The Spanish Civil War (1936 - 1939), with its terrible effects on residents of the Basque country, was a complex and brutal war in which soldiers, sometimes neighbors, often found themselves fighting for different sides. Author Manuel de Lope obviously knows the landscape and the culture well, describing the overwhelming beauty of the land and mountains with an obvious love of nature, and the characters in his story with understanding and affection. Not a traditional war story, the author focuses instead on three characters who, though affected by the war, are peripheral to that bloody action--Maria Antonia Etxarri, the daughter of a former innkeeper from a nearby town; Dr. Felix Castro, a young, crippled doctor; and Isabel Cruces Herraiz, the bride (and later widow) of a young officer, all living in the village of Hondarribia. When Miguel Goitia, a young law student studying for his exams, arrives at Las Cruces sixty-five years after the Civil War, he is allowed to stay in the inn which was once the home of his grandmother, Isabel Herraiz.
Goitia, though reclusive and not involved in any activities, other than his studies, becomes the catalyst for the real story here, and as the action moves from the present back and forth to the time of the war, the other characters, now elderly, are inexorably drawn to him. Maria Antonia and Dr. Castro are privy to secrets involving Goitia, though he does not suspect this, and the big question is whether or not they feel he will benefit if these secrets are revealed.
Consummately romantic in a literary way, this novel has great appeal, and anyone who enjoyed Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon will find much of the style similar, despite the very different subject matter. The novel is dense with sensual imagery which recreates the magic of the landscapes and buildings, and as the action develops, this imagery creates often haunting atmospheres. His characters are well individualized within the limitations of the genre, and they often inspire sympathy and empathy. So smoothly does de Lope incorporate his descriptions, even as he is switching back and forth in time, that the novel at times feels more like music than prose.
Divided into four parts, the author focuses on different, overlapping characters in each section. Typically romantic story lines abound: the elegant and perfect wedding, the death of a hero, unexpected inheritances, secret identities, the lowly servant being lifted up, the good doctor making heartrending decisions which haunt his life, the comfort of memories, and the sensitive soldier who hates violence, among the many. Though the novel is fully developed and vibrant with life, both from nature and from its people, the secret at the heart of the plot is easy to figure out early. The author provides a good deal of obvious foreshadowing, and the characters often drop obvious hints. There is little suspense other than to know whether not the reader's guesses are correct. Fortunately, the vibrant imagery and many superb descriptions keep the reader attentive and involved, despite the obvious plot twists. Mary Whipple