Review published on August 4, 2016.
In this recently translated Spanish novel we see the return of two sisters to their Basque village after maybe 25 years away. Their grandfather Don Reinaldo, a farmer and unofficial healer, had sent them away as children, as the Civil war developed; they had ended up in wartime England. Refugee status eventually removed, they returned to Spain where the “beautiful one” married. Now they return to their poor rural village and rebuild a new life together in their derelict home. Their grandfather is dead, but other villagers they remember remain.
A simple tale it would seem. But there are both secrets and memories. These will be gradually revealed as the book develops. Told largely through the perspective of the sisters, (also holding a private fear of discovery) close family and long standing community links are central. This book explores the deep relationship between sisters, who are different in character and wishes, but nonetheless living closely together and with common memories.
But in a small village the “girls” need to gradually re-integrate and then village history, both during the war and after, is revealed. Why did grandfather send the girls away and how did he subsequently die? And how have the past actions and compromises of the villagers impacted on their current lives and behaviour? What are their secrets too? And are they really secret, or known to the wider village? So this is also a tale on the practicalities of living in a small closed community, the strengths and weaknesses of the lifestyle and the price some must pay.
This is an interesting novel exploring personal lives in detail through difficult times. Themes that certainly raise much wider than Spanish questions with all their implications. So it may appeal to a lot of book groups. But a minor warning, there is something harsh or distant about the tone that can be disconcerting – it left this reader unsettled not satisfied; but perhaps that may have been what this impressive author intended.
Hilary White 4/5
Scribe 9781925228656 pbk Aug 2016
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