Spain Book Reviews

Here are two Spain Book reviews. The weather is changing this week here in Southern Spain. It´s the perfect time to get back into the habit of reading in the evenings now it´s darker earlier on.

I read both of these books earlier this year and thoroughly enjoyed both of them. Although they are quite different from each other as you will see…

The Return by Victoria Hislop

This book had been recommended to me by several people who love Spain. This was written  I expected a light romantic novel set in Granada, Spain. As I live in Granada this was of particular interest to me as the novel begins in the city.

The beginning of the book, (up to page 100) starts off gently. The main characters, Sonia and Maggie, are jetting off to Granada to get away from it all. They want to dance in Spanish studios on a short course, as well as taking a break in the city. This was more or less what I was expecting. I imagined this book would give detailed descriptions of the cobbled Granada streets, explanations of the customs of the locals and lots of vibrant flamenco imagery. I was quite content to read this undemanding tale.

Soon after passing page 100 I was soon surprised by the author. As a reader I was lead along a path I hadn’t really expected. In a few more pages I was soon reading about a local Granada family many decades before. Initially this family is mentioned by a local Granada waiter called Miguel. But as the pages turn, Sonia steps discreetly into the back of the readers mind. The Granada family step onto the main stage. Seamlessly the story morphs into another tale. I was suddenly reading their family story at the time of the Spanish civil war. Suddenly we are in 1936 and are discovering how the conflict is affecting the Ramirez family´s daily life.

I didn’t expect an historic novel but this romantic novel changes smoothly. Both stories are cleverly intertwined. If you have an interest in Flamenco dancing, Andalusia or in Spain but don´t particularly love history or politics this book is for you.  If you are interested in Spanish history or the civil war and already have knowledge about this period. Then this may seem too generic for you.

As the story develops we follow a new character, the passionate dancer Mercedes, a young girl in Andalusia at the time the war begins. The tale takes us to different parts of Spain, the places that were important in Spanish Civil War history. Almost all of Andalusia is mentioned Malaga, Granada, Almeria, but we also have Madrid, Murcia, Barcelona and Bilbao featuring in the book.

The ending is neatly tailored by the author. When we get to the 400th page we certainly have learnt a lot about Spain´s history and culture.  It is a carefully balanced story with a blend of history, geography and romance.   (read March 2013 – For my Spain Book reviews)

tablate

The Hand of Fatima – Idlefonso Falcones

I had already read the magnificent novel Cathedral of the Sea by the same author, therefore it was a natural progression for me to read this latest book as well. I was actually lucky enough to go to a Spanish wedding in summer 2004 which took place in Santa Maria del Mar which is the setting for the book. This event inspired me to read the novel as soon as I possibly could get a copy.

I live in Granada, the city in which the Hand of Fatima begins. I have also spent many months living in the beautiful Valley of Lecrin which also appears repeatedly throughout the book. The setting of the novel coincides with areas that I know well myself, it almost seems as though the author is following my movements, choosing familiar locations to me for his next book.

By reading the Hand of Fatima I hoped to discover more about the historic Alpujarra wars and read well written descriptions of the Alpujarran villages, conjure up mental images of the Sierra Nevada, reading about all those familiar places. I expected to hear about the city of Granada how it was during the era of Al-Andalus many hundreds of years ago and even learn a few facts which I had not yet heard previously. The book certainly met my expectations.

The well researched work cleverly blends historic fact and geographical references. It carefully describes local landmarks as well as telling an interesting tale to the reader. Even with 8 years knowledge of Andalusian culture I got swept away by the author´s writing and forget to notice which parts of the book are hard facts and which parts are the fictional storylines embroidered into the novel.

When studying A Level Spanish many years ago I read Lazarillo de Tormes by Francisco de Quevedo. This is a classic Spanish novella from 1554. As I read the Hand of Fatima the atmosphere that it conjured up reminded me of the tricks and treachery in Lazarillo of Tormes as well as the street scenes described.

Set in Granada in the year 1564, Christians and Moors are at arms. The clash of cultures causes many scenes of torture, blood and brutality. Both sides suffer gruesome punishments throughout the book, the Catholics are severely attacked when the Moors are rampaging through the mountain villages in the Alpujarra at the beginning of the story. Soon the tables are turned and the failed Moorish revolt upturns their fortunes, the Moors then find themselves are at the mercy of the harsh Christian rulers.

Hernando the main character is a Moorish boy, son of a Christian father. He has deep olive skin and big blue eyes, causing internal conflict for him and doubt, making others around him doubt his faith. He has a lot of mishaps and fights along the way but every now and again those sparkly blue eyes come good. He learns to adapt quickly in tricky situations, such as being confronted by the Christians or even challenged by his own people.

The book is not only about the Alpujarra wars, violence and cruelty; there is a romantic storyline through the narration. The main character Hernando is romantically involved with the captivating Fatima with her dark hazel eyes and exotic beauty. Their relationship goes through many difficulties and separations. Against all odds they both try to maintain their partnership in spite of fierce opposition from family and pressure from the society in which they live in.

UNESCO World Heritage visit spain

In the Cathedral of the Sea I found it fascinating that reading the novel I could take notes and go and visit some of the landmarks and monuments in Barcelona now. The same occurs with the Hand of Fatima, the descriptions of Granada, Cordoba and the Alpujarra allow the steps of the characters in the story to be retraced; being able to walk along the same roads described and touch the same walls that we read about really appeals to the reader.

The novel winds its way through many different areas of Granada province and Southern Spain. Most of the Alpujarran villages are mentioned, Valor, Ugijar, Juviles and Los Berchules. There are terrible battles described near to the town of El Padul just South of Granada, we discover the areas of the valley of Lecrin such as Beznar, Tablate and Mondujar. Granada and it´s historic buildings of course are mentioned often throughout the course of the novel, the Royal Chancillery or the Alhambra fortress both feature as well as other buildings.

Ait Benhaddou Morocco

I actually read the book with a detailed map of Spain next to me to be able to follow the story along the map whilst I turned the pages. Hernando´s mule ´La Vieja´ was certainly a patient and hard working animal! They cover miles and miles of dusty roads and hilly paths through the book.

Further along in the story we are transported to Adra, Almeria, along the Sierra Morena and eastwards to historic Cordoba. Some parts of the story are set in Algiers and different towns of Morocco.  For any Spain enthusiast or anyone interested even slightly interested in European history it certainly is a recommendable read.

At just under 1000 pages, it is a solid book to get stuck into reading.  (read March 2013)

Here are a few more of my Spain Book reviews..