I was spurred on to buy this after reading encouraging comments on the discussion forums as to what a great story it was. I'm happy to confirm that the reports are all true: this is a wonderful, heart-warming read about the eclectic array of inhabitants of a small South American town that is virtually unknown to the outside world.
Part love story, part character study and with a little bit of magic thrown in for good measure, the books central protagonist is a lady with big dreams. Dona Nicanora has always wanted to travel the world, but alas never made it. Now years later and back in the remote Valle de la Virgen, widowed with children, she has another dream- to open the town's first ever hat shop. Only, the process is not as straight forward as she hopes...
Other brilliant characters woven into the madcap tale include the rejected former beau, Don Bosco, who is still harbouring desire for Dona Nicanora all these years later, the power-hungry mayor, his alcoholic wife and the strange foreigner, `Gringito.' Gringito is just fabulously depicted as a real eccentric, and along with Dona Nicanora's daughter Nena, adds some real humour to the story. There's also the town's new doctor who has an aversion to blood- and to be honest, an aversion to being a doctor as well- and is pining for his rebellious girlfriend.
With the amount of characters you'd expect the story to be complicated, but it isn't and flows incredibly well. All characters are very well written and despite the small town setting there's nothing contrived or overly cliché about the events that take place. There's action, drama, politics and romance- a real mixed bag of a plot, but somehow it just works.
In summary, this is one heck of a debut novel and a really feel-good read in an infinitely charming setting. I'm looking forward to reading more from this author- she's definitely one to watch out for in future. Highly recommended.