Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Review & Blog Tour: The Return by Victoria Hislop

Sonia's life in London is full, but not full of joy. She has a high stress job and a crumbling marriage. A chance stop at a dance studio and the resulting dance classes she enrolls in become the one area of her life that brings her happiness. So when her longtime friend Maggie decides to celebrate her birthday with a trip to Granada, Spain and asks Sonia to come, she jumps at the chance.

In Granada, the women decide to take dance classes and while Sonia is thrilled with the fun of the Salsa, Maggie is intrigued by the passion of the Flamenco dancers. While Maggie dances until dawn and sleeps all morning, Sonia is up early to enjoy the city.

On her first morning, she wanders to a small cafe, El Barril. She makes an unlikely friend there, her waiter Miguel, when she expresses an interest in the history of Granada and Spain. He turns out to be the owner of the cafe. When she goes inside, she is struck by the multitude of posters pasted on the wall, all showing one bullfighter or one flamenco dancer.

Their few days fly by and all too soon they are back in London. When Sonia goes to visit her elderly father she comes away with some surprising information. Her mother, who died from a degenerative disease when Sonia was a teenager, was from Granada. And her parents loved to dance when they were young, winning many competitions. But, as her father tells her, it was the fifties and everyone danced. She can't help but think that this is where her own love for dancing comes from.

As the weeks pass and Sonia's marriage becomes still worse, she thinks often of her time in Spain. Then, Maggie calls with the surprising news that she is going to live in Granada. She loved it there and can't stop thinking about it. As soon as she is settled, Sonia is invited to visit.

The first person Sonia wants to see after her arrival is Miguel. She has brought along a photo of her mother when she was young. She wants to know more about the history of her mother's birthplace. Miguel is the right one to ask. He tells her about the family who lived at and ran El Barril in the 1930's.

The Spanish Civil War was horrendous, bloody conflict. Miguel describes the war through the eyes of the Ramirez family, who owned the cafe. Pablo and Concha had four children: Antonio, a teacher; Ignacio, a bullfighter -and the man on the posters; Mercedes, a flamenco dancer -and the girl in the posters; and Emilio, a guitarist. Though they try to remain neutral, before long everyone is on one side or the other. The war turns brother against brother, even in the Ramirez family.

Mercedes is a talented young dancer and she is in love with a guitarist, a rising star named Javier Montero. The war separates the young couple as lines of communication are cut. Through the grief and tragedy Mercedes supports her family as best she can. But the day comes when she can wait no longer. If she is to have any chance at happiness in the war torn, hellish world she lives in, she must find Javier. She goes on foot, alone, walking from town to town, heartbroken by the violence and destruction everywhere but always searching.

When I was in London last April, The Return was out there and I saw it in every bookstore. So I was very excited to be able to read it for this tour. It is part modern novel with a bit of a mystery and part historical fiction. The author did a good job of describing the details of the Spanish Civil War, which I knew nothing at all about until I read this book. I did get a little confused about which political party was on what side at times, but that is probably due to my lack of education in this area. Which is why I love to read historical fiction! You gain some knowledge about a period while being totally entertained by a fantastic story. It is a vivid portrait of a turbulent time period. I really enjoyed it.

For more information about the author and her books, visit her website.

I received this book as part of the TLC Book Tour. For a list of all the tour stops, click here.

The Return is published by Harper, ISBN 978-0-06-171541-9


Molly said...

Great review!

I always find it interesting (and frustrating) how long it takes for a British novel to appear in the states. I plan to go to London in May and I think I want to purposefully try to find a new release that I can "read in advance" here :)

bermudaonion said...

I have this on my e-Reader but it expires November 1, so I need to get to it soon!

Zibilee said...

I have been wondering about this book, and am glad to hear that you liked it so much. It sounds like a really engaging read, and since I love historical fiction, I will be reading this one. Great and insightful review, thanks!

trish said...

I agree that historical fiction can really give you some knowledge (basic facts) while entertaining you. I love that!

Thanks for being on this tour, Carey!

Jen - Devourer of Books said...

This sounds really interesting, I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

bookmagic said...

This sounds like a great read- its going on my tbr wish list. I just downloaded a sample to my Kindle. Thanks for the great review

Anonymous said...

Fantastic review! Your description of the book was dead-on. I really enjoyed this one, too -- especially since I knew so little about the Spanish Civil War! I felt like I got a history lesson in the best sense of the phrase... I learned so much but was very engrossed, too.

Linda said...

I've read a couple of books with settings in Spain during their Civil War. Interesting era.

k said...

This sounds amazing. This history even though it is laced with fiction really enlightens the reader. I hope to be able to read it.

Benita said...

The story sounds very exciting and complex, with lots of history, dancing action. I love that it takes place in Europe, particularly Spain and England. I'd love to read the book.


Elise said...

How fun to take a trip to Spain to take dance classes. And the novel sounds very informative with the history of the Spanish Civil War, with a nice storyline attached to it to make it interesting.
caliblue7 at gmail dot com

Amy said...

Your review is fantastic. This story sounds very touching and also interesting. I know very little about the Spanish Civil War and will be happy to learn about it. But I am really courious to know if Sonia gets the answers she's looking for and maybe learns something about life as a result of her quest. I also wonder if she is able to salvage her marriage or if she finds happiness maybe with Miguel.

Thank you, Carey!

~ Amy

Sheila Deeth said...

Great review. Ah, I miss English bookstores. And I love the way fiction brings history to life.

sdeeth at msn dot com

Pricilla said...

Flamenco is such an amazing dance style. I'm sure I would be enthralled reading about the protagonist's journey.
thank you

Anonymous said...

I like reading books about what life during wartime is like for families. This sounds like a wonderful story.

Thank you!!

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About Me

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New Hampshire, United States
Bibliophile, Anglophile, Traveller... I have been an avid reader all of my life, since I took the Dr. Seuss Dictionary away from my Mom when I was less than a year old because I wanted to read it myself. In college, where I earned my degree in English Literature, I was often asked "What are you going to do with it?" Now I finally have the answer to that question!!! Being employed as a Flight Attendant for twenty years has given me a lot of life experience and, better still, a lot of time to read. I love to travel for fun, too.