Monday, October 26, 2009

The Return by Victoria Hislop

Under the flickering light of the gaslamp he took a long look at this creature and was puzzled by his own reaction to her.  She was a curious mix of child and woman, an adolescent on the brink of adulthood, naive and yet worldly.  He had seen many young flamenco dancers like her, virginal and yet lacking in innocence.  Usually their extravagant sexuality vanished the moment they stopped dancing but with this girl it was different.  She exuded a sensuality, the memory of which would keep him awake that night.  (from The Return, page 125 in the ARC)

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

Check out the rest of the tour stops here.

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of The Return from HarperCollins for review purposes. 


Lenore Appelhans said...

From the reviews I've read, it sounds like one I would like. Glad you enjoyed it!

Blodeuedd said...

Sounds like a good one, and well I could live with knowing what the outcome would be

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

This is a period that I have not read much abut but I think wold fit me as a reader. It sounds like a good one.

Serena said...

I have a hard time with books that start off that slowly. I'd have to be in the right mood for this one.

bermudaonion said...

I know next to nothing about the Spanish Civil War, so I think I would enjoy that part of the book. The slow beginning might get to me though.

Kailana said...

I keep considering this book. I think it is the cover more than anything, but it is getting good reviews, too! Thanks for another one. :)

Julie P. said...

I read a book this year that had a little bit about the Spanish Civil War -- of course, the title is slipping my mind right now. I think I'd like this book!

Ti said...

I really enjoyed The Return. My tour stop is this Wednesday so I will post my review then but I really want to read her other book now.

Anonymous said...

"100 pages before the story takes off." I'd probably ending up giving up.

trish said...

I usually love historical fiction, so I loved your review of this one!

Thanks for being on the tour, Anna!

PS Sounds like you had a blast during the read-a-thon!

Staci said...

I don't know much about that time period and location, for that alone it would be a great read! Excellent review Anna.

Wanda said...

I'm not easily turned off by one hundred pages of slow. Slower starts usually hold key factors that help tie things together in the end.

Teddy Rose said...

I will usually give a book 50-100 pages to see if the pace picks up. It is helpful to know I will need to give this one 100. It does sounds like a worthwhile book for me.

Iliana said...

Really enjoyed reading about this one, Anna. Isn't that cover great too? I have read very little about the Spanish civil war but am always interested in books set in Spain so this one is going on my list.

Anna said...

~Lenore: I hope you give it a try. It was worth pushing myself through the first 100 pages.

~Blodeuedd: Then I think you'd like it. I could live with it, too, but I do so love a surprise ending.

~Nicole: I hope you get a chance to read it. It made me interested in learning more about the Spanish Civil War.

~Serena: I still think you'd enjoy this one. :)

~bermudaonion: I think it's worth a try. I'm certainly glad I didn't give up on it.

~Kailana: I adore the cover! It grabbed my attention right away.

~Julie: I think I already said this by email, but I'm pretty sure it was The Wonder Singer by George Rabasa. The war isn't a major theme, so it's there in the background but doesn't play into the story much.

~Ti: I have to check out your review. Sorry I'm so far behind in my blog reading.

~carolsnotebook: I might have given up if it wasn't a tour book, but I'm so glad I stuck with it. It was worth it in the end.

~Trish: Thanks for the opportunity! Yes, the Read-a-Thon was great fun, but tiring, of course. ;)

~Staci: Thanks! It's definitely good if you want to know more about the Spanish Civil War. It was a heck of a lot more interesting than a history textbook!

~Wanda: Then you definitely should consider this one!

~Teddy Rose: I haven't read any other reviews yet indicating that the beginning was slow. Maybe it was just me.

~Iliana: Thanks! Hope you give it a try. I love the cover, too.

Packabook - Books set in Spain said...

I enjoyed this one as well, even if the stuff happening in the past was much more interesting that the present day storyline which was also included.

Another book I'd recommend on the Spanish Civl War is 'Guernica' by Dave Boling. This one also gives lots of detail of the impact of the war on families and ordinary life.


Anna said...

Packabook/Suzi: Thanks for stopping by! Guernica is on my shelf, and I can't wait to get to it.