Friday, May 22, 2009

Book Review: Winter in Madrid

Book Review: Winter in Spain
A Novel
C.J. Sansom
Penguin 2009

One Dimensional Look At Post Civil War Madrid

by Eric Green

C.J. Sansom's, Winter in Madrid, is one war-based novel you can probably live without. Reading through its over 500 pages of novel driven history was easy and mostly enjoyable. Riveting it isn't. It has none of the toughness, tensions and insights that Sebastian Faulks' novels have. One reviewer of the Sansom book compared his novel to Faulks. The only comparison would be that both are history novels to some extent based on facts. [The Faulks trilogy: Birdsong; Woman at the Lion D'Or; and Charlotte Gray are in a higher league.]

It seemed that Sansom had an ulterior motive in writing this book. What was it? To me, it was to paint the Spanish Civil War's International Brigade and the Spanish Republican Government as woeful and doomed to failure. His selective use of history, especially the right-wing British government's treatment of Spain and Germany, was a good thing, but it did make up for its other deficiencies. Those Tories are always easy targets and Sansom makes the most of them. I can see Sansom writing a novel focusing on the Tories and pro-war Laborites that would be quite good.

The spy rings and their ultimate failures were quite predictable. Which characters make it through and those who don't is also woefully predictable.

There is some nice character development. And, as a novelist Sansom does get the reader involved in their lives. Sansom is not an amateur. But, it says a lot about the writer that of the three main characters left standing at the end; one is least committed to anything progressive political, becomes a teacher; another just as lost as before; and, the third is as greedy and cynical as he was in the book itself.

The two other main characters that stood for progressive politics were killed and their causes were never seen as worthwhile.

The novel, on the political side, falls conveniently in line with the current effort in revisionist history to equate Josef Stalin with Adolph Hitler. This novel maintains that political theme through its 500 plus pages. No wonder it is popular book in some circles.

The author's notes at the end bolster the lack of real in depth interest and honest analysis of the Spanish Civil War, International Brigades and its aftermath. Original history has Communist Party members, in England and Spain, as true heroes and very grounded in the reality of stopping the Nazi/Fascist military machine. Sansom tosses that aside with casual aplomb.

Too bad. I am sure that Sansom's other novels and creative efforts are quite good. He should stay away from politics which involve the left.