Evolution of a B.C. trilogy

“Brett Grubisic’s (left) River Bend Trilogy novels are set in a fictional town on the Fraser River, based on Mission, B.C. where he grew up. Here, we learn other ways the titles are linked.” FULL STORY

#56 A Quaker in the Spanish Civil War

December 02nd, 2016

REVIEW: Live Souls: Citizens and Volunteers of Civil War Spain

by Serge Alternês and Alec Wainman

Vancouver: Ronsdale Press, 2015

$24.95 / 978-1-55380-437-6

Reviewed by Larry Hannant


Live Souls: Citizens and Volunteers of Civil War Spain contains the stunning documentary record of 1,650 photos taken over three years in Spain by Alec Wainman, an Okanagan-raised Oxford University student with the British Medical Unit.

Lost for forty years in a publisher’s suitcase in London, the photos have been gathered and presented by Wainman’s son, Serge Alternês. The original Canadian version has led to republication in Spanish.

Also see: http://bcbooklook.com/2015/11/02/the-english-suitcase/


No special insight is needed to observe that the estimated 40,000 internationals who threw themselves into the fight to salvage democracy in Spain in 1936-9 were a mixed assemblage. Hard men whose communist flint had been sharpened by their time in Dachau fought in common cause with humanitarians for whom politics were dirt in a wound urgently needing to be cleaned and bound. Masters in the art of political intrigue mingled with some of the most creative poets, novelists, photographers and filmmakers of the era.

Alternes, Serge book jacket Live SoulsAlong that political and artistic spectrum, Alec Wainman undoubtedly angled toward the aesthetic side. A photo of him in a Barcelona streetcar in 1937 gives us a dreamy, tender face, eyes framed by the glasses of an intellectual. Aged just twenty-three in August 1936, he volunteered for the British Medical Unit (BMU) in the first rush of international enthusiasm to aid the elected Republican government that was being attacked by fascist General Francisco Franco’s professional forces.

Wainman considered himself to be an apolitical Quaker, a pacifist informed by a Christian upbringing but not necessarily a Christian. Born in Britain, he and his family emigrated to British Columbia in 1920, and Wainman grew up on a ranch near Vernon. In 1928 his family returned to England, where he studied languages at Oxford University.

In his trek to Spain, Wainman took with him more than his youthful dedication to halting fascism and his fluency in languages. He also carried his Leitz Leica camera and a talent for seeking out the humanity in a country gripped in the vice of a modern war pitting Spaniard against Spaniard. He found and captured that compassion in a collection of 1650 photos taken over three years in Spain.

wainman-spanish-civil-war-1The subject of his photos — 210 of which are reproduced in Live Souls — is less the war than Spaniards in the war. We see no combat images as such, nothing of the sensational ilk that were smeared over the front pages of newspapers at the time.

What we observe — especially in those photos dating from the heady days of social upheaval in 1936 — is a remarkable portrait of working Spaniards reveling in the optimism unleashed by the new environment of the civil war. The photos affirm, among other facts, how completely the Republican army was a people’s army. The connection between civilians and militia is seamless.  Soldiers are not professionals, they’re workers in uniform. Indeed their uniforms — like their weapons — are often contrived, thrown together from whatever was to hand.

wainman-spanish-civil-war-2Along with images of Spaniards enthusiastically raising clenched fists and rifles, Wainman inserts subtle references to overlooked impacts of war. One is an affectionate portrait of a Spanish family at the seaside town of Tossa de Mar in March 1937. Mother, four adult daughters and their toddlers on the terrace of a home devoid of men, all of whom are at the front.

Wainman’s photographic evidence at times demands that we rethink certain romantic conceits of the civil war. Four photos from 1938, for instance, show well-heeled people — including a boy of 10 or 12 — standing before tables at the Barcelona Book Fair. The scores of books in front of them, from which they’re reading reverently, are not the works of Karl Marx. They’re studying The Bible. In Barcelona! Anarchists envisioned it to be the heartland of their toilers’ revolution.  Yet in this last bastion of the republic, Barcelona — like much of Spain — held firm to a regressive conservatism.  The photos are a telling challenge to the anarchist notion that a “communist bourgeoisie” handed the fascists a victory in the civil war. Franco didn’t need help from any imagined communist bourgeoisie, he had a fully-fledged Spanish bourgeoisie — plus the considerable weight of the German and Italian militaries.

wainman-spanish-civil-war-3Although it is brief, Wainman’s writing from the time is also present in Live Souls. Like the photos, his diaries are insightful. For example his account of the May Days in Barcelona, May 3-8, 1937, is a frank but wry record of the clash between anarchist forces and the Republican government, a civil war within a civil war. A sympathizer of the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC), integrated into the Republican coalition, Wainman saw the anarchist revolt as a blow to a government already severely challenged by the fascist military assault on it. But the days of fratricidal fighting had its lighter moments. He pointed out, for instance, that each afternoon both sides observed an unofficial ceasefire so Barcelona residents could shop for dinner.

After his time in Spain, where he served for a year as press officer for the last Republican government, Wainman continued his anti-fascist work in the British military during World War Two. In 1947 he returned to British Columbia, where he had a 30-year academic career at the University of British Columbia. After a long struggle with dementia, he died in 1989.


Serge Alternês

By mischance, Wainman’s photos languished for 40 years, apparently lost after they were sent in 1975 to London for a publication project that failed. Only later did Wainman’s son, Serge Alternês, embark on a quest to learn their fate. His dedication led to the rediscovery of the photos in a forgotten suitcase of a retired publisher in London.

One disappointment is that for no announced reason, Alternês does not acknowledge himself to be Wainman’s son. So Live Souls contains none of what a reader would suspect to be a fascinating story of a family in which the memory of a seminal moment in a man’s life slowly fades, then is recovered in a physical form.

In addition to the English edition, Ronsdale Press has also published Live Souls in Spanish. It’s an ambitious undertaking for the Vancouver publisher, which has produced a stunning collection of photos on glossy paper in a format that presents the memorable photos at their best.



Larry Hannant

Larry Hannant is a history professor and an award-winning book author and website creator. He is an adjunct associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Victoria. He is the author of The Infernal Machine: Investigating the Loyalty of Canada’s Citizens (1995) and the editor of The Politics of Passion: Norman Bethune’s Writing and Art (1998), which won the Robert S. Kenny Prize in Left/Labour Studies in 1999, and Champagne and Meatballs: Adventures of a Canadian Communist (2011). Hannant researched and co-wrote a feature-length documentary film on the Doukhobors, The Spirit Wrestlers, which was broadcast on History Television in 2002. He is the director of “Explosion on the Kettle Valley Line: The Death of Peter Verigin” and “Death of a Diplomat: Herbert Norman and the Cold War,” two sections of the award-winning Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History website. In addition to non-fiction books, he has published magazine and newspaper articles, as well as poetry and short stories.


The Ormsby Review. More Readers. More Reviews. More Often.

Reviews Editor: Richard Mackie

Reviews Publisher: Alan Twigg

 The Ormsby Review is hosted by Simon Fraser University.



Press on English and Catalan ‘LIVE SOULS’ as of December, 2016

International Media (Canada, France, USA, UK, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Vatican) (33 articles)

December 2, 2016
Canadian Literary Weekly Magazine and web publication BC BOOKLOOK by Alan Twigg publishing THE ORMSBY REVIEW (A journal of serious non-fiction about British Columbia edited by Richard Mackie) Book Review of LIVE SOULS made by Professor Larry Hannant. http://bcbooklook.com/2016/11/24/ronsdale-wins-two-prizes-at-2016-ippy-awards/
November 27, 2016
Canadian Regional Latin American Cultural Review EL CENCERRO, Author interview by Fabricio Tocco Chiodini http://elcencerro.ca/entrevista-serge-alternes-autor-live-souls/
November 24, 2016
Canadian Literary Weekly Magazine and web publication BC BOOKLOOK by Alan Twigg announcing the IPPY Independent Publisher Awards selected LIVE SOULS for a Bronze Medal for European regional history one of two prizes for the publisher Ronsdale Press.

Ronsdale takes two IPPY Awards

September 12, 2016
French National daily LE PARISIEN announcing the book presentation of LIVE SOULS: Fotos inèdites de la Guerra Civil at Cervantes Institute Toulouse September 15th and a meeting with Serge Alternês http://toulouse.aujourdhui.fr/etudiant/sortie/presentation-d-un-livre-de-photos-inedites.html
September 12, 2016
French Regional digital cultural daily Ô TOULOUSE (CULTURE 31) announcing the book presentation of LIVE SOULS: Fotos inèdites de la Guerra Civil at Cervantes Institute Toulouse September 15th and a meeting with Serge Alternês
September 12, 2016
French Regional digital cultural daily RAMDAM announcing the book presentation of LIVE SOULS: Fotos inèdites de la Guerra Civil at Cervantes Institute Toulouse September 15th and a meeting with Serge Alternês
September 12, 2016
French Regional digital cultural daily MAPADO announcing the book presentation of LIVE SOULS: Fotos inèdites de la Guerra Civil at Cervantes Institute Toulouse September 15th and a meeting with Serge Alternês
September 11, 2016
French Regional daily LA DEPECHE DU MIDI erroneously announcing a LIVE SOULS Photographic Exhibition at Cervantes Institute Toulouse (later retracted announcing September 15th English and Catalan book presentations of LIVE SOULS) http://www.ladepeche.fr/article/2016/09/09/2415293-a-cervantes-un-regard-inedit-sur-la-guerre-d-espagne.html
September 8, 2016
International Portuguese anarchist blog in Portuguese ABORDAXE COMUNICACIÓN ANARQUISTA with an article based on the September 3rd ERNEST ALÓS article in EL PÉRIODICO
September 8, 2016
International Chilean digital media in Spanish SOCIAL MEDIA CHILE with an article based on the September 3rd ERNEST ALÓS article in EL PÉRIODICO
La foto del mártir beatificado por Juan Pablo II que en realidad era de un miliciano comunista
September 7, 2016
International Argentine digital media in Spanish DIARIOPARANA with an article based on the September 3rd ERNEST ALÓS article in EL PÉRIODICO
September 7, 2016
International Chilean digital blog in Spanish SMART with an article based on the September 3rd ERNEST ALÓS article in EL PÉRIODICO
September 7, 2016
International Mexican digital media in Spanish MAGMEDIA and GAREY with articles based on the September HIPERTEXTUAL

La foto del mártir beatificado por Juan Pablo II que en realidad era de un miliciano comunista

September 7, 2016
International media blog INFOVATICANA, republishing the September 3rd ERNEST ALÓS article in EL PÉRIODICO

‘No era un mártir, era un miliciano’

September 3, 2016
International media blog ARCHY WORLD NEWS with an incomplete English translation (done by machine) of the September 3rd ERNEST ALÓS article in EL PERIODICO

It was not a martyr, was a militiaman

Catalan Publication of ‘LIVE SOULS: Fotos Inèdites de la Guerra Civil’ at the Setmana del Llibre Català, Barcelona Sept. 8, 2016
July 15, 2016
North American Cultural Weekly Newspaper and Web publication THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT Author interview by DOUG SARTI on LIVE SOULS and for the 80th Commemoration of the start of the Spanish Civil War http://www.straight.com/arts/737846/vancouver-connections-spanish-civil-war-abound-live-souls
July 15, 2016
National Canadian Syndicated Newspaper and Web publication THE VANCOUVER SUN Author interview by JOHN MACKIE on LIVE SOULS and for the 80th Commemoration of the start of the Spanish Civil War http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/this-week-in-history-1936-the-spanish-civil-war-begins
July 15, 2016
North American Cultural Daily Web publication THE TYEE Book Review by PROFESSOR JON BEASLEY-MURRAY of LIVE SOULS: Citizens and Volunteers of Civil War Spain, under the title:
“As Europe Roils, New Glimpses of Fighting Fascists 80 Years Ago ‘Live Souls’ links BC to Spanish Civil War with rare photos, vibrant memoir.”
July 8, 2016
Weekly Regional Canadian Weekly Newspaper and web journal THE DELTA OPTIMIST http://www.delta-optimist.com/book-preserves-memories-1.2297399
June 30, 2016
Canadian ROUNDHOUSE RADIO Interview by Minelle Mahtani with Serge Alternês about his book LIVE SOULS and for the 80th Commemoration of the start of the Spanish Civil War http://cirh.streamon.fm/listen-pl-3600
June 16, 2016
Canadian Literary Weekly Magazine and web publication BC BOOKLOOK by Alan Twigg announcing the IPPY Independent Publisher Awards selected LIVE SOULS for a Bronze Medal for European regional history, the 80th commemoration of the start of the Spanish Civil War, and upcoming Catalan version of LIVE SOULS http://bcbooklook.com/2016/06/13/spanish-civil-war-80-year-commemoration/
April 2016 IBMT International Brigade Memorial Trust Newsletter, London UK, Issue 42 / 2-2016, Page 19, LIVE SOULS Book Review by SONIA BOUÉ http://www.international-brigades.org.uk/sites/default/files/IBMT2-16Web.pdf
March 16, 2016
American monthly newsletter THE VOLUNTEER founded by the veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade by JON BEASLEY-MURRAY http://www.albavolunteer.org/2016/03/book-review-live-souls/ https://posthegemony.wordpress.com/2016/07/15/live-souls-review-republished/
March 9, 2016
Canadian Literary Weekly Magazine and web publication BC BOOKLOOK by Alan Twigg announcing the Entry #175 for Alec Wainman on the Literary Map of British Columbia LOCATION: Wainman Cove, west side of Okanagan Lake, British Columbia, Canada, and a Book Review of LIVE SOULS http://bcbooklook.com/2016/03/09/176-alec-wainman/
January 16, 2016 Video Interview
LIVE SOULS, Citizens and Volunteers of Civil War Spain, Una conversación con Serge Alternês, GRADO CERO, Mexico,
Made during the FIL Guadalajara International Book Fair in December 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayCb9Glo5DI
November 2, 2016
Canadian Literary Weekly Magazine and web publication BC BOOKLOOK by Alan Twigg
Book Review of LIVE SOULS http://bcbooklook.com/2015/11/02/the-english-suitcase/
Original English Publication of ‘LIVE SOULS: Citizens and Volunteers of Civil War Spain’, Vancouver BC, Canada, Nov. 2015

Spanish Press Media / Articles (54 articles in 12 weeks)

December 2, 2016 onwards Article by ERNEST ALÒS in National EL CONFIDENTIAL on selected 103 books of the year for Christmas 2016. LIVE SOULS appears prominently in second History books section, which is reproduced in many regional media.
– EL CONFIDENTIAL (national daily): http://www.elperiodico.com/es/noticias/ocio-y-cultura/libros-recomendados-5629841
-Spanish regional daily Diario Córdoba on December 4th
-Spanish regional daily Diario de Léon on December 2nd
-Spanish regional daily El Periódico Extremadura on December 2nd
-Spanish regional daily El Correo de Burgos on December 2nd
-Spanish regional daily El Diario de Soria on December 2nd
December 2, 2016
National blog of the Museum Museu Memorial de l’Exili – MUME announcing a presentation at the Memorial Democratic de Catalunya of LIVE SOULS on December 15, in the presence of its Director, Plácid Garcia-Planas and the Publisher, Comanegra, Joan Sala https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=233200563775473&id=100012565929973
October, 2016 National monthly History & Cultural Magazine L’AVENÇ, October 2016 Issue, Book Review Showcase, Page 70 (See attached article and translation)
October 3, 2016
Traditional Spanish weekly TRADICIONVIVA.ES by VALENTINA ORTE:

La peligrosa utilización de una sugerente imagen.

September 2016

El misterio del sacerdote guapo y valiente fusilado en la Guerra Civil

September 2016
The Spanish history blog ALETEIA.ORG by the Franciscan Brothers:
September 21, 2016
Digital Version of articles in the Catalan Daily ARA by SÍLVIA MARIMON based on an author interview on September 13, 2016, which was republished in their 5 regional dailies: http://www.ara.cat/cultura/inedites-Guerra-Civil-pacifista-angles_0_1654634555.html
September 14, 2016 ERNEST ALÓS’ EL PERIODICO National list of 90 recommended autumn 2016 books, highlighting LIVE SOULS in Non-Fiction http://www.elperiodico.com/es/noticias/ocio-y-cultura/libros-novedades-otono-5344809
September 10, 2016 onwards Press articles published based on the interview of September 9th author interview with JOSE OLIVA of the EFE PRESS AGENCY (fourth largest in the world), which is reproduced in many media.
– EFE PRESS AGENCY: http://www.efe.com/efe/espana/cultura/publican-210-fotos-ineditas-de-la-guerra-hechas-por-un-conductor-ambulancia/10005-3036301
– La Vanguardia (a leading Spanish national daily):
– Eldiario.es (Spanish national daily):
– Eldia.es (Spanish national audiovisual media group, digital media):
– Teinternesa.es (Spanish national digital media):
– El Confidencial (Spanish national daily):
– Diari de Girona (regional daily):
– Regió 7 (regional daily):
– Diario de Navarra (regional daily): http://www.diariodenavarra.es/noticias/cultura_ocio/cultura/2016/09/10/publican_210_fotos_ineditas_guerra_civil_hechas_por_conductor_ambulancia_484222_1034.html
– El Diario de Léon (regional daily):
– El Socialista Digital (Spanish National Political Digital Media):
– El Economista (Spanish national Economic daily):
– El EcoDiario.es (Spanish national Economic daily):
– elmercuriodigital.es (Spanish national digital media daily):
And many more … Thanks to EFE’s articles appear in almost every newspaper in Spain, so it is the same item in many different newspapers. This is an excellent way of media coverage in Spain and in the Hispanic world.
September 8, 2016
Spanish digital media HIPERTEXTUAL.COM by César Noragueda
-Spanish mobile phone news digital media 3G Móvil Actualidad Moviles:

La foto del mártir beatificado por Juan Pablo II que en realidad era de un miliciano comunista

September 7, 2016
Regional Bisbal de Falset Digital Media això-va-passar.eu http://www.això-va-passar.eu/news/live-souls-otra-mirada-a-nuestra-guerra/
September 7, 2016
La Setmana recorda la Guerra Civil
-Catalan digital daily about culture NÛVOL
September 6, 2016
Spanish digital media ALETEIA.ORG
¿Mártir de la guerra civil o miliciano comunista?
September 6, 2016
Catalan Press Agency CATzona

La guerra civil, vista per un voluntari anglès

September 6, 2016
Spanish Press Agency EL CONFIDENCIAL
September 6, 2016
Spanish Press Agency ELDIA.ES
September 5, 2016
Spanish national daily EL RAZÓN by Víctor Fernández http://www.larazon.es/local/cataluna/una-mirada-inedita-sobre-la-guerra-civil-MD13454989#.Ttt1DYu4OHopFMB
September 4, 2016
Spanish national daily EL NACIONAL.CAT by Gustau Nerín http://www.elnacional.cat/es/cultura-ideas-artes/alec-wainman-live-souls_108586_102.html# http://www.elnacional.cat/ca/cultura-idees-arts/live-souls-alec-wainman_108586_102.html
September 4, 2016
Spanish Blog LIMPIA POR DENTRO by Santiago Mata:

El supuesto mártir de Siétamo era un miliciano

September 3, 2016 onwards
Press articles published based on the initial article by ERNEST ALÒS in EL CONFIDENTIAL which was followed up by an author interview of September 9th, which is reproduced in many media.
– EL CONFIDENTIAL (national daily): http://www.elperiodico.com/es/noticias/ocio-y-cultura/fotografias-ineditas-guerra-civil-alec-wainman-5352127 http://www.elperiodico.com/es/noticias/ocio-y-cultura/fotografia-sacerdote-guerra-civil-wainman-guzman-5352007
-Verdecoloresperanza Spanish digital blog on September 12th
– Le Que Se Oculta digital media daily:
-Spanish Blog Religión en Libertad on September 7th
-Spanish Blog Foro Amistad Corazon Amarillo on September 6th
-Spanish digital daily h2opositivo.com on September 6th

Ni cura ni mártir de la guerra civil, era un miliciano comunista

-Spanish Movimiento Político de Resistencia Blog:
-Spanish Blog Foro por la Memoria on September 5th

No era un mártir, era un miliciano

-Spanish regional daily Diario Córdoba on September 3rd
September 3, 2016
La Setmana del Llibre en Català: la fiesta de la palabra escrita, Libros para la ‘rentrée de Pere Guixà
– LA VANGUARDIA (a leading Spanish national daily):


BC BookWorld



BC BookAwards

The Literary Map of B.C.

The Ormsby Review

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • About Us

    BC BookLook is an independent website dedicated to continuously promoting the literary culture of British Columbia.