This novel was originally written in Spanish but has now been translated into English. It is well-written and the translation is skilful. It is an intriguing and thought-provoking merger of fact and fiction. The story is set in a Spanish Costa. There are two central characters and each tells their story in the first person, each person taking alternative chapters to speak. Firstly we have Sandra, a young Spanish woman. She has discovered she is pregnant and has come to stay in her sister's holiday home until she decides what she intends to do. She is immature, indecisive, feckless and has never had to take any responsibilty in her life so far. Secondly there is Julian, an elderly Spanish gentleman, now living in Argentina who returned to Spain to visit a friend of his, who unfortunately had died by the time Julian reached Spain. Julian and his deceased friend were survivors of a Nazi concentration camp and after the war both had dedicated their lives to tracking down Nazi war criminals and ensuring they were brought to justice. Julian's friend had written to him tellimg him that he had discovered a pair of Nazis - a husband and wife - living close to him in Spain. Although he is now 80 years old, Julian is determined to expose them.
Sandra becomes involved with the Nazi couple after they help her when she is taken ill on the beach. Completely unaware of their past, she thinks of them as the grandparents she doesn't have. Julian feels obliged to warn Sandra of the couple's true identity. To Sandra, the war and the Holocaust are ancient history and she doesn't know what to believe. However, she watches the couple closely and realises that Julian is right. She and Julian join forces to bring the couple to justice. In addition it soon becomes clear that there is a whole community of Nazis living in the same village so their task appears insurmountable.
Both Julian and Sandra are sympathetic characters and I soon found myself worrying about their safety. Both are vulnerable in different ways. Julian is elderly and physically frail but mentally strong. Sandra is young and pregnant and has had a very easy, carefree existence until now. Both appear to be unlikely opponents in their fight against an entire Nazi brotherhood. It is very much a David and Goliath story, a story of good versus evil.
Most of the Nazis who appear in the novel are based on real people who after the war found refuge in Spain and who managed to live there indisturbed to a ripe old age. The fact that the novel is based on fact, gave it an edge which added to the story. I also feel that it is important that we should be reminded about the horrors of the Holocaust. Many younger readers may know very little about this period in our history and, like Sandra, think of it as ancient history, of little relevance to them.
I am happy to recommend this novel. I thought it was a great read.
`The Scent of Lemon Leaves' has already been a bestseller in Spain and Italy and in spite of her being considered to be one of Spain's most accomplished authors Clara Sanchez is an unknown quantity in the UK, hopefully this novel will redress the balance. The title has a romantic ring to it but don't let that fool you; this is not a lightweight tale of a woman's experiences on the Costa Brava.
The story is told in the voices of 2 characters Sandra and Julian. Sandra has reached a turning point in her life, she is 30, pregnant and unmarried and decides to take some time to sort out her life. She goes to stay in a village on the Costa Brava where she meets an old Norwegian couple, Karin and Frederik, on the beach and they become friends. Julian is a Nazi Hunter, now in his 80's and living at home in Argentina. A letter from a friend that he met in the Mauthausen concentration camp persuades him to travel to the Costa Brava. Sandra and Julian meet and Sandra discovers the true identities of her Norwegian friends, members of an organization known as `The Brotherhood'.
`The Scent of Lemon Leaves' is an exploration of history but it is also a compelling thriller with an unexpected ending. The characters are engaging and the descriptions beautifully evoke the area in which the novel is set. In fact the beauty of the area, like the title of the novel, provides a complete contrast to the darkness of the story which is all the more frightening when you know that much of the novel is based on fact.
I look forward to reading further translations of this authors work, hopefully there is already another one on its way.
If you were to judge this book by its cover, you wouldn't be blamed for thinking that you would be in for quite a romantic, atmospheric book. You would only be half right. It is certainy atmospheric, but there is nothing romantic about it. THE SCENT OF LEMON LEAVES definitely has atmosphere, but this atmosphere is a brooding one.
I won't go into the synopsis of the novel, that has been done already, what I will say is that this novel is very well written. All of the characters are well drawn; some are actually based on real people. Julian, especially, really touched me. I desperately wanted to protect him, but I also admired him for how he went about his task. This is one literary character who certainly has courage. So, although he is vulnerable due to his age and physical state, you are also able to see that he has strength; in fact, at times, I had to remind myself that he was an elderly man. Sandra is also vulnerable, but in very different ways. Her character is the complete opposite of Julian. She has a naivety to her, as she has never experienced the atrocities that Julian has. For the book to be so successful, it needs both of these characters to juxtapose each other.
THE SCENT OF LEMON LEAVES is a beautifully written book about memory, justice, revenge, retribution and love, to name a few. The central exploration of how, after performing so many atrocities in the past, can or should those same people then go on to live a 'normal' life, remains a relevant and intellectually stimulating debate. I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys literature with depth and soul.
Already a bestseller in Spain and Italy, Clara Sanchez's 'The Scent of Lemon Leaves' with its beautiful cover and its romantic sounding title, is an interestingly deceptive novel in that in between its attractive covers lies a story that is a dark and complex one.
Told in a dual narrative from the perspective of Julian and Sandra, the novel begins when Julian, an elderly gentleman living in Argentina, receives a request from Salvador Castro, a very old friend and former fellow inmate at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp - one of the largest and severest category of labour camps in operation during the Second World War. Salvador, who is not well and now living in an old persons' home in Spain, has tracked down two former Nazis, Frederik and Karin Christensen, who are living in the Norwegian community on the Costa Blanca, and Salvador needs Julian to help him bring the pair to justice. Julian, unwell himself, but keen to assist his old friend, finds himself travelling to Spain and whilst there he meets a young woman, Sandra.
Sandra, newly pregnant, unmarried and confused about whether she should marry her child's father, has come to the Costa Blanca to stay in her sister's beach home while she decides what she really wants to do. She has befriended Frederik and Karin Christensen after they came to her assistance when she was unwell and she has started to look upon them as the grandparents she never had. That is until she becomes acquainted with Julian and he tells her that the couple she thinks of as kind and caring individuals, are actually partly responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. Sandra now finds herself in a very difficult position; does she believe Julian's story? If she does believe him, can she possibly understand the intensity of his antipathy towards Frederik and Karin and, if she does decide to help Julian, how should she now react to the Christensens without causing suspicion?
This is a gripping and complex tale of moral dilemma and a story which examines loyalty, deception, betrayal and, very importantly, trust. The first-person narrated dual perspective works well by pulling the reader into the stories of both Julian and Sandra, enabling us to see things from the viewpoint of an elderly man still suffering traumas from the past, and a young woman looking to the future and trying to build a new life for herself and her unborn child. The author states in an Endnote that the Nazis in her novel are based on real people who, after the Second World War, managed to evade capture, found refuge under the warm skies of Spain and managed to live to a ripe old age, and this fact serves to make this an even more emotive and engrossing story.
'The Scent of Lemon Leaves' by Clara Sanchez proved to be much more complex than I had first thought. It is translated from the original Spanish, and is so much more than the story I thought it would be. Julian is in his eighties, living in Argentina, when he gets a letter from Salva, a very old friend who is living in Spain. He travels to Spain to meet up with Salva, only to find that his friend has died. It is revealed to us that Salva and Julian were in Mauthausen, a death camp in the war, when they were young. After liberation, Julian married and had a daughter, whilst Salva spent his life searching out Nazi war criminals. He discovered that a group of them were living in Spain, growing old, enjoying life, and he determined to bring them to justice. Julian had also searched out Nazis, but not as obsessively as Salva, managing to lead a 'normal' life also. Sandra is a young woman living in Spain, who finds herself pregnant, and not at all sure which direction her life should take. She and Julian cross paths, and become friends. They become caught up in the web of deceit spun by the war criminals, discovering that evil is alive and well and living the high life in Spain. The blanket cast by these war criminals is far-reaching, and once enmeshed in it, it is far too easy to become overtaken by the tactics employed by these sadists, and sucked in to their world.
I found this book to be eerily compelling reading, a book that I HAD to finish, whether I wanted to or not!! It is a very descriptive, uncomfortable, and almost scary story, and I think the perceived 'normality' of the war criminals is what makes the story so effective. 'Brain washing' is a term that comes to mind when I think of their tactics in drawing others in to their 'world'. To think that, in their twilight years, these Nazis still believed in their perceived superiority, their 'right' to rule the world and do with it as they wanted, their total lack of repentance, is a very frightening concept to me. I was fascinated by the relationship between Julian and Sandra - unrealistic maybe, but meaningful nevertheless. Very highly recommended.
on 3 October 2012
This is a good, thought provoking and entertaining read. Elderly concentration camp survivor and some time Nazi hunter Julian, and Sandra - a younger, commitment phobe who is coming to terms with her unplanned pregnancy - form an unlikely alliance in an attempt to flush out a group of Nazis who are living out their old age in the relaxed and luxurious atmosphere of the beaches, golf club and villas of one of Spain's holiday costas. Sandra is living in her sister's small holiday house to get away from the bustle of Madrid and await the birth of her baby but is unwittingly drawn into the social circle of these WW2 fugitives from justice after a chance meeting on the beach with an elderly couple. They seem caring and harmless, no different from the many other foreign nationals who retire to the area for a relaxing old age, but who exactly are they? She finds out when Julian arrives from Argentina, acting on information he has received from his friend Salva who had recently died in a local old people's care home. Just how much danger is Sandra getting into by allowing the old Norwegians to take her under their wing and become like surrogate grandparents to her? Could the kindly old couple really be Norwegian Nazis who had carried out medical atrocities on the concentration camp inmates? And what of the other elderly expats in the town?
Time is running out for Julian as he is old and frail but his quest to unmask these supposedly respectable people is the thing that keeps him going. Sandra's advancing pregnancy means that her time is limited, too - what will the future hold for her baby if she allows herself to be drawn further into this dangerous situation?
This novel is both a good page-turner (or Kindle-clicker!) and a novel that poses interesting questions about the nature of revenge, loyalty, love and the acceptance of our mortality. The character of Julian is well rounded and likeable and the novel's ending has him behave in a way that is entirely believable although it may not be the ending that every reader would want.
Overall, this is a very good novel. Clara Sanchez nicely balances thrills with character and is not afraid to meet uncomfortable issues head on.
The first thing to say about this book is that the cover bears no relation to the story - if you are expecting a romantic drama that is easy to read then you will be in for a shock. This is a very deep and intense psychological drama about an extremely emotive issue and is absolutely first class reading.
It is the story of Sandra, a 31 year old pregnant woman and Julian, an 85 year old pensioner, who join forces to investigate and expose a group of ageing ex Nazis who appear to be living quite openly on the Costa Brava. The whole story unfolds alternately through the eyes of each of them and moves along very gently and slowly and, to me at any rate, this is the perfect speed for this book. It helps create a very sinister atmosphere for the story, one of suspense, tension and fear, filled with mistrust of just about everybody. It is almost like watching a game of chess as we watch each move and counter-move as the story progresses and the reader is constantly asking "do they or don't they suspect?".
It is a very thought provoking book and the issues it raises will stay with the reader for a long time after finishing it - the ending seems eminently satisfying although I admit I delayed reading the last few pages for an hour or so because I just did not want to know what happened.
The Scent of Lemon Leaves, which has been translated from the original Spanish, is a story told by Sandra and Julian. Sandra is a young, rather naive young woman, pregnant and confused who has gone to Dianium, a small Spanish town, in order to have time to gather her thoughts. In particular she has doubts about her feelings for her unborn child's father although it seems that he is besotted with her. Julian is an elderly Jewish survivor of the World War 2 death camps who has come to Dianium in the search for Nazi war criminals, some of whom he believes to be in late retirement in the area.
The story is told in the first person by Sandra and Julian, with alternate sections in the words of each. Sandra is 'adopted' by an elderly Norwegian couple, after becoming ill on a beach and they take an ongoing and increasing interest in her and eventually ask her to move in with them. Julian also has an interest in this couple and approaches Sandra. At first she has doubts about both his sanity and his motives, but quickly gets caught up in the urgency of his mission.
Personally I had doubts about whether the translation really did this story justice. I imagine the translation was done by a native Spanish speaker and hence is true to the original and translated very literally. However, this results in some quite awkward phraseology in the English version. For example `he was like an octopus in a garage' which jarred somewhat, but could easily have been 'he was like a fish out of water'. I also got the impression that this was a word by word translation which came out rather pedantically, whereas with a wider use of the rich range of the English language, the translation could have captured more of what I imagine, was the charm of the original version.
This is an interesting story which blends fact and fiction since many of the survivors of theThird Reich did choose to settle in this part of the world after the war. What I did not particularly feel, and this may again be translation issues, was that Julian or Sandra were in a menacing situation as they surely should have been. For sure we had the younger, rather thuggish members of the Brotherhood and the Nazis themselves should have been rather scary, ruthless characters, but the tension just seemed to be missing. The story also does not move particularly quickly, although I thought the developments at the end were probably the most interesting part of the whole book.
To summarise, I found this an interesting read, but not the compulsive reading I was expecting and I do think there were translation issues which mean that the original book in Spanish probably worked significantly better than this English version.
on 24 September 2012
I thought that the two central characters are convincingly captured, particularly Julian. The book is cleverly structured so that the reader can follow the thoughts of the two, who are so diverse that it is fascinating to see how they each view the same events. Elements of the plot seemed rather weak, but I can't discuss them here without risking spoiling it for others. The central theme is worthy of this poignant tale. It does seem odd that the British publisher changed both the title and the cover design from the Spanish original with the result that a very misleading impression is given of the nature of the book.
on 30 August 2012
This is the first review that I have written and I'm doing it now because I think that this is the most incredibly good book.
I cannot see why some reviewers have given it such a low rating. To my mind it is well written, fascinating, absorbing etc. I find it hard to put down, but my husband needs feeding!
I cannot recommend it more highly.