The Basque liberation movement is not one that features hugely on British news (bar the nastier terrorist attacks); if you are interested in finding out more about it, this novel is a good and clear guide. It also shows very vividly how terrorism can destroy lives.
Astrid and Lola Arnaga are Basques (in fact, they're both half Scots, half Basque) living in exile in Paris. Astrid is a top transplant surgeon, involved in an unhappy affair with a married senior doctor. Lola is a dancer and dance teacher. As the story opens, both sisters are waiting anxiously for the release of Mikel, a Basque terrorist gaoled nearly twenty years previously, and Lola's former boyfriend. Lola is imagining that she and Mikel can begin their lives together afresh, and have another chance. Astrid (who went to prison in Lola's place to save her being gaoled for her association with Mikel) is trying to share Lola's joy but is in fact anxious. Mikel has been writing to her from prison, and she knows that not only has he come to regard his past work as an activist with disgust, but that he has begun to develop a strange passion for her. While Lola heads off to the Basque country to meet Mikel, Astrid stays in Paris. But she soon realizes that Mikel may come to join her there, and decides to hurry to the South to try to head him off. On her way she meets Khader, a teenage French-Arab runaway, with whom she forms a strange and close bond. Meanwhile Mikel, released from prison, is dreaming of a simple life with a cottage and a dog, and of finding Astrid - he has no desire to see Lola again. And Mikel's former associates, particularly the traitor Txema, are hunting for Mikel, terrified that he might let out some of their secrets...
As a depiction of the Basque search of independence, and of the state of France today, this novel is excellent. The dialogue is on the whole convincing, and some of the characters, particularly Astrid and Khader, very vivid. There are also good descriptions of France and the Basque country - I think Wadham has worked in films, for some of the writing certainly reminded me of some of the more understated but very vivid French films I have seen.
I give it three stars because of its unrelenting, almost total misery. Nothing good happens to anyone in this book - Astrid, the entirely sympathetic surgeon, has no one to love her, and has to live with the fact that she's unwittingly betrayed Lola when Mikel falls for her; Lola doesn't get Mikel, and has spent twenty years in unhappy promiscuity longing for him; the girls' mother has gone mad with grief after her lover was killed; their father is a cold autocrat happy to allow one daughter to go to prison to save another; Mikel is a broken man who loses even what he briefly gains after his time in prison; Khader is on the run, and has lost his dog (murdered by a gang of French teenagers); Txema is tortured by his treachery - and so on. Everyone is miserable from the start and things get a lot worse - the ending makes almost unbearable reading. If Wadham had had a few lighter scenes or offered at least a grain of hope I'd have given the book four stars - but even Thomas Hardy or Dostoevsky never went this bleak.
Definitely worth reading for an insight into the Basque struggles - but make sure you have something cheerier to hand as well!
I don't normally read books about terrorism but as Lucy Wadham is a fine writer I thought I'd make an exception and I'm glad I did. Astrid and Lola are sisters living in exile in Paris after their often unwitting previous involvement in Basque terrorism. Astrid, now a transplant surgeon, is the older sister who is always trying to protect Lola and even went to prison in her stead. Lola, a dancer, is in love with Mikel, a Basque terrorist who is due to be released after twenty years inside and just wants to put the past behind him. Although he was Lola's lover, he has decided that he actually prefers Astrid and has been writing to her secretly from prison. When he is finally released, both sisters head south to meet him for entirely different reasons. Castro, incidentally, is the name of the devoted dog that Mikel has recently adopted. En route, Astrid gives a lift to an Algerian youth called Kader who becomes hopelessly besotted with her and follows her all the way to San Sebastian. Although set in France and Spain, this novel is really a Greek tragedy as the girls were not only born in the Basque country, but their father was also an ETA lawyer meaning that their chances of complete escape from the organization were always slim. Although Lucy Wadham paints vivid and sympathetic portraits of the main characters (particularly Astrid, Lola, Mikel and Kader) the message is that terrorism ultimately destroys not only its victims but also its practitioners.