Review: The Hand of Fatima

Posted 18 August, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 6 Comments

The Hand of Fatima
By: Ildefonso Falcones
Format/Source: Mass bound paperback; my purchase

1564, Granada. The Moors have unsuccessfully tried to rise up against their Christian oppressors and the town has been painted with the blood of their victims. Hernando, a young Arab with a Christian father, is despised by the townsfolk and by his own step-father for his ‘tainted’ heritage and is banished to live in the stables. Hernando finds comfort in his affinity with the horses and becomes an expert muleteer. News of his special touch reaches the King of the Moors and he is appointed to fight the Christian troops sent by the Spanish King Philip II. There he meets Fatima, a young girl with black eyes who will become the love of his life. But his step-father cruelly marries her instead and forces Hernando into slavery. With the help of his Christian friends, he hatches a grand plan to reconcile the two warring faiths – and the two halves of his identity…

I finally got around to reading this book! It had been sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read, for a few years now. (loved Cathedral of the Sea and waited forever for this novel to be translated and available)..I suppose I kept putting it off in part because it doesn’t look like his third novel is going to be translated any time soon (Edit: Correction), plus this book is massive (over 900+ pages long…in mass bound paperback O_o It’s so big that it actually weighs down my book bag; everything else is seemingly lighter than it). In the end I decided to read it, particularly during my subway rides to and from class as it seemed like the best time to read it.

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

Okay, so I think the novel does a good job in protraying the period with all of its difficulties; it really feels like the reader has been transported to medieval Spain, complete with the intolerance between cultures and religions and the conservative practices. What’s especially interesting about this novel is that it doesn’t feel very Spanish either; granted, any notion of national identity and the concept of Spain as a nation-state did not exist at this time but other than a few names and places mentioned, it doesn’t feel like you’re reading a book set in the geographical region either. It’s a very curious experience.

As for the story itself, it moves exceedingly slowly; I really felt that the story could have been condensed, details of his life left to the larger events than the day to day dread. Hernando’s journey was reminiscent of Arnau from Cathedral of the Sea; lots of hardship, lots of crappy things happening to him back-to-back. I understand that life was very difficult back in the medieval period, but Hernando just could not catch a break, and the fact that he was the product of both religious cultures–to varying degrees though–just made life even worse for him. He is never one or the other, and the people around him expect him to choose sides, but the poor guy just wants to do what’s right, and often what’s compassionate, for the fellow person next to him, but ideologies and expectations continue to plague him. I felt really bad for him as people whom he love also turn away to varying degree…The book is hard to read not only because it’s dense, but because it’s such a downer.

Overall, The Hand of Fatima was a rather disappointing and exhausting read; I was very close to giving up on this book but I just wanted to know whether Hernando and the people in his lives were going to end up marginally okay so in the end I ended up skimming the latter half. I do commend the author for really paying attention to the detail of medieval southern Spain and all of its social, cultural, and political structures and workings, but it’s an exhausting read and there’s not much to keep the reader hanging on throughout so it got pretty dry, boring, and in the end quite tiring.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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6 Responses to “Review: The Hand of Fatima”

    • Yay for translated works! I’m always on the lookout for more from Spanish selection. I’d recommend picking up Falcones’ The Cathedral of the Sea if you’re looking for historical fiction set in medieval Spain; I think he does do a good job with presenting a sense of the period complete with historical events. It’s just that with The Cathedral of the Sea I got to know the characters more and connected with them and the historical detail didn’t get in the way of storytelling, I think (plus, it’s some 200 pages shorter than The Hand of Fatima, if I recall correctly xP)

  1. The Hand of Fatima looks like my type of read so I’m going to check it out soon. Hope I’ll find it much better than you did, though.

    Based on personal experience, translated editions make a book more lengthy and tedious as the cultural factor of each word has to be considered by the translator. For instance, I read Dr. Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere in both Filipino and English and the English version made it so boring and dry! Of course, I’m only basing this thought on this one experience so I could be completely wrong. 🙂

    • I hope you enjoy it more than I did! 🙂 I enjoyed Falcones’ first novel The Cathedral of the Sea but with this novel I think the historical detail just bogged down the storytelling (and this is coming from a history student! lol).

      That’s cool that you read Noli Me Tangere in both Tagalog and English! I’ve only read it in English but rather enjoyed it (don’t think I ever got around to posting my thoughts here though). Perhaps we have a copy of the book in Tagalog around here somewhere…But I agree, there’s a lot of factors going in to translation. Good translators are able to keep the story intact and the reading experience fluid, but there’s still a lot that is lost in the process. It’s a fascinating process though! 🙂

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