The aftermath of a nation’s struggle: C. J. Sansom’s Winter in Madrid

12 Oct

“The snow had lain thick in the Tierra Muerta for nearly a month. It had come early and stayed; the guards said people in Cuenca were calling it the hardest winter for years.

C. J. Sansom’s Winter in Madrid treats a period of Spanish history that has escaped popular attention. It is 1940. The Republicans have lost the Spanish Civil War and any surviving soldiers slowly perish in Franco’s internment camps. The warning that the war bore to Europe, namely the imminent rise of European Fascism, has been ignored and Nazi Germany is at large. The Spanish people, especially the Madrileños who fought the Generalisimo‘s Nationalist troops to the bitter end in 1939, are living off scraps of food and begging under the watchful eye of the civiles.

Sansom’s tale marries fiction and historical fact as his British characters fall in love and tackle their personal demons in postwar Madrid. The reader sees ruinous Madrid through the eyes of shell-shocked Dunkirk veteran Harry Brett. Through his activity as a spy for the British Secret Service, investigating the likelihood of Franco dragging Spain to Hitler’s aid, Harry becomes privy to the opulent lifestyle of the Monarchists and the Falange. Sansom’s heroine, Brummy nurse Barbara Clare, undertakes a hazardous search for Bernie, her Communist lover who was last heard of fighting at the Jarama.

The novel successfully evokes the dichotomy of rich and poor, right and left, that characterised Spanish society and politics at the time. As Ángel Viñas, the Spanish academic and Civil War specialist, has described it, ‘fue un juego pendular’.

“One village square had huge posters of Franco all over the cracked, unpainted walls, his arms folded confidently as his jowly face smiled into the distance. ¡HASTA EL FUTURO! The posters covered older ones whose tattered edges were visible beneath. He recognized the bottom half of the old slogan, ¡NO PASARAN!

Although a historical novel, Winter in Madrid is a league apart from Sansom’s other offerings which depict crime in Tudor England. The gripping human story caters for those who know little of Spanish history yet resists obstructing the most gritty detail of Franco’s early dictatorship. At the time of publication in 2006, the Daily Express likened Sansom’s style to Sebastian Faulks. If you liked his epic Birdsong, you’ll love Winter in Madrid.

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One Response to “The aftermath of a nation’s struggle: C. J. Sansom’s Winter in Madrid”

  1. Crime Stories October 12, 2010 at 8:46 pm #

    Due to its central location, the weather in Madrid is cold in winter and very hot in summer. Crime Stories

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