I have tried not to like Almudena Grandes’ novels. I have tried hard. I tend to dislike writers who try to push their politics onto their readers, and she is one of them. But regardless of my personal preferences, I can’t help but love her fiction. Possibly because she is so good at it, that you end up living with her characters as if they were real. The stories are good, the flow is so smooth that you cannot stop reading. I still remember reading El corazón helado when my first son was a couple of months old. I started reading, and I was so enthralled that I forgot that newborns wake up every couple of hours to eat, and that I was supposed to sleep while he sleeps. That night, instead, I read. Until he woke up and reminded me that I can no longer pull reading all nighters, so common in my previous life, the one before the kids.
Going back to El lector de Julio Verne, it is the second in a six book series called Episodios de una Guerra Interminable. Some of it’s characters have a connection to Inés y la alegría, the first novel in the series (which I also loved). The series covers the post war period in Spain, from the points of view of different characters. It is part of the Spanish Civil War and Post War contemporary literature that an old me, a long long time ago, wanted to write a doctoral thesis on. I guess I am still a sucker for the topic, as I will read anything that falls in my hands related to it. Most of them side with the Republicans, who lost the war (nothing to do with American republicans, the Spanish ones were anti monarchy an left wing).
This book in particular tells the story of Nino, a little kid who lives with his family in a “cuartel“, or a Guardia Civil house. The Guardia Civil is one of the public safety institutions in Spain. In the post war period, they were more than sinister, as they repressed and executed many people who opposed Franco’s government. But, partly as the book depicts, not every man in this institution was an assassin. I can also vow for that, as my grandfather was also a Guardia Civil, and I don’t think he was a bad man, or participated in any of those activities. One of the characters, Doña Elena, says at one point that “La verdad es lo que nos gusta que haya sucedido y, además, lo que ha sucedido aunque nos guste tan poco que daríamos cualquier cosa por haberlo podido evitar” (pp. 197-198). This sums up the best approach to the Spanish Civil War period, or I guess any other war for that matter. There are endless little stories to be told, from both sides of any conflict.
Apart from the political side of this story, the novel is a bildungsroman, as we are witnesses to Nino’s growth, both physical and emotional, and to his discovery of another world, absolutely different from his. What makes it tick all my boxes is that is happens in a rural area in the south of Spain, and Grandes does a great job at describing the life of a little village, so different from the one in the city.
All in all, I recommend this book to anyone. Really. You have it’s part of adventure, politics, history, and as in any Almudena Grandes novel, romance. There are not many Spanish authors who can put sensuality in words as she does. You can find most of her novels in Amazon, and I can’t wait to put my hands in the third installment of the series, Las tres bodas de Manolita. I’m sure it will make me pull an all nighter with this third baby too 🙂