Winter in Madrid by CJ Samson

The book was written in memory of the thousand of children of Republican parents who disappeared into the orphanages of Franco’s Spain , as per the dedication.  It’s been a while since I’ve read some historical fiction and I must say Winter in Madrid, hit the spot.  On the book cover it says “If you like Sebastian Faulks and Carlos Ruiz Zafon, you’ll love this”. You all know how I love the latter…


The story plays off post Civil War in Madrid and paints a heartbreaking picture of the suffering and haunting of wartime Spain.  The novel is packed with history, unlike any other historical novel I have read in the past. Many moments while reading this book I felt that all the history was confusing and distracting my attention away from the book. I’m not very knowledgeable with the history of that time period, although I do know who Franco, Hitler, Stalin and Churchill were.  I kept getting confused between Communism, Socialism, Fascism and the Monarchists. Nonetheless, that didn’t put me off from finishing this novel and I am glad I did…

My confusion and distracting thoughts has no bearing on the fact that his novel was brilliantly written. CJ Samson did a great job with combing the cold and hard facts of the time with a compelling and moving love story.  Madrid’s post war melancholy were beautifully described, draws you in that you can hear the sounds and sees the sights.

The story revolves mainly around three school friends namely: Harry Brett, Sandy Forsyth and Bernard Piper. Harry Brett, a traumatized veteran of Dunkirk who was invalided out and now recruited by British Intelligence to work in Spain at the British Embassy as a spy. He was to spy on his former school friend Sandy Forsyth, who is apparently involved in shady business deals in Spain with good political connections. Bernard (called Bernie) is ‘missing, believed killed’ during the Civil War and was Harry best friend. In Spain, Harry ran into Barbara – who was Bernie’s girlfriend and now Sandy’s ‘wife’.  Harry met a lady called Sofia and fell in love, while Barbara learns Bernie is still alive and being kept illegally in a prison camp near Madrid and she plans his escape. CJ Samson tells the story of a traumatized Spain, leaving me with emotions ranging from sadness, pity and anger when reading the history told by fictional characters – reliving their emotions and their struggle.  Apart from the history aspect, this book is a moving love story. A reminder of what a person is capable of doing when you truly love someone, how promises are broken and how nothing lasts forever. To me, the ending was incredibly sad…  yet the story and the book will stay with me.

If you love historical fiction, you should give this book a try.  I will most likely read this book again, however I will be wary of recommending this book to someone who enjoys an ‘easy read’ or are not into historical fiction.  The book contains a lot of history, yet it leaves a lasting impression.

  • This sounds like a really interesting book! We studied this a bit in one of my classes and it was so heartbreaking. I might have to pick it up!

    • Mel

      You should Allison, it was a good read.

  • I have read a few of Sansom’s book; this one was my favourite. Good review.

    • Mel

      Thanks Sophie
      This was my first CJ Samson book I’ve read and I might pick up some of his others. Any recommendations?

  • I have read the first four in the Matthew Shardlake series, there is also a fifth but I haven’t got there yet!

    • Mel

      Ok thanks. I’ve heard of them 🙂
      Will give the series a try!

  • Les

    I love historical novels but spy historical novels in particular but I love the movies more so than the novels such as The Black Book and The Soldier of Orange. Unfortunately the novels of these movies are in Dutch.

    You should borrow me the novel. It sounds quite good from your awesome review. 🙂

    In 2006 I read the Emperor’s Bones about an English girl who was a nurse in World War I and had experienced in the French revolution and about a Chinese girl who happens to be a spy for the revolutionary and the Comintern who meets at university. They form a friendship despite being on the “opposite” side. This novel is all about corruption, betrayal, romance and political schemes all in the heart of a civil war. The milieu is in China in the 1900-1920’s.

    I will read this novel again, after I have finished the ones that I currently have and I will write a review on it. I know you will love this novel. I will borrow you the novel once I am done re-reading it.

    • Mel

      Thanks Les 🙂
      I did infact enjoy WInter in Madrid and I will most probably like Emperor’s Bones too – you should give it to me along with the others you promised me. Remind me again about the movies!

      • Les

        Will definitely give it to you 🙂

        The Black Book is based on a true story; the movie is about a young Jewish woman in the Netherlands who becomes a spy for the resistance during World War II after tragedy befalls her in an encounter with the Nazis. She then get caught out for being a spy and then gets imprisoned with other accused and then gets humiliated and tortured by the violently anti-Nazi volunteer jailers. Then she gets rescued from jail only for the colonel to plan to have her killed. I will not give out more as this is quite an intense and beautiful and insanely awesome and sad movie that you have to watch though. The movie is two and a half hours long and English subtitled. We should get the dvd and watch it together 🙂

        Soldier of Orange is about World War II through and it gets shown through the eyes of several Dutch students. We see what they go through from the beginning of the war, the Nazi occupation and the liberation. This movie is about betrayal, friendship and how far you would go to survive basically. The movie is also two and a half hours long and subtitled.

  • Mel

    OK, now I dont HAVE to watch those movies anymore. You’ve told me all I needed to know.

    • Les

      Nope, the stories goes beyond what I said. I left out all the “meaty” parts of the movies, that was just outlines. If you think that you don’t have to watch by what I said, then you don’t know what you will be missing… It is much too complicated compared to how I explained it

      • Mel

        I will reply to this offline 😉

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