A weekly escape from her bloodless marriage, Sonia's salsa class becomes of prime importance in her life. So when her best friend Maggie joins her, subsequently booking a girls' vacation in Granada in order for the two of them to take more lessons and to celebrate Maggie's birthday together, Sonia defies her increasingly distant and potentially alcoholic husband's wishes and jumps into the vacation with gusto. While in Granada, she meets an elderly man who runs a cafe there and who offers her intriguing tidbits about the Spanish Civil War and the history of the city. When the vacation ends, Sonia reluctantly returns to her stultifying life in London. But Maggie, free-spirit that she is heads back to Spain and the freedom and joy she found there. And eventually Sonia, suffocating in her loveless marriage, is drawn back to Granada as well, returning to the cafe and the elderly man who promises to tell her more. He narrates, for the bulk of the novel, the fascinating story of the Ramirez family, one family among many who suffered and were split apart by the Civil War. Mercedes was a spirited and amazing flamenco dancer. One brother was a firm believer in Franco and the fascists while another fought hard for the Federalists. And yet a third was apolitical but was a homosexual and therefore a target of the Nationalists. While the Civil War played an enormous role in the story, this was very much a love story as well, familial love, filial love, and passionate love as well.
The story of Mercedes and her brothers and their eventual fates makes for fairly riveting reading. The framing device, using Sonia and the elderly barrista in the modern day to contrast with the strife and struggle of the past, works well. But the frame also offers a chance for a very predictable but incredibly unlikely coincidence and the author isn't strong enough to resist this easy and unbelievable ending. The tale of Sonia's marriage, set against Mercedes' all-consuming love for Javier before having it torn asunder by war helps to clarify things in Sonia's mind and drives home the power of true love. Hislop doesn't shy away from vividly depicting the soul-sucking effects of war and the way it destroys people both physically and emotionally. This is a dramatic and mostly compelling read and those who enjoy historical fiction will find themselves engrossed in the historical world os the Spanish Civil War even if the modern day frame is less compelling and a little too obvious.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.