The Spanish Civil War of the mid-late 1930’s is an event little known or appreciated in the U.S. Too bad. It’s struggle between fascism (Franco) and communism (the so-called “Reds” fighting for a republic) was a microcosm of the conflict that was soon to envelope the entire world for generations. Rebecca Pawel has done a great service both as an author and as a historian create the world she has in my previously-reviewed The Death of a Nationalilst and in these three sequels. It’s doing them a bit of a disservice to treat them as a group instead of individually, but time, etc., blah-blah.
The novels are fascinating for their portrayal of the relationship between Guardia Civil (a sort of national police) Carlos Tejada and his revolutionary-sympathizer love and (later) wife, Elena. Their marriage is not only a compelling story in itself but is a perfect metaphor for the struggle within Spain for the soul of the country.
In his job, Carllos Tejada is responsible for rooting out violent revolutionaries, and he does so with some zeal and using methods outside bothersome constraints such as the Miranda oath or the bill of rights. Still, he’s zealous about pursuing evidence and acting on facts rather than suspicion. But he makes a mistake or two, and his attitudes are often off-putting. He’s a complex guy. Elena meets him after he’s killed an innocent person by mistake. Yet he’s kind to her and saves her and others from persecution. So here she is, dedicated to overthrowing Franco, yet in love with one of his minions who’s shown himself capable of overriding his loyalty for the sake of humanity.
This tension becomes part of their marriage and is responsible for many a serious storm. Things get particularly dicey when they get called back from his outpost assignment back to the city and to his mostly right-wing family who strongly disapprove of Elena. And who want to “save” their grandson from her perfidious influence.
The marriage is as strong as the tensions, and both are bound to continue in the future. It’s Pawel’s great accomplishment that she makes the whole situation believable and that one cant maintain sympathy with both of them. Particularly in the case of Carlos, who can be quite the brute. I don’t know if any more of these novels are in the works, but pawel’s provided plenty of food for a very tasty feast that could move nicely on for at least a couple of more sequels.