In 2011, the Catholic Church in Spain was hit by the scandal of niños robados (stolen babies). It was revealed that in Franco’s Spain just after the Spanish Civil War, from 1939, many poor women on the losing Republican side went into hospitals to give birth, and were told that their babies had been stillborn, or had mysteriously died soon after birth. In fact, children had been sold to families who were rich enough to pay, and who were loyal to the new regime.
Many of Spain’s public services, such as health, welfare and social services were run by the Church, with nuns working as nurses. Some of those involved probably thought they were making the right decision for the children of parents who were undesirable on religious and political grounds, and poor families, but certainly large amounts of money were also an incentive, and the practice continued long after Franco’s death in 1976 and a gradual return to more democratic government, into the 1990s.
One of the threads interwoven in this novel is about a woman involved in the scandal, and it was a welcome surprise to me to find such a political edge in a popular novel marketed as a summer read. Julia’s family supported the defeated Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, and in 1939, they are terrified for the future of their three daughters – a good marriage or a convent seem to be the only options, and her parents decide Julia should become a nun. As a nun, she is sent to work in a maternity hospital.
There is also a modern day story – Ruby has returned to her family home following her parents’ death in a car crash. Sorting through their belongings and papers, she learns that they are not her birth parents. At the same time, she meets an attractive Spanish man – she tries to resist his charms but this strand of the novel is the most predictably romantic part.
This novel is an absorbing page turner – I raced through more than 500 pages wanting to know what happened next to both Julia and Ruby. Rosanna Ley has also written romantic suspense under a different pen name, and she holds the reader’s attention really well. Julia’s story is more unusual for the genre, though sadly the tale of children taken away from their real parents for political reasons isn’t even unique to Spain (I thought of Argentina in the 1970s).
If you like well written family sagas with historical settings and/or settings in different times and places, this is worth a look. I am looking forward to reading Ley’s first novel, The Villa.
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