Book Reviews, Flamenco

Book Review: The Return, Victoria Hislop

This is the second time that I’ve read The Return by Victoria Hislop. I really enjoyed this historical fiction novel and would recommend it to anyone interested in the Spainish Civil War or flamenco.

Just like ‘Winter in Madrid,’ the book left me asking questions about the Civil War and how people of the same country were capable of doing such horrid acts. For me, it’s beyond comprehension how family members grassed on each other and sent their own blood to their death.

It’s also barbaric how Franco went about becoming such a power in Spain and killing innocent people for having different views to him. I can’t get my head round how his dictatorship led to so much violence and death. Anyway, rant over, here’s more about the book.

Great setting for a historical novel. Photo by ferlomu
Great setting for a historical novel.
Photo by ferlomu

The Plot

As usual with my book reviews I tend not to go into much detail for fear of giving too much away, but it’s about a woman called Sonia who goes on a flamenco holiday to Granada with a friend to escape her drunk husband. While there she becomes more involved in the world of flamenco and meets an elderly waiter who begins to tell her about life during the Civil War.

Victoria switches from the viewpoint of Sonia and also becomes a narrator back in the Civil War, as if told by the voice of the waiter, explaining the emotional lives of a Spanish family.

There are a number of sub plots and twists, which makes for excellent reading.

Why would I recommend it?

Generally I enjoyed how Victoria wrote. I loved the twisting plot and detailed character descriptions. I really felt for Sonia, and also several characters in the Spanish family, especially the mother and daughter. Victoria must have done a lot of research to find out about certain events and she tied in the story splendidly.

I also enjoyed the way she added a sense of romance to the novel, both with Sonia and the family in the war. I find these days that romance always seems to be in the air, which is one reason why I’m writing my novel at the moment. It shows how important love is in the world and the affect it can have on people, in both good and bad ways.

Flamenco is an exciting aspect of the book as well and Victoria shows how this world is of great influence in Spain. She gives some detailed descriptions of flamenco performances and really shows you how it gave hope to people back during the war.

What to watch out for

One thing that did sway me from time to time was the way she used certain vocabulary of a higher level when she could have said it much simpler. It was as if she was showing off at times by using more intellectual words when she could have kept it down a tad. Nothing major though.

The Author

Victoria Hislop lives in Kent with her two children and has written several other books. Her first novel, The Island, has sold over one million copies and was number one in the Sunday Times charts for eight weeks. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s about a Greek family’s life in the 2nd World War.

Her more recent book, The Thread, is also set in Greece but is more of a saga set over a hundred years.

Victoria has also written several short stories, one of which, Aflame in Athens, she donated to Oxfam’s “Ox-Tales” project. She also writes travel articles. You can check out her official website here.

Have you read The Return, or any of her novels? What did you think?

Book Reviews, Flamenco, Spain, Travel

Book Review: Duende, a Journey in Search of Flamenco

This is my first review of books set in Spain: Duende, a journey in search of flamenco by Jason Webster. For me, reading a book is not only about being entertained, or inspired, but also about the memories around the book itself.

duende
Not the official cover, but a damn good photo.
By alfanui

I first came across this excellent travelogue biography when I entered a second-hand book shop in Vejer de la Frontera while on a short holiday with my wife. It was a cosy little shop, full of books stacked in handmade pine bookcases and scattered over various tables. The red cover with a drawing of a flamenco dancer stuck out, so I picked it up and scanned the back.

“I found his descriptions of the flamenco underworld irresistible…I couldn’t put it down” Chris Stewart, author of Driving Over Lemons.

As a fan of Chris, I was drawn in immediately.

“A great account of a man’s attempt to learn flamenco,” said the bookshop owner. I turned and smiled as he peered down his nose over his glasses.

“Yeah? I’m looking for some books about flamenco, I’m thinking of writing a novel,” I replied.

“Well, that’s as good as any. I’m not entirely sure that everything happened, but it’s a great story and full of information about flamenco, if that’s what you’re after.”

I didn’t actually buy the book that day, but I kept a mental note of it and put it at the top of my Christmas book list.

What’s the book about?

Duende is about Jason’s mental adventure in Spain to discover the world of flamenco. He originally sets off to learn the flamenco guitar but gets a whole lot more than he bargained for (I know the feeling, my plan was to come to Seville for a year, that was nine years ago).

Jason admits in his prologue that for years he lived in Italy because he wanted to be in Spain. After his Italian girlfriend dumps him, a drunken busker makes him see the uselessness of his degree, and his university lecturer suggests looking into a life as an academic, he realises he should follow his dream, head to Spain and learn the flamenco guitar.

I was surprised that his adventure starts in Alicante, not the most popular destination for flamenco, but he knows Pedro, a friend of a friend, who takes him out for his first live flamenco performance where he first feels duende. That’s when he sees Lola, a flamenco dancer, who he bumps into again once he gets a job teaching English. Through Lola he meets various musicians and also finds Juan, who becomes his first flamenco guitar teacher. Over time his relationship with Lola becomes passionate and they have a steamy affair. The problem is that Lola’s husband, Vincente, is Jason’s boss. When Jason feels that Vincente might have a sneaky suspicion about the affair he escapes to Madrid, where he meets Jesús, a crazy gypsy, and the real flamenco adventure begins. I’ll let you find out what happens next.

Duende in Madrid
Duende in Madrid.
Photo by nclawler

Apart from the fact that Jason is a witty and descriptive writer, I love his enthusiasm for life. The way he takes risks by going abroad on his own in search of a better life and curiosity for learning about the flamenco world is inspiring. I can relate to his desire to explore and learn about Spain and respect the way he manages to emerge himself deep into the world of flamenco. His passion for learning a difficult instrument is also uplifting. One of the reasons I came to Spain was to learn the guitar, but I never really had the skill, so his passion impressed me.

I also like the characters he meets, especially Pedro, his witty first friend, and the mental Jesús who gets up to all sorts of madness. Lola is just how I imagine passionate flamenco dancers to be as well.

I also learnt a lot about flamenco. The different types of palos guitarist’s play, interesting historical facts about the origins of flamenco, lots of references to the big names in flamenco, and also how difficult it is to become a half-decent flamenco guitarist.

Would I recommend it?

Definitely! If you have a slight interest in flamenco, or even in what it’s like to live in Spain, then this is a great choice. Jason adds interesting snippets of history and facts about flamenco and Spain. His descriptions of the people he meets along the way are excellent and you really feel as if you are on the adventure with him.

Jason has also written AndalusGuerra, and Sacred Sierra, which are all on my to-read-list.

If you want to buy the book then you can get a hard copy here, or download it on your kindle here.

Have you read Duende, by Jason Webster? What did you think? Do you know any other decent books about flamenco?