As the opening chapters in this long narrative are set in the Alpujarran village of Juviles, where I sometimes live, I've been looking forward to reading the English translation. I'd got about a third of the way through in Spanish, but even if you have a reasonable command of the language, its near 1000 pages are hard work, packed as they are with obscure words for obsolete concepts. It's a long book for people who want their money's worth from a long book, with a lack of serious literary merit balanced by a wealth of fascinating detail and a rollicking, relentless pace. Concerning the tumultuous history following the Christian Reconquista of Spain and the forced conversion and integration,persecution and partial exodus of the last remaining muslims, it's a convincing evocation of a fascinating place and time, with resonance for the modern relationship between the islamic world and the West. Rather than serious history, though, it's unashamed historical romance, with a focus on individual characters and a love story at its centre. It gets pretty drippy and indulgent, but I don't think its target readership will worry about that - in fact, that could be the key to its appeal for the middle-aged Spanish ladies who've already started to turn up in our village, clutching paperbacks of 'La Mano' as they peer into the 16th-century village church. Fun, full of colour and very, very long, with a convincingly natural style in translation, it's really an airport novel with a great historical backdrop. As long as you don't expect more, you'll love it.