The Lines Between Us by Rebecca d’ Harlingue

This is a dual timeline family saga 17th and 20th centuries in Spain, Mexico and the U.S.A.

Anna is a childless widow. After her husband’s death, she reads his journal and learns things that both comfort and distress her. Although theirs was a marriage of mutual respect and affection, he confided things in his journal which he never confided to her. This is an ongoing theme. In this story, journals provide the bond between generations. They tell the stories of Spain when the Inquisition is still active, colonial Mexico, and three women forced by their times into lives they never would have chosen.

Anna’s brother is a self-absorbed widower who has removed all reminders of his wife from the house and will not allow her name to be spoken, although he puts it about that she died in childbirth. His daughter Juliana is a serious sixteen-year-old. One day, Sebastian, Juliana and Juliana’s duenna disappear. Anna is distraught and although she has seldom travelled, she goes to Sevilla to search for them. At her brother’s house, she found Juliana’s journal and reads it while in Sevilla. When she discovers the horrifying reason for her beloved niece’s disappearance, she abandons the search.

At this point, the narrative fast-forwards to St. Louis in 1992 and Rachel who is at the bedside of her mother, Helen. I have read just a few dual timeline books, but this was a sudden and acute dislocation. I was invested in the Spanish characters and wasn’t ready to leave Sevilla with Juliana’s fate yet unknown.

However… In the moments before her death, Helen mentions Anna and Juliana, people who Rachel has never heard of. Going through her mother’s things later, Rachel finds papers and a journal that have been left specifically to her own daughter. She cannot resist reading and thus establishes a connection to people long dead and has a better understanding of her own mother.

The author has clearly immersed herself in 17th century culture. The voices of the characters are authentic and the prose is one of the best features of the book. Example: ‘I know that our suffering is slight relative to what others have to endure, but weighing sorrow does not lessen pain.’ I found these words particularly moving.

All in all, an excellent book emphasising our connection to the past and with surprises along the way and a shocking ending.

(An odd thing happened shortly after the narrative turned to the modern era. The font became italicised and remained that way until the end. I’m sure this was accidental as I could see no reason for it.)

*****

Rebecca D’Harlingue has studied Spanish literature, worked as a hospital administrator, and taught English as a Second Language to adults form all over the world. The discovery of family papers prompted her to explore the repercussions of family secrets, and of the ways we attempt to reveal ourselves.

She shares her love of story both with preschoolers at a Head Start program, and with the members of the book club she has belonged to for decades. She lives in Oakland, California with her husband, Arthur, where they are fortunate to frequently spend time with their children and grandchildren.

Fortune’s Lament

Fortune’s Lament by John D. Cressler, the third book in the Anthems of Al-Andalus series, is set in 15th century Al-Andulus, Spain. The narrative is detailed, nuanced and sensual and some of the descriptive passages are beautiful. The author has done a marvellous job of researching such difficult subjects as medicine and surgery, cannon and warfare in the period. It’s both a love story and a war story set in the era of Isabella and Fernando’s (Ferdinand) war to win the Moorish sultanate for Spain and the rise of the Inquisition. There is plenty of palace intrigue, bedroom antics and battlefield drama in this well-told tale.

The protagonists are Danah, and the ‘Falcon Brothers’, Yusef and Umar. Danah is a budding yet talented physician. Not altogether approving of her vocation, her parents want her to marry if she is to continue her studies. Their choice is perfect: a young and handsome budding surgeon who she likes well enough. The problem is she has already briefly met Yusef and each has fallen in love with the other, though neither knows it.

Meanwhile, at the palace, the Sultan has fallen madly in love with a concubine who has him in the palm of her hand, wrapped around her little finger and dancing to her tune. Upon becoming pregnant, she persuades him to banish his First Wife and heir and marry her, setting the scene for a factional war in Granada itself.

I found the love story rather tedious. To begin with, it is portrayed as love at first sight, and – call me unromantic – I just don’t find that credible. When Yusef is wounded he comes under Danah’s care and that’s when the tedium sets in – the looks, the stolen touches, the agonising because she is now betrothed to another man went on too long before the consummation. It is a long book and could have been better with some of that cut. Danah has a temper and Yusef spends a period feeling sorry for himself, but they are just too saccharine and the other characters who populate this storyline gush over them a little too much. They all would have benefited from a few flaws.

We also meet the man we know as Christopher Columbus, although it’s hard to know why since he had no part to play in any plot.

The other storylines, which have a grand sweep, were far more compelling and moved along at a better pace. The characters were more interesting than Danah and Yusef because they were flawed – actually some were downright wicked.

On the whole, I enjoyed the book.

****

This review was written for Discovering Diamonds.

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