Lofty pronouncements on heroism and sometimes clumsy narrative ploys detract from this otherwise delightful coming-of-age novel. Set in the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War, Delibes's ( The Hedge ) plot chronicles the shifting fortunes of the De la Lastra family, which finds itself divided by politics. Much of the story is seen through the eyes of young Gervasio, who dreams of becoming a military hero. While Gervasio enlists in the Navy in order to fight the Communists, his father, a naturopathic doctor, is imprisoned for more liberal beliefs. The surrealistic horror of war, which directly touches every member of the family, is lightened by farcical domestic dramas. Gervasio's haughty sister has her marriage to a homosexual annulled, only to find herself involved with a Fascist. Gervasio's nurse, who tries to turn him against his family, outsmarts herself and is dismissed. As Gervasio daily comes closer and closer to battle, he faces his own conservatism, and finally must answer the question posed by Delibes: Which side of this bloody confrontation is indeed just? (Sept.)
Delibes's wonderful novel on the Spanish Civil War will come as a surprise to the average American reader. If we think of that war at all, it is usually in images remembered from Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls or some of Auden's poems. Indeed, we are generally unfamiliar with the work of most Spanish novelists--we are, it seems, more comfortable with the magic realism of Latin America than the traditional modernism of many Spanish novelists. This best-selling novel by Delibes, acclaimed by many as Spain's best living writer, serves as a fine introduction to that style. The author presents a compelling, superbly executed portrait of a family caught up in the violent disruptions of the war. An important novel by a modern master who late in his career has given us his vision of a tragic period in Spanish history.-- Vincent D. Balitas, Allentown Coll., Center Valley, Pa.