Victor Dalmau has found himself rooted, with only a few years of medical training, in the trenches of the Spanish Civil War, repairing the wounds of the Republicans fighting the Fascists who are seeking to rule Spain. While he is useless with a gun — quite unlike his brother Guillem, the consummate warrior — he finds purpose in healing those who are, and he supports them in their calling. Little does he know how deeply he would continue to feel the pain of injustice and persecution and how this early mission would direct the trajectory of his life and that of his family.
This is a beautifully written novel, based on the true story of one survivor of the Spanish Civil War. After this war, thousands fled first to France, were placed in dreadful concentration camps, and two thousand fortunate souls were rescued by the poet Neruda on a ship to Chile called the Winnipeg. In Chile, they were welcomed and given refuge and opportunity and allowed to flourish until there was political unrest there as well. Our hero, Victor, embodies the strong, immigrant character: hardworking, valuing family above all else, and devoted to the preservation of humanity and justice.
I am so thankful to have read this novel. In my ignorance of history, I have never known much about this tragic era in our world’s history. Learning it through the eyes of these gorgeous characters was, in my view, the best way to attempt to correct this, because the facts are interwoven with deep emotion, and this is how they are best etched into our memories. And while this is not necessarily an absolute/comprehensive and final look, it is certainly a great start to learning about this dark moment in Spain, France and South America.
And even while enlightening us about the historical period, the author does not neglect to interweave a complex plot, with suspense, subplots, and even romance that bear surprise twists. She keeps us intrigued with each step of Victor’s harrowing journey.
This is an important read for those who are are unaware of this period of history – and even for those who aren’t. And while I don’t like to overload the “MUST READ’s,” this has to be placed there – sorry!