A powerful, if sometimes confusing, narrative of two young people losing their innocence and gaining a new sort of knowledge during the Spanish Civil War. Matute, the most prominent 20th-century Spanish woman writer, wrote a trilogy about Spain's civil war entitled The Merchants. In this, the second volume, translated adeptly by Nugent and JosÇ de la C†mara, Matute employs a third-person narrative, which lapses into first-person parentheticals to reveal personal sentiments and secret histories, to portray the struggles of Manuel and Marta, who, thrown together by time and circumstance, use each other to find themselves amidst political upheaval and private betrayals. Manuel, 19, discovers that he is not the son of his mother's husband, a poor man killed by the Fascists some time ago, but rather the son of a rich gentleman who recently died and declared Manuel his official heir. Manuel must come to terms with his mother's pleas that he not turn away from the security that his inheritance offers his poverty-stricken family. He must also address his alliance with the now-imprisoned activist Jeza, a mysterious intellectual who says little but unites many. After Jeza is killed, Manuel goes to Jeza's wife, Marta, to break the news. As the two become acquainted, Marta reveals the details of her oppressed life. Raised by a mother afraid of getting old, Marta was virtually kept locked in the attic until she escaped with her mother's lover at the age of 18. But this lover provided a new sort of prison until he introduced her to his brother, Jeza, whom Marta decided to join in the uprising. Together, Marta and Manual return to the ruined house on the island off the coast of Spain from which Jeza conducted his activities--and here they finally find an unlikely peace. Readers willing to put in the time to make sense of Matute's challenging techniques of indirection will be richly rewarded with an important and fascinating work.