Most of this book’s set in Northern Catalunya, i.e. the part that’s legally part of France, rather than part of Spain, in the 1950s, and tells the story of a young woman from a well-to-do background in England going to the village in Northern Catalunya where she spent the first few years of her life with her father, a Republican refugee and Resistance fighter from “Spanish” Catalunya, and her half-English, half-French mother, and what she finds out there about events during the Second World War.
The main character does sometimes sound as if she belongs in some sort of Girls’ Own novel – nasty strict grandparents, posh family home – rather than a novel about the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War and what they did to the people of a small (fictional) fishing village – but, especially if you overlook that, it’s quite a good read. This is a part of the world where the two wars overlapped and intertwined, and that comes across very well in this book, particularly regarding the plight of the refugees who fled into France from Spain. Just wandering slightly off the point for a moment, there was something nagging in the back of my mind about Eric Cantona and Catalan refugees fleeing to France, and Wikipedia has helpfully reminded me that, yes, Cantona’s mother’s family were Republican refugees who left Spanish Catalunya for France. Not that that’s got anything to do with this book, but it’s a point about the plight of those forced to flee Spain after Franco’s victory, and more of them were from Catalunya than from any other part of Spain.
In addition to the political elements, the book involves, inevitably a romance, and also the discovery of dark secrets. There must have been so many secrets after the Second World War ended … personal secrets – an affair, a child whose father wasn’t his mother’s husband – and darker secrets about treachery and betrayal, sometimes amongst friends and neighbours. It’s not the best book ever written, maybe a bit too light for the subject matter, but it’s an interesting read about a region and a time in history not often covered in novels in English.