on 12 March 2012
There are two quite distinct strands to this book and Mr Fraser successfully weaves them together.
It is the intensely personal, close and claustrophobic story of one man and his family over forty years. It is also a fascinating picture of a part of rural Spain that has been transformed utterly from grim 3rd world level poverty to modern affluence over the last 80 years. This story concerns only the first 40 years of this period, up to 1970, and should be read by anyone who knows Andalucia only as it is now.
Accounts of Spanish politics and history usually focus on the big picture, but Fraser concentrates on the small detail, looking at how war and politics played out with individuals on the local level (as he does to great success with his classic "Blood of Spain"). What comes over is how messy, arbitrary and personal the story becomes at this level.
People could be murdered because of personal grudges, with politics being a mere pretext. Where politics was the decisive factor one's fate could be entirely arbitrary, with luck (wrong place and wrong time) being crucial. People with no great political commitment died, while others who were more involved might escape lightly. Just as personal enmity might lead to death a personal friendship might trump political differences.
An intriguing aspect to the story is the suspicion, probably well founded, that the local policeman believed that Cortes was hiding in the family home. However, he had no wish to do anything so long as Cortes stayed hidden. If Cortes had emerged he would have been obliged to arrest him. Such nuances and human touches add colour and texture to the stark historical and political themes.
Fascinating though the political, historical and social insights are, the book's success ultimately depends on its gripping story of one family; of parents living a secret marriage bringing up a daughter who grew from infancy to adulthood and marriage, trained to deny all knowledge of the father hiding at home. It is a fascinating story, very well told.