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, Spain

Book Review: Winter in Madrid, C.J. Sansom

Every now and then I read a book about Spain which helps make understanding this country a little easier. Winter in Madrid, by C.J. Sansom, is one of those books.

Winter in Madrid... Photo by Sergio Moratilla
Winter in Madrid…
Photo by Sergio Moratilla

This thriller is set mainly in Madrid just after the Spanish Civil War in 1940. I know what you’re thinking, not another blooming book about the Spanish Civil War, but this one is so much more. It’s not only an education read, helping you clarify exactly what went on back in those miserable days in Spain, but the detailed, colourful images paint superb images in your mind and the gripping plot and variety of characters keep you entertained.

The Plot

The main character is Harry Brett, a World War veteran who reluctantly becomes a spy for the British Secret Service. Harry is sent to Madrid to check up on an old school colleague Sandy Forsyth, a dodgy business man. The main problem is that Harry is not really up for being a spy and dislikes having to lie. He soon becomes a professional though and works his way into Sandy’s corrupt life.

Barbara Clare, Sandy’s girlfriend, is desperately trying to discover whether her real love Bernie Piper, a Communist in the International Brigades – thought missing in action, is alive, or not.

It’s a bit slow to start with, but once Harry gets involved in Sandy’s crooked business, and also meets Sofia, a Spanish lady, the story becomes enticing. Not to mention the scenes in Bernie’s mind while he’s in prison.

The fact that Harry, Sandy, and Bernie all went to the same public school together adds to the storyline and creates an intense build up.

Why would I recommend it?

If you have a passion for Spain and an interest in finding out more about what really happened back around the Spanish Civil War then this is a great book.

I felt sorry for Harry from the start. He’s a bit of a clumsy old fool and is thrown in the deep end by being told he needs to become a spy. The job obviously isn’t for him but he is passionate about his feelings and wants to give it his best shot; jolly good show.

I also sympathised with Barbara. I’m sure a lot of people have lost their soul mates during wars and it must be a dreadful feeling not knowing whether the person of your life is alive, in a prisoner of war camp, or dead.

It shows you exactly what was happening in Spain around the Second World War as well, which is bizarrely interesting, as is the relationship between Franco and Hitler. I found out the other day that the car that drives around the King of Spain, now Felipe VI, was actually a present from Hitler to Franco.

It also makes you realise how far Spain has come since then. Fair enough, times are tough at the moment, there is a lot of hardship, people unemployed and losing their houses on a regular basis, but at least people aren’t killing each other, well, not yet anyway.

I always find Civil Wars the hardest to contemplate. How can people with the same blood feel that strongly about something that they would grass on their own brother or father and send them to their death? I find it incredible that this happened in Spain all those years ago, but it does explain sometimes the passionate personalities of people I have met over the years, and also why there is often still a lot of tension between people here.

The Author

Christopher John Sansom, born in Edinburgh, is the man responsible for this marvellous novel. I love the way he brings old Spain to life, develops the characters, and drip feeds details of the story to keep you intrigued.

Sansom is a writer of crime novels, which explains how he was able to devise such a thrilling plot. You can check out his website here.

Have you read Winter in Madrid? What did you think? Do you know any other excellent books about the Spanish Civil War?