Synopses & Reviews
In the Basque Country in northern Spain, just before the Civil War, three men in dinner suits stop for a drink at a bar before continuing on their way to a wedding. Their trip is interrupted when their leader, the wealthy Don Leopoldo, has a stroke in the restroom.This event, bizarre and undignified though it is, begins to weave together the lives of two remarkable women: the bride, the beautiful and distinguished Isabel Cruces, and María Antonia Etxarri, the bar owner’s adolescent daughter. Shortly after the outbreak of the war, María Antonia is raped and Isabel’s newlywed husband, Captain Julen Herraiz, is shot. Both women find themselves violently altered, alone, and pregnant. A crippled but wise local doctor is the only witness to the mysterious, silent agreement these women conclude in the loneliness and desperation of their mutual suffering. Many years later, a young student, grandson to Isabel, returns to the scene of the events to spend an innocent summer studying for law exams. As he goes about his work, he unwittingly awakens the ghosts haunting both María Antonia and the doctor, and through their memories the passionate stories of the past unfurl before the reader.
De Lope brilliantly reveals his incredible story through flashes of memory and emotion, told in a winding torrent that expresses the cumulative nature of both history and nostalgia.
"This frustrating Spanish Civil War saga, the author's first to appear in English, has neither the pulse nor the plot to sustain itself over the course of its slow, laborious, and anticlimactic denouement. Doctor FÃ©lix Castro, a lonely, endearing cripple, has been observing his neighbors for years and eagerly strikes up a conversation when a young lawyer, Miguel Goitia, comes to stay in the villa of Las Cruces, which his grandmother has mysteriously bequeathed to her miserly maid, MarÃa Antonia. Premonitions, superstitions, and otherworldly manifestations guide or thwart the characters on their respective quests, while their profound motivations remain cryptic. The novel, which sashays between stilted exchanges involving Doctor Castro and the bland Goitia, and sometimes harried wartime recollections, manages some highly evocative descriptions of the Basque countryside and a number of astute characterizations. Unfortunately, the narrative suffers from a ceaseless supply of ponderous asides and a cumbersome translation that prefers a rigid fidelity to the original text over a smooth reading experience. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
The girl crossed her arms, pulled the blanket over her shoulders, and turned around. Neither the lieutenant nor his two men were the ones who were going to rape her. She was afraid to retrace the thirty meters, because her heart was pounding in her chest and she couldn’t see where she was putting her feet. In church, the priests taught the children such behavior, telling them that they had to be obedient, even in time of war, even though they could escape and disappear on the mountain with the cows after setting fire to the hayloft, and then, for decades to come, the house that had sheltered Etxarri’s Bar would be nothing but a burnt patch, a few charred beams on ash-covered ground, and nobody except a very few people would know that María Antonia Etxarri had set the house on fire to save herself from being raped, but instead of doing that, remembering other reasons and other rains, María Antonia obediently mounted the stairs to the room, doing as she had been told, fearing only the barrage of blows she would get from her stepfather should peace ever come.
In the Basque Country in Spain, just before the Civil War, three men stop for a drink at a bar before continuing on their way to a wedding. Their trip is interrupted when their leader has a stroke. This event weaves together the lives of two remarkable women.