Wright’s historical drama follows two families—one Spanish and the other German—and the devastating effects of three wars on their lives.
German officer Karl Hoffman’s marriage to Pilar Ortega during World War I solidifies their families’ union. But it can’t prepare them for impending hardships: Karl’s older brother, Walter, and two of his sons, Hans and Ernst, fight for the Germans, while his nephew, Alberto, is in the Spanish navy. They endure both the Spanish Civil War and World War II, and though Karl and his youngest son, Paul, try to remain neutral, they face adversaries from all sides, including America. The author’s sweeping novel, covering 1915-1945, aptly renders its historical backdrop, including Spain’s internal conflict with Nationalists battling Republicans and the rise of the Nazi regime. There’s no shortage of characters, but Wright smartly emphasizes the two most stimulating, Karl and Paul. Both struggle with identity in an ever-changing political climate. Karl is a Spanish citizen loyal to his German family but averse to the Nazi movement. Paul, also Spanish and studying in the U.S., has a German embassy attaché insisting that he support Germany (and his German brothers), and the FBI wants him to be a spy on Nazi-sympathizing Spain. Parts 1 and 2 of the book, detailing the years prior to 1930, are mostly exposition—Karl and Pilar’s wedding, Karl establishing an import-export business—and might have benefitted from trimming. The narrative’s latter years provide the bulk of the plot: Paul becomes a double agent of sorts, feeding false intel to the SS; the Germans plan a covert operation as a contingency should the Third Reich fall; major characters board the Athenia, the first British ship hit by a Nazi torpedo; and there’s more than one tragic death. The ending leaves some fates undetermined and implies that a subsequent book will continue the Hoffman/Ortega lineage.
Fans of epic historical fiction will applaud.