Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Haunting Tales of Iberia



For some time, I have wanted to post about two intriguing novels — one takes place in Spain, and one takes place in Portugal.

Those of you who have followed my blog for some time know that my husband and I travel periodically to Galicia, in the northwest corner of Spain, and also to Braga, Portugal, where I've set my cozy mystery, Deadly Vintage. In truth, we are enamored of Spain and Portugal—partly for the sense of antiquity in old stone and tile; also the echoes of political history; but mainly for the embracing warmth of the people in both countries.


So I have read these books — devoured them, really — and reflected on the worlds they open up.

     I'll start with The Time In Between by María Dueñas, first. — a very long book (reader be warned), but worth every page It starts out like a love story, perhaps even a family saga, then swiftly moves into a spy story that takes a reader to Morocco and returns one to Madrid during the early Franco years in Spain.
     The protagonist, Sira Quiroja, makes a romantic mistake early on in the book, and it changes her entire future. The way she develops throughout the novel suggests that, looking back, it was the best mistake she could have made to escape a life of boredom and acceptance of Franco's coming regime. But, at the time of her tribulations, of course, how could she know? 
     The story is compelling as it unfolds, and the writing captures moments in a way that makes you want to return to them. It's a long book — 609 pages — but worth the read. And the re-read! I have no doubt that I will re-read this book more than once, partly for the delicious story, and partly for appreciation of what makes a good novel tick. And, incidentally, I learned quite a bit of history in a painless, engrossing way. 

Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier is a completely different kind of experience. It's a philosophical novel, one that gives you a mental massage and makes you think, page by page. To some readers, it could be upsetting or boring, but I loved it. 
     The protagonist, Raymond Gregorius, a lonely, divorced professor of classical languages at a Swiss lycée, encounters a woman on a bridge who seems about to leap and end her life. He learns she is Portuguese and becomes pulled into her mystery. Because of that, he becomes intrigued by the very idea of Portugal.      
     The discovery in a bookshop of an arcane book by a Portuguese writer, Amadeu de Prado, sets Gregorius off on a journey to Lisbon to learn more about Prado, as the book seems to speak to Gregorius's very soul. No doubt Gregorius is having a midlife crisis of sorts, but he takes the leap and takes a train to Lisbon, where he encounters those who knew the author and unravels Prado's personal tale. In the process, Gregorius unravels his own story.
     As I said, this is a philosophical novel. A reader journeys into both Gregorius's and Prado's self-doubts, doubts about God, probings of the layers of one's identity and value systems, and the questioning of existence and meaning. Some readers might find this tedious  but I was swept along into the questions and the earnest attempts of Gregorius (and Prado) to answer them. In that sense, this is a lovely book, and for the philosophically inclined, one that merits more than one reading.

The beauty of novels and most fiction, I think, is in the opportunity to enter someone else's reality and have your own world stretched beyond the familiar horizons. In this sense, both of these books excel. I can't wait to begin each one again — and maybe even again. The writing is lovely in both, and in both, worlds unfold.

Have you experienced special books like that? Books that enlarge your world, stretch your mind, open up history for you and make you think? Any good titles to share?  

20 comments:

Natalie Aguirre said...

No, I don't have any books like this to recommend. I've been reading lighter murder mysteries lately. The first book sounds long but good. Glad you liked them both so much.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Hi, Natalie. Thanks for stopping by. I enjoy a good mystery, too, especially the lighter kind that skips the blood and gore. If you like light mysteries, I think you'd like some of the mysteries written by M. C. Beaton that I mentioned in my last post.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Wonderful review, Elizabeth. Will have to add them to my TBR list!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Hi, Rachna. I'm glad you liked the review and that you are adding these books to your list. Be prepared to read them at a time when you have time off from your busy schedule. As long as each book was, I had a hard time putting them down, once started.

Kate Larkindale said...

It's always great to find books with settings that resonate. I remember reading a book of short stories set in Berlin when I first arrived there, and it was so much fun exploring the city and seeing the settings of the stories come to life in front of me.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Hi, Kate, I agree. I know that the books above resonate with me because of having been to Spain and Portugal, although I haven't spent time in the cities mentioned. I hope to one day, though.

Rosi said...

I have been in envy of your trips to that part of the world. Maybe someday I will get there. Thanks for telling me about these books. Neither really resonates with me and I have a stack of books for review, so I doubt i'll get to them, but I enjoyed reading your post.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Hi, Rosi, glad you liked it. I'm sure you will get to Iberia one day. You made it to that fabulous river cruise on the Rhine.

Richard Hughes said...

I haven't heard of either book, but both sound interesting. I'll check them out. Thanks.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

I think you would like them, Richard, because your own writing is serious and literary. Thanks for stopping by.

Kenda Turner said...

Thanks so much for the review of these books! With family about to move to Spain, this post is very timely for me. I'm especially intrigued by The Time In Between even though the length is rather intimidating :-) I've been to Madrid so reading this book will have special meaning I think. As for books that enlarge/stretch/open up history, I'd recommend Laurie Halse Anderson's Seeds of America trilogy (Chains, Forge, Ashes). I read these recently and they did all that and more!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Thanks for the book recommendations, Kenda. Wow, you're moving to Spain. Where in Spain and when? This must be a really big decision for you and your family. Do you all/any speak Spanish? Keep me posted on how it goes. We will be there in most of May, all of June, and part of July.

Kenda Turner said...

Whoops, my comment was a bit confusing. I'm not the one moving to Spain, but close family members are. They will locate in a town along the Mediterranean...:-)

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Ah. I think they will love Spain. The people are so warm and open—embracing, really. Bon Voyage to them!

Tamara Narayan said...

Barbara Kingsolver comes to mind with The Poisonwood Bible and The Lacuna.

http://www.tamaranarayan.com/2017/04/y-is-for-yellowstone-conspiracy.html

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Hi, Tamara, thanks for the share. I read both those books and will probably read them again over time. I'm a Barbara Kingsolver fan from way back. She's a remarkable writer.

DMS said...

Both of these sound interesting to me. I haven't heard of either of them. I think it is fun to read about different places and to let books take us on journeys to favorite places or to ones we'd like to visit. Thanks for sharing. :)
~Jess

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Jess, I'm glad I've piqued your interest in these books. I like our description of the power of books. They do take us on journeys. My world is so much bigger because of books. Have a great day.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

I agree. Novels are beautiful. They spirit us away to places that we otherwise would never see. These two stories sound fascinating, and for those of us that will never travel to these places, they paint a picture of what we're missing. Thanks for telling us about these novels.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Hi, Beverly, yes, I think novels are a wonderful way to travel. They do open up the human story we all reel where we are and show how it can unfold anywhere.