In The Return, Victoria Hislop takes readers to Granada, Spain, to a world deeply affected by war and filled with dance, bullfighting, and passion. There are two stories within its pages. The book opens in 2001 with Sonia, a young woman unhappy with her marriage to a much older man, a banker for whom marriage was only another task on his to-do list. He also has a drinking problem and does not like that Sonia takes dancing lessons. In the first section of the book, Sonia is in Granada to celebrate the birthday of her long-time friend Maggie by taking dancing lessons, mainly salsa with a little flamenco thrown in. Sonia meets an old man in a cafe, and over coffee, they talk a bit about what Granada was like before the changes brought by war. After Sonia returns to her home in London, she and James have a falling out, and she finds herself back in Granada meeting the old man from the cafe to discuss the lives of the cafe's previous owners, the Ramirez family, during the Spanish Civil War.
Hislop then takes readers back to the 1930s -- a politically volatile time for Spain -- and introduces the Ramirez family, Pedro and Concha and their children, Antonio, Ignacio, Emilio, and Mercedes. When Franco and his troops begin taking over cities across Spain, Ignacio -- a new but already renowned bullfighter who sides with the Nationalists -- is at odds with his brothers over politics, and this animosity between them puts the family on a path to destruction. Meanwhile, Mercedes, a young girl with dancing in her blood, meets a gypsy guitarist, Javier, and the two fall passionately in love.
Before picking up The Return, I didn't know much about the Spanish Civil War, and Hislop does a good job using the story of the Ramirez family to show the complexity of the politics of the period. Even the people didn't know what was going on much of the time, and they lived in fear of being arrested without cause. My interest in the impact of war and its place in literature drew me to The Return, but I had to read 100 pages for the story to really take off. Sonia's story, though interesting, didn't grab my attention as much as the story of the Ramirez family, so the book started a bit slow for me. But once Sonia returned to Granada and listened to Miguel, the cafe owner, talk about the past over coffee, I was hooked. While each member of the Ramirez family had an interesting story, I was most captivated by Mercedes. Hislop beautifully describes Mercedes' love of flamenco, and the scene in which she meets Javier and he plays his guitar just for her was so full of emotion and passion that it felt alive. Her dancing and his guitar playing are perfectly matched, setting the stage for a heart-wrenching tale of love and loss.
Despite its slow start, I really liked The Return, and at the very least I'd recommend it for the details about the Spanish Civil War. Hislop shows readers what it was like for the ordinary people of Granada -- the fear, the tension, the fighting among family and friends unsure of which side is right. But The Return is so much more than a war story. There's romance, familial tension, and two young women trying to find themselves amidst chaos, and Hislop brilliantly sets the scene so you feel as though you are in Granada with Sonia and the Ramirez family. Though I wish I hadn't been able to predict the outcome of the more-than-400-page book on page 80, it didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the story.
About Victoria Hislop:
Victoria Hislop read English at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, and writes travel features for The Sunday Telegraph, The Mail on Sunday, House & Garden and Woman & Home.
Her first novel The Island was published by Headline Review and held the number 1 slot in the paperback charts for eight consecutive weeks, selling over a million copies in the UK.
The book has also been published in over twenty languages and has also been a number 1 bestseller in Greece.
Victoria was the Newcomer of the Year at the Galaxy British Book Awards 2007 and won the Richard & Judy Summer Read competition.
She lives in Kent, with her husband and their two children.
Visit Victoria’s website at www.victoriahislop.com.
Check out the rest of the tour stops here.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Return from HarperCollins for review purposes.