seemed so beautifully simple. I wonder what he would say now.
SIEGEL: The book is "Homage To Catalonia" by George Orwell. It was recommended by Rowan Ricardo Phillips, author of the poetry collection "Heaven."
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