Ethel MacDonald (1909-1960) was a girl from Motherwell who became an anarchist, went to Spain to witness the anarchist movement’s extraordinary influence in Barcelona in 1936, and then became a witness to, and reporter on, the Spanish Civil War, which made her name known around the world. This unlikely story is one that might have been forgotten. Chris Dolan has done a fantastic job of uncovering Ethel MacDonald’s life story given that the documentation of her life is scarce to nonexistent in places. Further, his evocation of the anarchist movement in thirties Spain, ideologically driven by the ideas of Bakunin over those of Marx, and far from the contemporary image of chaotic rage that anarchy is often taken to be, is fascinating and enlightening. Dolan’s reconstructions of scenes from Ethel MacDonald’s life as if he was in the room can be jarring though, contrasted with the impressive historical investigation we find elsewhere, and occasional errors slip through (e.g: Houdini can’t really be said to have been a spiritualist, as stated here, and labour leader ‘Kier’ Hardie often has his name misspelled). Nitpicking aside, this is a great and true story. In the pages of this book, MacDonald’s story is a compelling and extremely well written one. ['Kier' Hind]
Out Now, Published by Birlinn, Cover Price £9.99.