Review: The Sadness of the Samurai

Posted 14 August, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

The Sadness of the Samurai
By: Victor del Arbol
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase

When Isabel, a Spanish aristocrat living in the pro-Nazi Spain of 1941, becomes involved in a plot to kill her Fascist husband, she finds herself betrayed by her mysterious lover. The effects of her betrayal play out in a violent struggle for power in both family and government over three generations, intertwining her story with that of a young lawyer named Maria forty years later. During the attempted Fascist coup of 1981, Maria is accused of plotting the prison escape of a man she successfully prosecuted for murder. As Maria’s and Isabel’s narratives unfold they encircle each other, creating a page-turning literary thriller firmly rooted in history.

I stumbled across this book during one of my many searches across GoodReads for books set in Spain or written by a Spanish author. The title of the novel was a curious one but the premise sounded very interesting and promised some grand drama. I got it some time ago for my eReader but only got around to reading it now. I was initially planning on reading it parts at a time while I re-read a few other novels, but after a few chapters, I was wholly sucked into the story 😛

This book is part of the Everything Espana Reading Challenge 2014 that I am participating in.

This novel is fascinating because it’s so many different genres in one go: part historical fiction, part family drama, part political thriller, and part crime mystery. The way in which the novel was set up–going back and forth between the 1940s and the early 1980s–really adds to that sense of mystery and how all of the storylines connect; it really had me guessing as to who was who, who survived, how was this person related to that person, etc. It seems a little disjointed at first but over the course of the novel, all of the connections and events start making sense.

This novel, like Spanish novels with a historical fiction vein to it, reinforces how the Spanish Civil War really messed up a lot of people and tore families apart. All of the characters that populate this novel were affected by the civil war, and if not by the civil war, then by the ramnifications of it and the resulting Franco regime. The reader can feel the desolation and the acrid atmosphere present in both time periods represented and there’s a sense of shadiness running throughout the novel with the secret police rampant and ever-present, regardless of what regime is operating at the time. The ugly politics is also felt throughout, informing the mystery and the suspense especially in the 1980s storyline.

The theme that the innocent must also suffer the crimes of the guilty plays a major role in the story and informs a lot of the motivations of some of the characters. It’s a thoroughly messed up notion, and yet the actions made during the civil war led these characters to believe that the notion is true. Additionally, most of the characters in this novel are still living in the past, another perpetual theme that runs througout the novel, and this sad reality drags all the other characters–especially those who were born after the civil war–down with them. The result is quite an extensive blood bath.

I will also note that this novel is quite brutal; almost all of the men in this novel are disgusting and sick in the head to some degree or another. There’s quite a bit of violence in this story, many hearsay but some actually occurs on the page, and much of it towards women =x

The writing was all right, though sometimes it would direct its narration directly to the reader, which I thought was a little random. The dialogue did start getting rather lengthy towards the end; not preachy exactly, but you can feel that the character is being used to convey an idea through a lengthy monologue.

Overall, despite of some of the writing and the amount of violence involved or alluded to, the novel kept me fairly engrossed with the mystery and the character drama. The title of this novel seems like an odd choice, but it does inform the overall atmosphere of the novel and does in fact play a role in some way. The Sadness of the Samurai is by no means a happy novel; in fact it’s a tragedy for almost all of the characters involved. You have to be in a particular mood to read this title.

Rating: ★★★½☆

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