This is an archived issue of Belletrista. If you are looking for the current issue, you can find it here
Belletrista - A site promoting translated women authored literature from around the world


by Almudena Grandes
Translated from the Spanish by Frank Wynne
Reviewed by Ceri Evans

Since the World Cup Final, Spanish people have taken great pride in their team's victory; Spaniards across the world have celebrated for weeks, basking in their glory. Yet, many Spaniards hesitate at the sight of their flag, which carried the black eagle until 1981—to many, the symbol of the Franco state and a reminder of the outcome of the Spanish Civil War. Despite the seventy-one years that have passed since the Spanish Civil War, the Spanish people still feel the reverberations: the estimated 300,000 deaths; the division of society between republicans and monarchists; the eventual victory of Franco; and the suppression, exile and execution of republicans.

The Frozen Heart, by Almudena Grandes, is truly an epic novel. Perhaps it is 'the' modern Spanish novel. It chronicles the lives of two families from the start of the Spanish Civil War to 2005: their loves, their losses and their victories, the choices they make. The Fernandez Munoz family, middle class, rich, and republican, holidayed in the village of Torrelodones before the war. The Carrion Gonzalez family, the father a Conservative supporter of the fascists and the mother an active member of the Socialist party, a family not poor but not well off, are native to Torrelodones.

The novel opens with the death of Don Julio Carrion Gonzalez, a charmer, amateur magician, and millionaire property developer. His past is shrouded in mystery and is full of secrets. No one in his loving family really knows what he did in the war, how he made his millions, what sort of man he really was; not even the happily married Alvaro Carrion Otero, his favourite son and the black sheep of the family, realises the truth. Alvaro spots a beautiful woman at his father's funeral, a stranger. When he is asked by his mother to look after a windfall inheritance from his father's estate, he realises this beautiful woman is the investment adviser to his father. Raquel Fernandez Perea also has secrets. When Alvaro and Raquel find themselves falling in love, the secrets of both Raquel and of Don Julio are forced to the surface.

Almudena Grandes examines national identity, the brutal divisions of war, and the power of greed, love, and the passing of time with real respect and sadness for Spain. Do we define our identity by what we oppose, what we rebel against, or what we cleave to? In exile, is identity defined by what we long for? Or is identity defined by what we become? As a country are we only the sum of our past?

Or can a country, a people (or at least some of them), if not forget, at least move on from the horrendous past, to become something more? Despite declaring at the start of the book that "One of the two Spains will freeze your heart", Alvaro realises that his story is not special, but one of many stories that make up modern Spain.