SPAIN WEEK: A Violent Thriller Set in Barcelona

Spain Week

Spain Week continues with a thriller set mostly in Barcelona. The first book of this series, on Monday, visited Seville with a Robert Wilson mystery.

Merida Spain
Mérida Spain, Extremadura, where the story begins

Destination: Mérida and Barcelona Spain

Book: The Sadness of the Samurai  (NEW May 22, 2012) by Victor Del Árbol

Many of the books I review here leave me with a feeling of sadness because I hate to put them down–to say goodbye to characters who have become friends. Not so with The Sadness of the Samurai.  I was relieved to have it end. I felt as if I had just been freed from a long prison sentence.

In fact, I am sure that the author fully intended that oppressive feeling.  A full understanding of the horrors of a ruthless police state demands not just intellectual, but emotional engagement.  In The Sadness of the Samurai, we meet Maria Bengoechea, a lawyer during the early 1980’s in Spain.  We learn that she is dying of a brain tumor, and her father also has a fatal cancer.  The hidden killer in them is not the only terrible secret eating away at Maria’s life.  She is faced with untangling a mystery that goes back more than forty years and binds her to a man she had sent to prison.

Barcelona seashore
Barcelona seashore

Del Arbor spares no gore, no cruelty, in drawing us into the Kafkaesque hopelessness of characters caught in a cycle of revenge that never ends. The novel is not for the faint of heart.  Intricately plotted, with occasional passages that find relief in the beauty of the Barcelona seashore, the writing is skillful. It is just not for me.  But you must make your own decision about the degree to which you want to be immersed in Spain’s history, spanning the period of Fascist rule up to the first democratic elections and a coup in the 1980s.

The novel’s evocation of the dangers of politics gone awry (power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely) the novel seemed to me to be over the top–the situations too relentlessly horrific, characters too purely evil. The result make it difficult for me to wholly believe in the actions. Nevertheless, Del Arbol’s first novel to be published in English holds its fascinations.

Despite my revulsion at the graphic violence, I had to follow the story. I had to find out what Maria would learn and whether any of this violence made sense.

Barcelona street
Barcelona street, where the story ends

Del Arbol skillfully piles up evidence that the world is askew. The aforementioned cancers; the fact that Maria has left her husband for a lesbian love–the only purely beautiful thing in her life; Maria tempts danger in various ways–she smokes constantly, despite warnings from others; relationships between parents and children seem warped. Even the settings hint at the inescapable danger of the world.

A boy wandered among the rusty hulls of the merchant ships abandoned on an isolated pier of the port; he jumped like a circus monkey from one cargo crane to the next, amid the foul water, trying to fish carp, huge fish that were to the sea what rats were to garbage dumps.  Nobody ever paid any attention to him, which was to be expected.  The company of his dog was enough for him: a flea-ridden mutt, with a skittish green gaze, who accompanied him on all his adventures.

In this upside-down world, the Military Court “doesn’t look very military.   The tones of the walls were welcoming, there were paintings of landscapes and seascapes, and a vase of flowers on a small table.”

If you want to delve into the life in Spain during Fascism and the aftermath, you may want to read The Sadness of the Samurai. Just because I am squeamish, doesn’t mean that you are.

Let’s talk about your reading choices. When you travel, do you want to know about the history of the place, even if the history is extremely unpleasant?

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All photos are from Flickr, used with a Creative Commons license. Please click on a photo to learn more about the photographer.



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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

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