Category Archives: Historical Fiction

Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom

Winter in MadridTitle: Winter in Madrid
Author: C.J. Sansom
Pages: 549
Buy: Book Depository; Waterstones;
Source: Purchased copy
Rating: 5 stars

I recall this book being a recommendation to me as a result of my love for The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I subsequently picked this up and was drawn once again into the era during and around the Spanish Civil War, a period and place in history my knowledge of was previously non existent.

This is an excellent novel that has convincing characters and a genuine feeling of authenticity about the conditions in Madrid following the Civil War that evoke the scenes being written and the grimness into your mind. The story line itself has many parallel threads that develop to a conclusion full of suspense and drama.

While it is historical fiction it is also both spy novel and a love story. The historical basis shows the developing political machinations in Europe at the time, with the risk of Spain allying with the Germans against Britain, and the efforts of British diplomats to avoid this by subtle relationship building with key people in the Spanish government.

While all of this may suggest literary espionage in the Le Carré vein, that’s not quite what we get. Sansom deploys a fractured time scheme, moving between past and present: we are back in Harry’s loveless childhood, then in murky 1940s Madrid, where betrayal is the order of the day, or in the public school where Harry and opportunistic Sandy first meet. Similarly, the reader is catapulted from Barbara’s relationships with her lovers Sandy and Bernie to the humiliations of childhood, where unhappiness over her appearance is to mark her for life. But as Winter in Madrid progresses, Sansom adroitly draws the disparate strands of his ambitious saga together.

The effects of the Spanish Civil War on the various classes of people in Spain are documented well and the novel also explores the bitter wounds caused to family and social relationships by the polarisation of the nation into two different sides.

The story is gripping and moves along at a steady pace and you are drawn into caring for the characters and what happens to them. A truly great book.

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book ThiefTitle: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Pages: 584
Buy: Asda; Waterstones
Source: Purchased
Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Who knew that death had a sense of humour?

Not only that but a dry, deadpan humour that is combined with insightful observations about humanity, war, people, and life.

The book is refreshing in the way it is written which for anyone who hasn’t read it, it is narrated by death, and therefore we get to know his humour and observations. Now for a book narrated by Death that covers the Second World War period, in Germany, you might expect it to be dark, moody, depressing. In fact it is humanity and the horrors of the second world war that are causing him (I shall refer to death as ‘him’ for simplicity’s sake) great sadness and despair.

He’d also like to let us know that he does not carry a sickle or a scythe. The hooded black robe is saved for when it’s cold, and that he doesn’t have skull-like facial features.

The story follows that of Liesel a small German girl who is for all intents and purposes orphaned, and goes to live in a small German town with two strangers who will look after her and treat her as their daughter. During the story she will experience trials, tribulations, and learn to cope with what is a harrowing situation.

There is also loss, love, and despair throughout. She also steals some books; so death calls her the Book Thief.

I find this review difficult to write because although I liked a lot about the book, the characters, the writing and the originality of it, I just didn’t think it was a fantastic book that deserved a higher rating from me. I liked it, and I think you will too.

Now there are a lot of people who love this book and think it is fantastic, you might do, for me, I liked it, but I didn’t find it as life-changing or enthralling as others. It is a book that I enjoyed reading but wasn’t desperately trying to finish to find out what happens.

That may not be the case for you, I’d recommend you give it a try.

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