#BookBingo – Theme of Culture

This year I have been following along with Theresa, Amanda and Ashleigh in Book Bingo and this month I am crossing off two squares. I missed one month a little while ago when things got a bit busy. The Return by Victoria Hislop is set in Spain during the civil war and features the Spanish tradition of flamenco, so I am ticking off themes of culture. The other book is Virgin Widow by Anne O’Brien which highlights the inequality of women during the War of the Roses.

The Return by Victoria Hislop

Beneath the majestic towers of the Alhambra, Granada’s cobbled streets resonate with music and secrets. Sonia Cameron knows nothing of the city’s shocking past; she is here to dance. But in a quiet café, a chance conversation and an intriguing collection of old photographs draw her into the extraordinary tale of Spain’s devastating civil war.

Seventy years earlier, the café is home to the close-knit Ramírez family. In 1936, an army coup led by Franco shatters the country’s fragile peace, and in the heart of Granada the family witnesses the worst atrocities of conflict. Divided by politics and tragedy, everyone must take a side, fighting a personal battle as Spain rips itself apart.

Victoria Hislop’s second novel The Return is a time slip story, moving between present day London and Spain during the time of the civil war. The impact of the war on the Ramírez family and the people of Spain is devastating.

The Return also highlights the beauty and passion of one of Spain’s traditions – the flamenco. Mercedes Ramírez lives for dance. A talented and passionate flamenco dancer, Mercedes is determined to dance for Javier Montero, an equally talented and famous guitarist. And the attraction is instantaneous. Their performances are filled with passion and intensity and highlight the close relationship between dancer and musician. In the midst of the battle for Spain, though, dance is forbidden and their love ends in tragedy. Javier is rounded up and imprisoned for many years. Mercedes has the opportunity to flee the violence of Spain and lands in England, expecting that she will return. She never sees Spain again.

Flamenco originated in southern Spain and was especially associated with the Romani people. There are three essential elements to flamenco – musical tonality, rhythm, and the flamenco performer. The kind of flamenco most familiar outside of Spain is el baile flamenco and is known for its emotional intensity. The dancers are famous for their proud carriage, expressive arm movements and rhythmic stamping. Over the years flamenco has developed into many different styles and is danced across the world. It is particularly popular in Japan which boasts more flamenco academies than Spain itself. 

Image by Kazuo ota – Unsplash

I enjoyed Hislop’s first novel, The Island, when I read that quite some years ago now but I don’t think The Return is quite on the same par. While the research was impeccable I felt it could have been intertwined with the story a little more seamlessly. I appreciate that there was a lot of historical context and background to the story but perhaps this could have been provided in a section at the back of the book. The flamenco parts were definitely the best. 

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