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Flamenco, fighting and passion
The Return - Victoria Hislop
Member Name: honey000
The Return - Victoria Hislop
Advantages: Insight to Spanish Civil War, strong characters
Disadvantages: Link between stories weak
Anyone who ever buys a book based on the "Richard and Judy Book Club" will probably have read "The Island" by Victoria Hislop. When I saw "The Return" for 10p at my parents village fete I could not resist!
The book is set both in the modern day and in the 1930s in Spain. Two stories are told - a contemporary one at the beginning and end and a historical one in the middle.
Centres around Sonia - a 30 something married to a boring, older man who desperately wants her to settle down and have babies. She, however is a passionate person who loves to dance and enjoy life. She is persuaded to go on a dancing holiday to Granada in Spain with her best friend Maggie.
Whilst there she discovers a passion for flamenco dancing and quite by chance meets an old man in a cafe who talks to her about the history of the Rodrieguez family during the spanish civil war.
Through the eyes of the old man the history of the family is given - the main characters include:
Mercedes - a beautiful young girl who is an extremely talented flamenco dancer.
Ignacio - her brother - a bull fighter / matador.
Emilio - her brother, a gentle homosexual in a time when it was dangerous to be that way.
Antonio - her brother, a passionate young man desperate to fight for freedom.
Pablo and Concha - her parents
Javier - her lover and partner in the flamenco performance.
The story is set in the period before and during the Spanish civil war, it uses the characters to explore the conflict from the point of civilians being killed and displaced, soldiers and participants.
If, like me you never really learnt about the conflict you will be surprised at the sheer number of casualties and the terrible suffering on both sides.
Hislop uses the characters to describe the horrors of war including, torture, shelling, and illness.
She is, in general very critical of the role played by European nations in the conflict and appears to question whether more could have been done to prevent the war.
The novel does not try to shield the readers from the horrors of war in any way, so be prepared to see quite how bad things were.
Relief is given through the relationship between the characters and the growth in the characters of Mercedes and her family.
Hislop uses the third person and has a wonderful descriptive style - I was really able to picture what was happening throughout and felt drawn in and wanted to know what would happen to the characters.
What is good about it?
Lovely descriptive style and strong characters which develop as the story progresses.
The book does not glorify the war and does not really support either side, other than just to critisise the European input.
The relationship between the characters are convincing and there is clever use of journeys to describe the impact of the war throughout the novel.
What is wrong with it?
The link between the contemporary story and the historical one is weak and almost slightly crass (I won't ruin it!) - I wasn't really sure that you actually needed both - the historical story being the stronger of the two and more compelling. Possibly the book would not have sold without them both!
The modern story feels forced and formulaic - women in an unhappy marriage looking for a way out, and strangely enough finding an option on a holiday in Spain?
Overall what do I think?
The descriptive tone of the book is fantastic and Hislop is easy to read. Although one story is stronger than the other both are readable and this was a gentle read.
I did learn a lot about the Spanish Civil War - but much more about the suffering it caused and the sheer number of people killed than the reasons for the conflict - so could very loosely be called educational.
Would recommend as a relaxing, holiday read!
Summary: Worth a "Richard and Judy" recommendation!