My rating: 5 of 5 stars
MY EXPERIENCE WITH THE BOOK:
I took 1 month and 11 days to read this book. It was incredibly eye-opening and the writing was phenomenal. It took me a while to read as there are heavy subjects explored, and historical fiction is NOT my comfort-read (even though I’m a historian).
Ana: Ana is the best female protag I’ve read in a looooong time. She doesn’t look down at any other girls, and she isn’t judgemental in general. She works hard and is committed to her family and the big picture. I thought she was a very mature figure that could easily have been portrayed in her 20s instead of her teens, but I understand that the delivery of this story should be symbolised as “post-childhood trauma”, similar to Spain in the 50s.
Daniel: SWOOOOOON. I loved Daniel. At the beginning, he’s a bit two-dimensional. But as he explores Spain (naively, of course), we see him grow. He was never cruel or mean, and was incredibly open to new ideas. I did not think he suited being the ‘oil-billionaire’s only child from Texas in the 50s, but it was interesting to see his personality clash with his own background.
Ana’s family: Ana lives in a tiny apartment with; Julia (her older sister who is married and has one baby); Julia’s husband; and Rafa (who’s coaching his bestie, Fugo, to be a bull-fighter). They each have interesting sub-plots but honestly, I cared least for Rafa and Fugo. I only liked seeing Daniel be so kind to drive them to the competition. I would have loved to had a deeper glance at Rafa and Fugo surviving the boys’ home when they were children. Ana also is related to Purification, a nun-to-be who works at the Catholic orphanage. Puri has an amazing parallel plot, but I did worry she would start to have interest in Daniel (thank goodness, no).
Daniel’s pals: Nick and Ben. I didn’t think they were significant until we get the flash-forward 18 years (1975). It was incredible to see and I’m so glad they existed in Daniel’s story, it was heartening to see such strong friendships in YA men.
Daniel has joined his Dad (and Mum) in Spain, 1957. They are staying at the Hilton, where Ana works as a maid/servant. Daniel is a curious photographer, and its first time visiting Spain. His mother is from Spain, so he’s keen to reconnect to his mother’s culture. He grew up in Texas in the 40s-50s, and was regarded as an outcast. Don’t worry, he was relentlessly tortured at school or anything. He was still the oil tycoon’s only child. But his first girlfriend, Laura Beth, dumped him just before the trip, saying he’s “too ethnic”. So, screw that. Time to be “ethnic” in the 50s!!!
Daniel soon meets and instantly falls for sweet Ana. She shows him a small glimpse into the terror and aftermath of Franco’s succession. Daniel cannot stop pressing, and he unveils many uncomfortable truths (such as the Catholic oppression; the stolen children; the double-standards of the sexes; and the poverty that blankets over all who are not directly involved with Franco).
Meanwhile, Daniel has a wonderful time spending the summer within the walls of the Hilton, with two new friends: Nick, who knows Ana’s history and cares for her deeply; and Ben, some sort of American/government agent with a journalism background (we later find out Ben was a (view spoiler). Both young men bring new perspectives to Daniel’s growing worldview. One is offensively rich and spoilt (Nick); while the other is thoughtful but mysterious (Ben). I love their life lessons and ‘coming-of-age’ moments throughout the book.
Daniel later ‘meets’ (intrudes) Ana’s family. He begins to give them favours and learn more about living in Spain.
Meanwhile, Puri and Rafa have their own sub-plots going on, which parallel what Daniel slowly is uncovering.
After 450+ pages of pining, Ana and Daniel finally kiss! And then the next day are ripped apart.
Flash forward to 1975/6. OOOOOH I LOVE SEPETYS’ ENDINGS. THEY MAKE ME CRY AND BELIEVE IN HAPPY ENDINGS. I won’t say anymore for spoilers.
The story is told in third person, with 2 parts: 1957 and 1975/6. Within the book, there are photographs and oral history transcripts (from US Ambassadors and Presidents) filtered between the scenes. It was great to have primary and secondary evidence featured in this book, it was perfectly sequenced.
– Republicanism vs Facism
– Spanish Civil War
– Coming of Age
– Young love
“He knows he’s just made a mistake but he’s not sure what it is.”
I was NOT disappointed :). I love Sepetys’ endings. They are totally unrealistic, but I love a happy ending. This is the best ending I could hope for!
Although I am a historian and history teacher, I really don’t like to read historical fiction. This, just like Salt to the Sea, are one of my only exceptions. I loved this book so much, I will buy it, and I’ve already recommended it to my students. I now want to do some historical investigating on the Spanish Civil War. I’ve never heard about Franco’s dictatorship, ever! It’s not in the Australian or NSW History curriculum. Screw Nazis, screw Mussolini: SPAIN needs to be more talked about, NOW.