SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘Waiting for Columbus’ by Thomas Trofimuk

He appears out of the sea, washed up naked, in the treacherous Straits of Gibraltar. Seemingly delirious, and claiming to be Christopher Columbus, he is taken to an insane asylum in Seville, where astonishingly he starts to reveal the true story of how he set sail on behalf of the Spanish queen five hundred years ago.Consuela, a nurse at the Institute, is charged with helping him back to reality. She listens to his fantastic tales in the hope of discovering the truth. But as his story unfolds, she finds herself falling for her patient – no longer able to tell where truth ends and fantasy begins.Meanwhile, across the continent, Emile Germain is involved in a different search. He’s an Interpol officer on the hunt for a missing person, presumed dangerous. He’s a determined man, and when his investigation leads to Spain these two stories collide.Part romance, part mysterious thriller, this is a rich and emotional novel about love, loss, and the fragile beauty of our own life stories.

cover and blurb via amazon

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‘Columbus’, a man who stumbles from the ocean and says he is THE Christopher Columbus. But it’s the 21st century so how can that be true? Columbus is sent to an institute where mental illness staff can treat him. There, Consuela is the nurse on a mission to find this man’s real identity. The trouble is, when talking to Columbus, he seems to know so much, it’s as if he was just washed up from 500 years ago. But the stories have their troubles – Columbus meets his girlfriend at Starbucks and the Queen’s staff have cellphones and carry guns. But sometimes Columbus is so precise and detailed that he must have come from back in time. Consuela is left with such a bizarre puzzle to solve.

Columbus just wants to tell the story of his life, in painstaking detail with little speed, to the impatience of Consuela. She has been told maybe Queen Isabella sent Columbus off to sea because of a love quarrel, and Columbus’ friend is called Juan, a famous long-dead explorer. Columbus has a story to tell, and he isn’t sparing any flourishes of his mind.

The trouble is, someone else is looking for Columbus – a man from Interpol, Emil. Something ugly and messy has happened, and Columbus could be victim, a target,  or a criminal. But Consuela, a single woman with a mind for stories, has been sucked into Columbus and his tale. Between the drama a love, stories, wine and chess, Columbus, Consuela and Dr. Balderas are having quite the time at the mental institution. It is Interpol that would have the truth, if only they could fit all the pieces together.

This is a hard book to review without giving away the end, though sit down and enjoy a twisted world, mashed between the 15th and 21 century, with adventure, love, changes, plots and everything in between. You just need to try to keep up with the crazy Columbus!

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SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘A Body in Barcelona’ by Jason Webster

Tensions in Spain are rising: political violence and social unrest have suddenly re-emerged. Madrid is trying to keep a tight leash on Catalonia, where the call for independence is getting louder by the day. The last time Barcelona moved to break away, in the 1930s, Spain quickly descended into civil war.

Down in Valencia, a shallow grave is found among abandoned orange groves just outside the city. Chief Inspector Max Cámara, now heading up the new Special Crime Unit, is put on the case. But this is no ordinary murder. Behind it, Max uncovers a tangled web that could awaken ghosts from the past, decimate Barcelona and destabilise the whole country

It’s all down to Max, but the stakes are higher than anything he’s ever known.

cover and blurb via amazon

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I love a huge lover of the Max Cámara, though after the last installment, I wondered how this book would be able to top its predecessor. Turns out that the book had no interest in doing that, rather swinging in an all-new direction. If any book could be listed under #topical, this book would be it.

Max and Alicia are in trouble, and that is no surprise after the ending of Blood Med. I like that the author did not gloss over the effects of Max and Alicia’s last dramatic case, which could have been easy. Rather, realism is put into the relationship between these two.

As ever, Max is jaded and the police headquarters where he world seems to be some type of stagnant, stuffy atmosphere. But up in Barcelona, death and revolution is rumbling. Catalonia wants independence from Spain, and this issue is well addressed in this book (and no, it’s not boring!), so you get a dose of politics with your murder mystery.

Max has to investigate the murder of a child, son of a very wealthy and powerful man. But as Max tries to bring a child killer to justice, he finds himself being dragged toward Barcelona and the boiling state of the people. People are lying, and a mysterious man seems to have plenty of answers, but doesn’t seem to help.

In this book, we see more than just Max’s perspective, as a right-wing nutball Legionarios soldier wants to stop Catalonia from regaining its independence (yes, regaining, do some homework if you are new). Added to that a father and son duo from Valencia who Max sees at their soup kitchen have also gone to Barcelona. Under the spectacular backdrop of the La Sagrada Familia, Max and all the others will come together for an explosive showdown in a city trying to be reborn.

Did I enjoy this book? Yes, and I read it quite quickly too. For me, there was no confusing information, but I think readers unaware of Spain’s political state should be fine. Sometimes I want to shake Max, sometimes hug him, and the fact he isn’t perfect makes for a great main character. I will keep my Catalonian independence opinion to myself, but I do hope that if and when Barcelona becomes free of Spain, it happens with far less bloodshed than the 1930’s.

You could read this book on its own, but treat yourself and start at the beginning of the series. Bring on Max Cámara book 6!

SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Spanish Bow’ by Andromeda Romano-Lax

The Spanish Bow
“I was almost born Happy.” So begins The Spanish Bow and the remarkable history of Feliu Delargo, who just misses being “Feliz” by a misunderstanding at his birth, which he barely survives.
The accidental bequest of a cello bow from his dead father sets Feliu on the course of becoming a musician, unlikely given his beginnings in a dusty village in Catalonia. When he is compelled to flee to anarchist Barcelona, his education in music, life, and politics begins. But it isn’t until he arrives at the court of the embattled monarchy in Madrid that passion enters the composition with Aviva, a virtuoso violinist with a haunted past. As Feliu embarks on affairs, friendships, and rivalries, forces propelling the world toward a catastrophic crescendo sweep Feliu along in their wake.The Spanish Bow is a haunting fugue of music, politics, and passion set against half a century of Spanish history, from the tail end of the nineteenth century up through the Spanish Civil War and World War II.
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When a book is labelled ‘ambitious’, it mean two things – either a new author has blown away the competition, or someone has over-reached and written a lemon. The Spanish Bow is definitely the former. This book may be a work of fiction, but the real life characters, sometimes obvious, sometimes less so, show Spain’s history in a brave way. Knowing this, I felt certain to enjoy this book.
The book starts off with the birth of the main character, Feliu Delargo, mistakenly labelled stillborn and with a misspelled surname. From his start in poor country Catalonia, he grows up, through time in Barcelona and Madrid, to become a European star as a cellist. It is easy to see real-life cellist, Pablo Casals, in the main character, along with Issac Albeniz, who is fictionalised as piano player Justo Al-Cerraz. Some characters are real-real, such as King Alfonso and his Queen Ena. There is also a young man named Paquito, a lowly ranked young military man from Galicia, subject to bullies. We all know where that is going. There is no mistaking it; the author has researched the 20th century in Spain in much detail, in order to show a fictional life within the real fate of Spain (where have I seen that before? Oh wait – me lol).

Spain is a great mess through its first half of the 20th century (and the rest!). Delargo become famous, and finds that is art can make changes, can have a political voice. Delargo and Al-Cerrez meet Aviva, a Jewish violinist, who is in need of rescue as fascism folds over Europe. The life of Spaniards swallowed by fascism and dictators, as well as the over-reaching pain of fascism through Europe is examined, all through the eyes of fictional characters.  Both music and art history are explored, as well as those rich patrons to whom Delargo plays. How Madrid and Barcelona are considered ‘backward’, how politics stifles so much, and how, in the end, silence is the winner when fascism takes hold, is the focus.

The Spanish Bow is not some happy ending book – how could it be? Delargo only receives praise posthumously. At least, in the epilogue, you can see how Spain managed to pull itself out of fascism. All this in a book that far easier to read than it sounds. Bravo.

SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Frozen Heart’ by Almudena Grandes

The Frozen Heart

In a small town on the outskirts of Madrid, a funeral is taking place. Julio Carrion Gonzalez, a man of tremendous wealth and influence in Madrid, has come home to be buried. But as the family stand by the graveside, his son Alvaro notices the arrival of an attractive stranger—no one appears to know who she is, or why she is there. Alvaro’s questions deepen when the family inherits an enormous amount of money, a surprise even to them. In his father’s study Alvaro discovers an old folder with letters sent to his father in Russia between 1941 and 1943, faded photos of people he never met, and a locked grey metal box. The woman is Raquel Fernandez Perea, the daughter of Spaniards who fled during the Civil War. From the provincial heartlands of Spain to the battlefields of Russia, this is a mesmerizing journey through a war that tore families apart, pitting fathers against sons, brothers against brothers, and wives against husbands. Against such a past, where do faith and loyalty lie?

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The Frozen Heart really is THE Spanish novel. As soon as I wrote my review, I found I was not the only one to say so. Two families, from the Spanish civil war until 2005, and how Spain and a family is the sum of the past. Here we have two families – the Fernandez Munoz family, Republican, rich and holidaying in Torrelodones (just north-west of Madrid) up until the war. The other side shows the Carrion Gonzalez family, with a conservative patriarch who supports the fascist regime, married to a woman who is part of the Socialist party (kaboom!), who live in Torrelodones.

Come to 2005 and Julio Carrion Gonzalez, a millionaire and a charismatic magician, has died. No one knows where he made his money or what happened during the war. Enter Alvaro Carrion Otero, his son, who is about to learn a whole lot more. Alvaro meets a woman (of course, beautiful) at his father’s funeral, who was an advisor for his father and his fortune. Despite being married, Alvaro falls for Raquel Fernandez Perea. For the delight of readers, Raquel has secrets and the scene is set for explosion.

The author of The Frozen Heart has written an incredible story (one that makes an author jealous, I tell you), which brings together love and greed, respect and heartache. Spain’s national identity is so complex that so many cannot understand. Should people reject their past, hold onto it? The book states the ever-present theme – One of the two Spains will freeze your heart – a line which has not yet become outdated, as wounds do not heal. This book is modern and tells of history in one. What is so great is that the main character’s dilemmas are not unique – so many people in Spain are suffering the same serious demons.

I suppose it as natural that I, being my own history, and my writing, would love this book. But anyone can love this book. Enjoy a grand-sized read and be educated without noticing. I cannot think of a book to top this story, not because of a unique story, but because of the realness exhibited.