José Cupido Tocón obituary | World news

My father-in-law, José Cupido Tocón, who has died aged 101, was a refugee from the Spanish civil war who settled in Britain and remained there until the death of General Francisco Franco, when he returned to his beloved Andalucia.

José was born in San Roque, near Cádiz, into a poor family. His father, José Cupido, a farm labourer, took his own life when his son was a teenager. His mother, Francesca (nee Tocón), brought up seven children on her own. José worked in farming, but in 1938 he was called up during the Spanish civil war and served in a cavalry unit. In the same year he was captured by the fascist forces and imprisoned in Seville.

One night, he and a fellow prisoner escaped and made the long and tortuous journey to Algeciras, on the Bay of Gibraltar, avoiding roads to prevent recapture. Eventually, through family in the port city, they found a small boat, which they rowed across to Gibraltar. “Papers please,” were the first English words José heard, from a British border official in Gibraltar.

José was held in custody and given the choice of joining the British army or the merchant navy. He chose the latter and joined a ship as a cook. Unfortunately, his lack of culinary skills was quickly discovered. He joined another ship and a kindly Chinese chief cook taught him what he needed to know. He spent the next few years on ships, managing to evade U-boats. Eventually, in 1940, he came to the UK as a refugee and joined the burgeoning Spanish expat community in London.

He had a number of jobs, one of which was digging tunnels for the London underground. He later became a chef at the Grand Palace hotel and Simpson’s department store. In 1966 he moved to Chichester, West Sussex, again working as a chef.

When Franco died in 1975, this was the signal for José to return to Spain. He went back to Algeciras, then lived in Jimena de la Frontera for a few years, returning to Algeciras in 1988. He was, for a number of years, a volunteer for the Banco Alimentario (food bank) and for this he was awarded a long service medal by the Spanish government.

In 1946 José married Marguerita Martinez, from Gibraltar, in the UK. They had three daughters. When they separated in 1958, José was given custody of the children. In the 1960s he married Maya Kimanis, a Polish-German refugee; she died in 1995. In 2013, when José was 97, he married Elena Arias, from Peru; she died in 2015.

He is survived by his daughters, Isabella, Francesca and Joséfina, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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The EU, war, peace, and dictatorships | Letters | World news

John Rigby (Letters, 3 August) challenges the view that the EU and its predecessors have been responsible for maintaining peace in Europe since 1945. Of course, that proposition cannot be proved. But it is true that one of the primary motivations of the founders was precisely that, as a reaction to centuries of conflict with ever varying combinations of allies and enemies, culminating in the two world wars. Compare the aftermath of the first world war – “the war to end all wars” – and consider how differently that might have developed had something similar to the EU been created post-1918.

Mr Rigby cites the slaughter in the Balkans in the 1990s in support of his argument. I would suggest quite the contrary. Former Yugoslavia was not a member of the EU. Had it been, no doubt the tensions between the different groups would still have existed, but there would have been a much greater incentive to resolve them peacefully, like the relatively amicable split-up of Czechoslovakia.
Frank Jackson
Harlow, Essex

Jeremy Paul Dixon (Letters, 3 August) is incorrect when he states that the second world war “ended the west-European dictatorships”. Franco continued in power in Spain until his death in 1975; Salazar’s Estado Novo ruled in Portugal until 1974; Greece was ruled by a military junta between 1967 and 1974. By joining the EU all three countries made a commitment not to return to authoritarian rule.
Harry Eyres
London

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British visitors return from Spain with civil war stories – archive, 27 July 1936 | World news

FLEET STREET, SUNDAY.
British visitors who have returned from San Sebastian and Barcelona, who arrived in London to-day, told a Manchester Guardian representative of some of their adventures during the early days of the civil war. Men and women who had gone to San Sebastian with parties of the Workers Travel Association talked about the lovely town as they came up by the train from Newhaven, delighted to be back in England, but not sorry, it seemed, that they had been in Spain during historic events.

Mr L. Stodel, of Myatt’s Park, London, and his neighbour, Mr. L. F. Heard, told how late on Friday night they realised that news of trouble had come through on the wireless, and heard later that a Fascist general had been killed in Morocco. They were staying in the Hotel Correos, which, as they discovered, was the street of the workers’ headquarters, and after a look at the crowds talking and shouting in the streets they lay down on a balcony watching them for hours.

The travellers said that the strike was the workers’ counter-stroke to the Fascists and came prompt on the news of the general’s death. Next day there were no servants in the hotel and little food. The workers were making barriers of road blocks and firing at people on balconies because, they said, in previous risings the Fascists had fired from balconies. But there was no sign of any Fascist organisation; its members were in hiding. A big building some way down the street, said to be the Fascists’ headquarters, was on fire.

The travellers were warned not to leave the hotel, and the manager was considered very brave because in between the firing he went out to buy food. The British Consul, Mr. Scott, to whom they telephoned, advised them to keep in the hotel till more was known. On Monday he managed to get a convoy of motor-coaches and five motor-cars for them, and, amid the cheers of the workers, the first contingent set off for the frontier. Each coach carried the Red Flag, and on each wing sat a man with a rifle. All the visitors, including elegantly dressed women, were careful to raise their clenched fists in the Communist salute at the people they passed, and so they crossed the frontier.

FIRING FROM CHURCHES
By the same train 63 people returning from Barcelona arrived in London, 47 of them competitors who were to have taken part in the international games at Barcelona, and the rest visitors. In Sunday morning in Barcelona they woke to the sound of heavy firing.

Mr. G. Elvin, leader of the British contingent, said that most of the time it was perfectly safe to go through the workers’ quarters, and he declared that there was absolutely no truth in the story that one man had had a gun forced into his hands. His party stayed at an hotel near where the fighting was taking place. The workers were firing from the roof, the Fascists firing from the church next door and people tearing up cobbles from the tram-line to build a barricade across the top of the street fifty yards away. The Fascists took refuge in the churches, shooting at people from the belfries. He believed it was for that and not for any anti-religious reason that all the churches in Barcelona except the cathedral were burned. He did not believe the stories about the heads of priests being carried through the streets.

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Juan Goytisolo obituary | Books

Scourge of racism, sexism and Spanish obscurantism, and defender of Muslim culture, Juan Goytisolo, who has died aged 86, was one of Europe’s most erudite and brilliant novelists.

His impressive, varied body of work – he published 19 novels, two books of stories, five travel books and several essay collections – succeeded in combining beautiful language with emotional honesty and political polemic. He was considered one of Spain’s finest writers, though he fled the country in 1956, stifled by family and the Franco dictatorship, and never returned.

His most popular books are two volumes of autobiography, Coto Vedado (1985, Forbidden Territory) and En los Reinos de Taifa (1986, Realms of Strife). These compelling portraits of his wild childhood and youth in Barcelona are unique in Spanish letters for their personal honesty.

The early novels and stories are in the social realist tradition, coupled with political commitment. As the dictatorship’s press reported nothing true, Goytisolo and his literary generation felt the need to write fiction that expressed Spain’s real degradation and poverty. He supported the Communist party’s underground struggle in Spain, the Algerian war of liberation and the Cuban revolution.

Born and brought up in Barcelona, Juan had a sister, Marta, and two brothers, the poet José Agustín and the novelist Luis, a bourgeois family that became spectacularly dysfunctional after his mother, Júlia Gay, was killed by an Italian bomb in the Spanish civil war. His father, José María, a chemical company executive, was a supporter of the Franco dictatorship.

Goytisolo studied law before his first novel, Juegos de Manos (The Young Assassins), was published in 1954. From 1953 onwards he had made trips to Paris and in 1956 became a reader there for the publisher Gallimard, channelling into translation many Spanish anti-Franco writers and South American novelists. There he met Monique Lange, who was to become his wife, and Jean Genet, who became a key influence on Goytisolo’s development. “Are you queer?” asked Genet, not a man for small talk. “I’ve had some experiences,” mumbled Goytisolo. “Experiences? You talk like an English pederast,” replied Genet.

In the mid-1960s Goytisolo acknowledged to Monique, and publicly, his homosexuality. This difficult, Genet-inspired step forward to greater honesty and freedom applied to his literature, too, which took a sharp turn in 1966 with the publication of Señas de Identidad (Marks of Identity). It was banned in Spain, as was all his subsequent writing until after Franco’s death in 1975. Despite his confession, Monique and Goytisolo married in 1978, and maintained an open relationship until her death in 1996.

With Marks of Identity, both style and content changed. Goytisolo rejected social realism and conventional, tensed language for what he called “narrative free verse”, using stream of consciousness, including street signs, police reports and tourism brochures, and abandoning standard punctuation. It was the first of three linked books that studied how the Franco dictatorship was based on several centuries of a Spanish culture that compulsively rejected its Gypsies, Moors and Jews.

In Reivindicación del Conde Don Julián (1970, Count Julian), an exiled Spaniard rages from Tangier against Spanish nationalism and Catholicism. It was followed by the highly experimental Juan Sin Tierra (1975, Juan the Landless). The ferocious opening words of Count Julian catch the spirit and tone of these three novels: “Harsh homeland, the falsest, most miserable imaginable, I shall never return to you.”

While Goytisolo never again lived in Spain, he often visited and was profoundly involved in Spanish literature, emphasising an alternative, subversive tradition, running from the picaresque novelists to Joseph Blanco White, an exile from Andalucía in 19th-century Britain, paladin of South America’s independence and subject of two Goytisolo books. To ignore the Arab influence on Cervantes or the Jewish origins of most 16th- and 17th-century writers, Goytisolo argued, was “like teaching 20th-century Russian literature as a golden age, without mentioning the gulag”.

He found little comfort in the consumerist democracy that replaced the Franco regime. He followed Genet in his solidarity with the oppressed, rejection of sexual repression and commitment to literary freedom. Paisajes Después de la Batalla (1982, Landscapes After the Battle) is a dreamlike satire on immigration to Paris. Among his non-sequential and parodic later novels, Las Semanas del Jardín (1997, The Garden of Secrets) renders homage to oral storytelling and Carajicomedia (2000, A Cock-eyed Comedy) obscenely and hilariously satirises the Spanish church.

In the 90s he again became very active politically. Numerous articles denounced Chechnya’s suffering under the Russian army and the destruction of multicultural Bosnia in the Balkans war. With Susan Sontag he visited Sarajevo and called for its defence.

After Monique died, he moved to Marrakech, in Morocco. There he lived with an ex-lover, Abdelhadi, and his extended family in a house just off the Jemaa el-Fna Square. He learned the demotic Arabic of the city, stood alongside its poor against the Europeanised bourgeoisie and campaigned successfully for the square to be declared a Unesco masterpiece of oral heritage.

Prizes came late: he was unbeloved by the establishment he flayed. In 2008 he was awarded Spain’s national prize for literature and in 2014 the Miguel de Cervantes prize (often called the Spanish-language Nobel).

In person, this serious man was friendly and talkative, enjoying long chats, gossip and jokes. As the subversive iconoclast did not wish to rest in Spain or in a Christian cemetery, Goytisolo was buried in the civil cemetery of Larache, Morocco, near his adored Genet.

Juan Goytisolo Gay, novelist, born 5 January 1931; died 4 June 2017

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