Manuel Cortes: a biography

Guest Post: Rebekah Thompson

In Hiding book cover

In Hiding book cover

One of the most famous (or some would say infamous) characters in Andalucía during the Civil War, not for his participation but for his ability to remain hidden for three decades, was Manuel Cortes, former Mayor of Mijas. Through hard work, cunning and an endless list of cover up stories courtesy of his family, Manuel eluded capture by the authorities and almost certain death for thirty years. When he eventually emerged from his hiding place, he was greeted by a mixture of “We knew you were there along” and “I can´t believe you were there all along”, and after the initial shock Manuel moved onto his next big battle – learning how to wear shoes.

I was asked to review a book about the life of the extraordinary Manuel Cortes and his family by Ronald Fraser – In Hiding, here is my review:

In Hiding – The life of Manuel Cortes by Ronald Fraser.

In Hiding is the spellbinding story of a man who spent thirty years holed up in his own home to escape execution. Manuel Cortés, a socialist and mayor of the village of Mijas in Andalusia, became a marked man once Franco’s forces took power. Cortés stayed under cover until amnesty was decreed in 1969. This absorbing narrative, based on numerous in-depth interviews, chronicles an awe-inspiring ordeal and depicts one of Spain’s darkest hours in visceral detail.”

The book is written by Ronald Fraser, the leading oral historian on 20th century Spain, he is also the author of In Search of Past, Blood of Spain and Napoleon´s Cursed War. Fraser was world renowned for his ability to collect and present personal information in a factual and historical context; he relied on conversations and interviews to compile information from people who lived through important historical events.

This book is no exception; Fraser uses his conversations and interviews with Manuel Cortés and his family to document and contextualise their lives with the local and national history in which they took place, including information about the economic, political and personal changes that occurred.

In Hiding was originally published in 1972; three years after Manuel Cortés came out of hiding in 1969 (he died in 1991 age 85). However, as Ronald Fraser sadly passed away in February of this year (2012) at the age of 81, a second edition of the book was published with a new introduction written by Fraser himself in 2010, to commemorate and celebrate his work and his life.

Fraser suggests in his introduction, that the book has two main protagonists; Manuel and his wife Juliana. Personally I feel that their daughter María is the third protagonist; she features heavily in the accounts of her parents and even shares her own experiences within the book. María´s children, Manuel´s grandchildren, who were also able to keep his secret also feature heavily in the later chapters, it is thanks to them that he survived his 30 years.

The way the book is written is completely unique, like nothing I have ever read before; the information is both historical, and biographical, yet it reads like a novel. There were times when reading this book that I had to remind myself that it was real life; not only the life of Manuel but the lives of people all over Spain, who may not have been as intelligent, resourceful or lucky as Manuel, and perhaps did not survive Spain´s 30 years of violence and repression.

This method of writing was enrapturing; the story of Manuel´s life, interspersed with his background knowledge of politics filled my mind with history. Whilst I didn´t even realise it, the facts and information sneaked into my head; the best way of learning.

There were times when I found the book tough going, as I started to empathise with Manuel and his family as to what it felt like to be in hiding for all that time, and hearing of the lengths and breadths Juliana and María had to go to just to survive, with the additional burden of saving the life of their husband and father, reminded me constantly of my own insignificance, it pushed me to want to do something really important and worthwhile in my life.

The mixture of feelings that passed through me as I read this book I cannot describe; I can say only that they, like the history described in the book, were turbulent.

In Hiding is not uplifting per se, but if you need a push to do something great with your life, or if you are the sort of person who often feels like giving up, you should read In Hiding; it is inspirational and will certainly teach you a lesson about quitting, as Manuel proves that the goal could be right around the corner. In Hiding is a truly inspiring, informative and humbling historical biography.

Blog published on 2 August 2012