The Wrong Blood, by Manuel de Lope. Published by Other Press, 2010. Literary fiction. Translated from the Spanish.
The Wrong Blood is a luminous, marvelous novel from Spanish writer Manuel de Lope, about secrets, women and war, and what people will do to recapture their lost love and lost innocence.
Set during and after the Spanish Civil War, The Wrong Blood is the story of two women. Maria Antonia Extarri is a working-class girl, daughter of a bar owner, who is raped by a group of visiting soldiers; she's sent out to work in a series of large homes. A smart girl and a quick study, she learns a full set of domestic skills. When her baby is born she leaves her employer and settles in the home of wealthy widow Isabel Cruces, whose husband and great love has died during the war, executed as a traitor. Years later, Isabel's grandson Miguel returns to the family home to study for law exams. Isabel has died left the house and all her money to Maria, who runs it like a solitary fiefdom. The local doctor, an older man well acquainted with the family, tries to befriend the young law student. Little by little, through the doctor's narration, we learn the family's sad history and the secret that binds the two women.
Beautifully written, very moving and very tender, The Wrong Blood is a character-driven and atmospheric story of full-blooded characters with complex psyches and drives. It will remind many readers of the rich family chronicles and passionate love stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and even has some of the gothic elements of Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The sequence detailing Isabel's childbirth and delivery in an iconic dark and stormy night is almost a ghost story, harrowing and vivid. The story of Isabel's marriage and widowhood are lovely and sad. The doctor's own stories and memories add a fascinating layer of tragedy and bittersweet irony, and Isabel's protean personality adds an unpredictable variable to the story.
The Wrong Blood is definitely a must-read for literary readers and is recommended also for readers interested in historical fiction, Spanish fiction and the fiction of war. (This edition includes a helpful introduction elucidating the basic facts of the war.) Even though very little of the story takes place on the battlefield, it's still about people whose lives are turned upside down by war in one way or another. It's also about class and the privileges afforded to and taken away from people, women especially, at different levels of society, and the things one has to live with and without. Maria and Isabel are enigmatic people, their inner lives held at a distance; this sense of remoteness makes the story all the more moving since the reader has to use his or her own empathy and imagination to understand them. It's a lovely book, literary fiction at a very high level and well worth the effort to read.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Other Press.
Posts in Other Press Week:
- Publisher Spotlight on Other Press: Introduction,
- Sunday: Interview with Publisher Judith Gurewich,
- Monday: Review of The Wrong Blood, by Manuel de Lope,
- Tuesday: Review of The Debba, by Avner Mandelman,
- Wednesday: Interview with Avner Mandelman,
- Thursday: Review of By Fire, By Water, by Mitchell James Kaplan.
- Friday: Interview with Mitchell James Kaplan