Can a London girl in a miserable marriage find happiness taking dancing lessons in southern Spain?
Partly to escape the dourness of urban life and partly at the insistence of her old friend Maggie, Sonia embarks on a semi-spontaneous trip to Granada to literally kick up her heels. Getting away from her stuffy, usually drunk husband James is an added inducement. Sonia’s sweet father Jack married a Spanish woman in the 1950s, so Iberian fire is to some extent already in her blood. During her brief initial visit to Granada, Sonia finds a spiritual home. While exploring the city, she comes across El Barril, a cozy café run by Miguel, a survivor of the Spanish Civil War, and is intrigued by some posters and photographs of Mercedes, a flamenco dancer, and Ignacio, a young bullfighter. Sonia’s jaunt to Granada frames the main narrative: Miguel’s long reminiscence of life in Spain shortly before and during the Civil War. It turns out that Mercedes and Ignacio were children of the café’s former owners, Concha and Pablo Ramírez, whose family was torn apart by conflicting loyalties during the war. Hislop (The Island, 2007) uses the Ramírezes to symbolize and personalize the conflict. Miguel takes us back into the past. Along the way he traces the fates of the Pablo, Concha and their four children. Pablo sacrificed himself rather than let his wife go to prison for listening to subversive radio broadcasts; one of their sons was jailed for his sexual orientation as well as his left-leaning politics; Mercedes traveled across the country in search of the love of her life, a flamenco guitarist whose gypsy blood made him of interest to the fascists. Meanwhile, Sonia discovers some secrets that link her family to the Ramirezes.
A complex, beautiful tale of loss, loyalty and the past recaptured.