THE BAREFOOT QUEEN by Ildefonso Falcones


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Another historical epic from best-selling Falcones (The Hand of Fatima, 2011, etc.), this one set among Spain’s fiery gypsies.

The busy tale begins with the arrival in Cádiz of Caridad, an African slave from Cuba liberated but stranded by the shipboard death of her master. She’s rescued after weeks of abuse at the hands of various brutal white men by Melchor, patriarch of the Vega clan of gypsies. Most of the action involves this odd couple, plus Melchor’s daughter, Ana, and granddaughter, Milagros. They are separated by the mass roundup of gypsies in 1749: Ana, like thousands of others, is jailed and endures years of torment; from prison, she disowns Milagros for marrying Pedro García, whose family has an ancient blood feud with the Vegas. There’s no question about who’s in the right, as Pedro proves to be a rotten husband who, when Milagros’ talents as a dancer and singer take them to Madrid, starts by cheating on her and ends by pimping her out by force to aristocrats, then branding her a whore. Meanwhile, feisty Melchor and annoyingly passive Caridad have various adventures while the author treats us to large doses of historical background poorly incorporated into his eventful fiction. The translator can perhaps be blamed for such anachronistic dialogue as, “No way!” and “Yeah, yeah,” but not for the whipsawing from one storyline to another that prevents readers from connecting with any of the characters until far too late. Only Falcones’ vivid portrait of gypsy culture—a proud, amoral and unabashedly sensual challenge to puritanical Spanish Catholicism—maintains interest as the plot twists on and on. The narrative does eventually arrive at a climactic confrontation and a moving affirmation of gypsy solidarity and tenacity, but it’s an awfully long slog to get there.

Very slow to gain momentum, but colorful background and a slam-bang finale almost make up for it.

Pub Date: Nov. 25th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8041-3948-9
Page count: 640pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2014


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