Review of Hand of Fatima by Ildefonso Falcones
Review by Molly Sears-Piccavey
I had already read the magnificent novel Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones, therefore it was a natural progression for me to read this latest book as well. I was actually lucky enough to go to a Spanish wedding in summer 2004 which took place in Santa Maria del Mar which is the setting for the book. This event inspired me to read the novel as soon as I possibly could get a copy.
I live in Granada, the city in which the Hand of Fatima begins. I have also spent many months living in the beautiful Valley of Lecrin which also appears repeatedly throughout the book. The setting of the novel coincides with areas that I know well myself, it almost seems as though the author is following my movements, choosing familiar locations to me for his next book.
By reading the Hand of Fatima I hoped to discover more about the historic Alpujarra wars and read well written descriptions of the Alpujarran villages, conjure up mental images of the Sierra Nevada, reading about all those familiar places. I expected to hear about the city of Granada how it was during the era of Al-Andalus many hundreds of years ago and even learn a few facts which I had not yet heard previously. The book certainly met my expectations.
The well researched work cleverly blends historic fact and geographical references. It carefully describes local landmarks as well as telling an interesting tale to the reader. Even with 8 years knowledge of Andalusian culture I got swept away by the author´s writing and forget to notice which parts of the book are hard facts and which parts are the fictional story lines embroidered into the novel.
When studying A Level Spanish many years ago I read Lazarillo de Tormes by Francisco de Quevedo. This is a classic Spanish novella from 1554. As I read the Hand of Fatima the atmosphere that it conjured up reminded me of the tricks and treachery in Lazarillo of Tormes as well as the street scenes described.
Set in Granada in the year 1564, Christians and Moors are at arms. The clash of cultures causes many scenes of torture, blood and brutality. Both sides suffer gruesome punishments throughout the book, the Catholics are severely attacked when the Moors are rampaging through the mountain villages in the Alpujarra at the beginning of the story. Soon the tables are turned and the failed Moorish revolt upturns their fortunes, the Moors then find themselves are at the mercy of the harsh Christian rulers.
Hernando the main character is a Moorish boy, son of a Christian father. He has deep olive skin and big blue eyes, causing internal conflict for him and doubt, making others around him doubt his faith. He has a lot of mishaps and fights along the way but every now and again those sparkly blue eyes come good. He learns to adapt quickly in tricky situations, such as being confronted by the Christians or even challenged by his own people.
The book is not only about the Alpujarra wars, violence and cruelty, conversos, jews, moors and catholics; there is a romantic storyline through the narration. The main character Hernando is romantically involved with the captivating Fatima with her dark hazel eyes and exotic beauty. Their relationship goes through many difficulties and separations. Against all odds they both try to maintain their partnership in spite of fierce opposition from family and pressure from the society in which they live in.
In the Cathedral of the Sea I found it fascinating that reading the novel I could take notes and go and visit some of the landmarks and monuments in Barcelona now. The same occurs with the Hand of Fatima, the descriptions of Granada, Cordoba and the Alpujarra allow the steps of the characters in the story to be retraced; being able to walk along the same roads described and touch the same walls that we read about really appeals to the reader.
The novel winds its way through many different areas of Granada province and Southern Spain. Most of the Alpujarran villages are mentioned, Valor, Ugijar, Juviles and Los Berchules. There are terrible battles described near to the town of El Padul just South of Granada, we discover the areas of the Valle de Lecrin such as Beznar, Tablate and Mondujar. Granada and it´s historic buildings of course are mentioned often throughout the course of the novel, the Royal Chancellery or the Alhambra fortress both feature as well as other buildings.
I actually read the book with a detailed map of Spain next to me to be able to follow the story along the map whilst I turned the pages. Hernando´s mule ´La Vieja´ was certainly a patient and hard working animal! They cover miles and miles of dusty roads and hilly paths through the book.
Further along in the story we are transported to Adra, Almeria, along the Sierra Morena and eastwards to historic Cordoba. Some parts of the story are set in Algiers and different towns of Morocco. For any Spain enthusiast or anyone interested even slightly interested in European history it certainly is a recommendable read. At just under 1000 pages, it is a solid book to get stuck into reading.
Molly has lived in Spain since 1998, initially in Barcelona, but now lives in Granada. Working in Communication and PR, she uses her spare time to read and read books, she is a also a busy Blogger and a frenetic twitterer. Molly speaks fluent Spanish and English as well as some French and Catalan. Visit her blog at http://www.piccavey.com/blog for some great articles about Spain.