Oh dear. This just doesn't work at all. The modern-day story wrapped around the historical part is so flimsy and cliched that it would have been better to leave it out altogether and just tell the civil war story. A basic structural flaw was that Miguel simply could not have known all the details given here. Every now and then,Hislop remembers, oops, Miguel is supposed to be telling the story here, so she flips back to the present day for a paragraph so that they can order another coffee. Could he really have told this whole story in such detail over a period of a few hours? It just doesn't ring true.
But if you're going to do that, at least make it a genuine story, not a potted history. Hislop had done her research, but then just regurgitated it onto the page. Large parts of it were just like reading a history book. The characters never left the page to become real people with hopes and desires. It was impossible to feel moved by deaths and imprisonment.
And finally, I don't have a problem with coincidences in novels, or indeed in real life (hey, I enjoy Kate Atkinson
, queen of coincidences!). But the coincidences on which this novel relies are just too contrived, and you can see the "twist" coming a mile off. I ended up flipping quickly through the last coupel of hundred pages to have my suspicions confirmed.
But I'm giving it two stars instead of one, because:
1. The descriptions of flamenco are so well done. It's obvious that Hislop is passionate about this dance, and the novel only really comes alive in these passages.
2. A lot of people who like this book say they didn't know anything about the Spanish Civil War. If the popularity of Hislop's work means that more people know about it, that's a good thing. Her heart is in the right place, she did her homework, she just doesn't have the novelistic skill to carry it off.
However, if you want to read a brilliant novel that conveys the true horror and tragedy of the civil war, and its effect on families, don't read this. Read Almudena Grandes' The Frozen Heart