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…

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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.