“I know now that the happiest period of my life began about then, even if, if truth be told, the bad times were waiting behind all the laughter.”
There are stories about the Spanish Civil War told from the viewpoint of those fighting in them, Homage to Catalonia and Farewell to Arms spring to mind, and there are others that reveal stories of those imprisoned and caught up with them, the wonderful Carpenter’s Pencil by Manuel Rivas is an example.
But this is something different again and comes from an angle that shows not only how the war tore families apart but also how it provided those driven by petty jealouses with a terrible chance to settle old scores. The tension that exists in isolated villages is given a dangerous outlet as people pick sides and are labelled as heroes or terrorists.
This story is told from the view point of Conxa who leaves her home village at the age of 13 and travels to stay with her childless Aunt and Uncle. She lives with them working and growing on their land and falls in love with the maverick figure of Jaume who offers a touch of the exotic with his travels and a breath of fresh air as he yearns for change.
They have two children and seem happy enough until Jaume starts to get excited about the chance to change the system and ends up being identified with those that wind up on the anti-Franco side. The politics is kept to the minumum because the story is told through the eyes of a woman who knows only the changes in her husband and senses the danger that they might bring.
As the war comes to the village and the door of their home Jaume, along with others, is taken away. The powers that be then come for Conxa and her daughters and they enter a period of captivity made worse by the drip feeding of rumours about the execution of Jaume and the others.
Conxa returns to the village a widow but not seeking revenge. She has lost her soul mate and lost her innocence. As she slips into old age and loneliness she reflects on just what happened and how she misses Juame. The cost of war for those left at home and left alone is rarely captured so powerfully as it is in the character of Conxa.
In some ways this is a coming of age tale that happens to include the bitter twist of war. The narrative voice is the feature of this story that is something you will remember long after the book has been put to one side. The way that Peirene Press has produced this book with the presentation being delivered so beautifully it is one of those books that have that magical quality indicating even before you start reading that this is going to be something special. It did not disappoint.
Gently but masterfully you find yourself being taken by the hand into a world of rural Spain in the early years of the 20th century.
The main character Conxa is being sent from her village to the home of her aunt and uncle in an attempt to provide her with a better chance in life and for the teenager it is the furthest she has ever been from home. Once she has left she knows that she will never go back.
As the pages turn the years go by and the teenager becomes an essential part of the household and falls in love with the son of the blacksmith. Some disapprove of the match, particularly after Conxa turns down the hand of the son of one of the richest landowners, but her heart is set and she manages to get her wish.
Beautifully written with little phrases that you will not easily forget very much looking forward to the second half. A review will come next week…