Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Importance of Remembering

It’s a rare book that when I get to the end I read it all again, but this is what happened with The Time In Between by María Dueñas. When I read the last sentence, without so much as getting up for a cup of coffee, I went right back to the beginning and started in all over again with the first sentence. I wasn’t ready to let the characters go. I wanted to hear their stories again and again. I wanted to be in Sira’s world once again. I wanted to learn more about that time in our world’s history which I knew so little about.

I probably would never have picked this novel up were it not for the fact that it was a selection for my bookclub. Not even out of the box and it had three strikes against it as far as I was concerned. First of all, I normally don’t like to read translated works. Part of the author’s job is to create worlds of words, which may (or may not) be lost in translation. I want to read what the author actually wrote. I want to note subtlely of phrase. I want to immerse myself in the author’s words as much as the story. And this book is translated from the Spanish.

Secondly, the length of the book would have totally put me off, and this one is long - 600 pages they say, although in my case it’s hard to tell since I read it on a Kobo.

And thirdly I’m usually not a great fan of historical fiction.

The one thing this book did have going for it is that I’m a great lover of all things Spanish. Always have been. I love the language, the culture, the literature. I pride myself that back in my more Spanish-speaking days, I even read a few short literary works in Spanish by another of my favorite Spanish authors Isabel Allende from Chile.

I studied the language through high school, and ten years ago I studied it for two years at university. Even now, I sometimes tune into Univision so I can practice. I’ve been to Cuba and Mexico, but Spain and Chile other parts of South America are still on my bucket list.

The Time In Between is a novel about the Spanish Civil war which dovetailed itself into the WWII. It’s not a part of history that I know much about or had studied for more than a sentence or two in my school history classes. But it is a fascinating part of our world’s culture and history. It’s worth knowing about. It’s worth learning. I found out, for example, that the Fasicsts from Germany were helping to supply arms and intelligence to the Nationalists in Spain while the Russia supplied intel and arms to the Republicans there. One extreme to the other, while the country and its people were in turmoil.

Are you yawning yet? Well, it’s not that interesting in my telling of it here, but the novel makes the story sing. Main character Sira Quiroga begins as a somewhat selfish but beautiful young woman who works with her mother as a seamstress in Madrid. She ends up running away with a very handsome man, who ends up double-crossing her, stealing from her and leaving her with a huge hotel bill. From there she must work her way back, pay back her debts and rebuild her life. The backdrop to this love betrayal is the war, which is escalating on all fronts in Europe, including Spain.

As you know, if you are a regular reader of this blog, I always look at the beginning of books, their first sentences. Here’s how The Time In Between begins:

A typewriter shattered my destiny.

And yes, if it wasn’t for the typewriter, Sira would never have met the lover who wooed her away from her “safe” fiance, thus setting into motion the entire rest of the book, including her foray into espionage.

In some editions, this book is entitled The Seamstress and sewing and fashion are the threads that run through this book.

Why is it important to read books like this, yes, even though I am reluctant to admit it—books wihich have been translated? It opens up a whole new realm of understanding for us. We get a peek into a different culture, to find a new way of thinking, a new way of feeling.

We are seeing first hand in our world what xenophobia does - when we constantly look at people as "other" and different. It’s done to us, and by us. When we constantly look at the numbers of walls we can build around ourselves, rather than the bridges of understanding, when we want to to fortress ourselves rather than tables of understanding, we are sure to shatter.

I love the motto of our Canadian province of Quebec — Je me souviens which means simply, "I remember."

When the motto was unveiled this was said about it:

"The province of Quebec has a motto of which she is proud and which she likes enough to carve it on her monuments and palaces. This motto has only three words: "Je me souviens"; but these three words, in their simple economy of expression, are worth more than the most eloquent speeches. Yes, we remember. We remember the past and its lessons, the past and its misfortunes, the past and its glories.

It’s important to look back, to never remove the ravages of war from our collective memories. The telling of war stories should never end, until maybe one day when we'll "get" it.

For more on the Spanish civil war click here.

And now a question for my readers - I would love to watch the movie version of this book, but can’t seem to find it online. It doesn’t seem to be rentable on iTunes Movies or Netflix. Anyone know where I can watch this? Here is the movie trailer.

Next time: A look into a young adult book (YA in the vernacular) and written in verse, and worth reading - for everyone. Totally Unfamous

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