This very readable saga follows a similar formula to Hislop's previous novel 'The Island' - split but interlinked time frames with family connections running throughout. She's clearly done plenty of historical research, but the thing she evokes best of all is the sheer absorption and release of flamenco dancing. Olé!
The third in the trilogy, after 'Driving over lemons' and 'A parrot in the pepper tree', this book is like catching up with an old friend's exploits in the rural idyll of the Alpujarras in Andalucia. I'm envious not only of the setting, but of the author's capacity for depicting his characters with affection and humour, and his accessible 'draw up a chair and have a chat' style is just what I'm aiming for in my own writing.
Reading this novel is like losing yourself in a well-constructed symphony, but you don't have to be a musician to enjoy it, as the story of longing, love, loss is universal. From the faithfully depicted settings of Vienna and Venice to the believable characters, it's an absorbing read with the most beautiful final paragraph.
This is a gripping account of Thubron's lone journey by car across the western reaches of the then Soviet Union, grounded in the unique landscape but brought to life by 'explosive moments of human exchange'. A true traveller, his interaction with the locals is what really counts, and he draws an arresting contrast between the official line fed to visitors and his perception of real life below the surface, as gleaned through chance encounters. For the would-be travel-writer he also identifies two of the fundamentals of the genre, the 'fresh eyes perspective' and the importance of timely field notes: 'I gazed at all this with the passion of a newcomer, and scribbled it in a diary before I should forget the feel of ordinary, important things.'