I received an advanced review copy of The Poet’s Wife from the publisher through NetGalley. Please read my review, enter to win your own copy (open internationally) and read my Q&A with the author Rebecca Stonehill.
The Poet’s Wife is the narrative of one family’s struggle during the tumultuous years of the Spanish Civil War and the time following. The book alternates between 3 different points of view. The first character to speak is Luisa, who grows up in a wealthy, upper-class home in Spain. She is expected to marry and have a family and really not do anything else with her life. Her parents have almost given up on her to spinsterhood, when a dashing young poet named Eduardo takes a fancy to her. Luisa’s parents are not thrilled with the prospect of their daughter marrying a man who claims he is a poet, but his family is wealthy and so they capitulate.
The part of Luisa’s narrative describes her marriage to Eduardo, the large family they have, and their interaction with two women who are considered gypsies and live on the outskirts of society. The book highlights a lot of social issues that Spain faces in the 20th century. Gypsies are considered outcasts and it is dangerous for Eduardo and Luisa to befriend gypsies, but they do it anyway.
The next part of the narrative is from the point of view of Eduardo and Luisa’s daughter, Isabel. This part of the story covers the period of Civil War in Spain and a great deal of the text is spent on explaining the political factions that are warring with each other. Eduardo and Luisa are hopeful that Spain with end up with a republican government, but when the Facists take over the country the family struggles to keep out of danger. Isabel has some freedoms that are not allowed to her mother, such as her occupation of nursing. When she is working at a hospital, Isabel falls in love with and marries an Englishman named Henry.
The final piece of the book is told through the eyes of Isabel and Henry’s daughter, Paloma. Out of all of the women in the book, Paloma has the most liberty and rights and the author makes it a point to trace the freedom of Spain and the freedom of women throughout the narrative. Paloma attends university and travels, both of which her mother and grandmother never would have dreamed.
THE POET’S WIFE is full of details about Spanish history, culture, and traditions. I have not seen very many historical novels that deal with this time period in Spanish history. If you want something that is a little different and rich with political deals of the era then give THE POET’S WIFE a try.
I’m from London but currently live in Nairobi with my husband and three children where I teach creative writing to school children. Many years ago, I spent eighteen months living in Granada, completely falling in love with it and being inspired to write The Poet’s Wife. I have also had many short stories published, including in Vintage Script, What The Dickens magazine and Ariadne’s Thread.
The Poet’s Wife is my debut novel and I am currently working on my second book, set in Kenya.
Before being signed up by Bookouture, the novel was called ‘In the shade of the orange tree.’ It was decided that ‘The Poet’s Wife’ had more of an emotional hook to draw readers in whereas the significance of the orange tree only becomes apparent upon reading the book.
Although Eduardo never received the recognition he would have liked with his poetry, along with his family and Federico García Lorca, it was the great passion and joy of his life and he identified far closer with this than with his career as a lawyer.
2. Historical fiction that is set in Spain does not seem to be as popular as historical fiction set in other parts of the world. What made you choose Spain and, in particular, this period of history in Spain?
I have loved Spain for many years. When I was in my early twenties, my father moved there and I longed to be able to speak the language which I found incredibly beautiful and lyrical to listen to. So I packed up my belongings and headed out to Andalucia, spending time with my father in Malaga then going to Seville where I did a CELTA course (learning how to teach English). I finally settled in Granada for a year and a half. I completely fell in love with this city and the more I became immersed in the language and the culture, I also started to hear fragments of information about the civil war that ravaged the country before the Second World War. It was very clear that although it had ended so long ago, it was still a taboo and there’s nothing like a taboo for a nosey aspiring writer to start asking questions! The more I found out about it, the more I knew there was a story there, particularly as it’s a fascinating slice of modern European history that I don’t feel people from my native UK in particular know much about, despite more Brits visiting Spain on holiday than any other nation.
3. All of the female characters in this book are strong women who maintain a positive outlook even under dire circumstance. Why did you choose to tell the story through the eyes of Eduardo’s wife, daughter and granddaughter?
My first few drafts of the novel were divided between Isabel’s first person narrative and a third-person narrative. I knew it wasn’t there yet and eventually sought the advice of an authors’ advisory service. The first thing that was suggested to me was that I try to re-write it in three first-person voices. This was a huge undertaking but definitely worth it – suddenly the characters became more authentic, owning their voices and experiences and the novel as a whole benefitted hugely from this shake-up.
4. When you are not writing, what types of books do you like to read? Is there a favorite book that you have read in the past year that has really stuck with you?
I live in Nairobi and good, reasonably priced books are not all that easy to come by here, so I tend to read novels that people lend me or that I find in the local mitumba’s (flea markets), rather than going with the current fiction trends. That being said, I do also haul lots of books back from the UK when I visit in the summer. I enjoy reading widely and out of my comfort zone as well as for sheer pleasure. A few books that I have loved this past year and really stand out are Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie which I’m sure will be remembered as one of the finest novels of the decade, The Stolen Girl by Renita D’Silva (also published by Bookouture) which insightfully and sensitively potrays exile, deception and bulimia and Ghostwritten by David Mitchell which I found nothing short of astonishing.