Debut novelist Jana Petken delivers a powerful family epic that chronicles the travails of an expatriate British woman and her family during the Spanish Civil War.
Recently wedded, Celia Merrill Dobbs’ initial expectations of marital bliss quickly dissolve in 1912, when her husband Joseph reveals he has married her only to inherit her wealthy father’s prosperous farm in the English countryside. A gambler and drinker with a violent temper, he frequently beats her and soon secretly murders her father. After Celia discovers that Joseph is her father’s killer, she and their newborn son Peter escape to Spain with the assistance of her aunt and family friends.
In Spain, she lives with the Martinéz family, aristocratic landholders in Valencia. While Joseph awaits execution for his crimes, Celia becomes enamored with Spain and widower Ernesto Martinéz. They soon marry and raise their collective four children amid rising political tensions gripping the country. As the children mature and embark on their own paths, they are caught up in the throes of the Spanish Civil War that erupts in 1936. Their stories intertwine while each of their unique perspectives provides glimpses into a complex and fluid political landscape.
Petken masterfully moves the gripping action along by creating credible characters and suspenseful plot twists. Writing in a straightforward manner and infusing scenes with details that inform but don’t overwhelm, she portrays each of the characters’ efforts to survive while coming to terms both with the horrors of wartime and personal bouts with excessive pride and passion.
Though the action is grounded in a particular time and place, the novel’s concerns are universal, as typified when Celia’s daughter ruminates on whether Spain would eventually “look back and feel proud of a war that had killed hundreds of thousands…or would it feel as she did now, betrayed by men with selfish political ambitions and lust for power.” Despite its length, the captivating story succeeds brilliantly and becomes an unforgettable page-turner.
This is a must-read for historical fiction fans.
Also available in hardcover.