Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom

The Rendezvous Book Choice:

If you are treating yourself to a great summer read you need a fat book and a page turner. And if - we can always hope - you are reading on the beach and/or under a scorching sun - there is, for me, something extra thrilling about being transported not only into a different era but a different climate.

Winter in Madrid is a superb thriller set at the outbreak of WW2 and the tail end of the Spanish Republican era and Franco’s victory. The story follows three English school friends and their different fates in Spain. Harry is a decent Englishman whose beliefs are shaken by both his Spanish experience and his presence at the humiliation of Dunkirk. Bernie is a committed Communist and International Brigader whose faith in communism is disturbed by Stalin’s pact with Hitler. The shady Sandy, a classic war-time-depression era black-marketeer, is out for himself.

Part love-story, part spy-thriller, the plot is terrific with fabulous twists and turns.
But it is the portrayal of a decimated, divided, authoritarian Spain, always one stop away from joining the war, which is truly masterful.

Sansom’s research is meticulous but never intrudes into the story which is set against the backdrop of real events: Hitler’s overtures to Franco and the British diplomats’ frantic attempts to keep Spain out of the war.

Indeed, Spain’s tenuous neutrality and absence from the war mean that late thirties-early forties Spain is a subject about which many of us know too little.

In the end Sansom admirably resists happy endings and the fate of the protagonists is exactly what they should be which makes this a satisfying read to the very last page.

If you enjoyed Sebastian Faulkes’ Birdsong and Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia you will love this book.

Winter in Madrid: A Novel

by Miranda Ingram
Published in the Rendezvous Magazine, ©All rights reserved

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