Caridad is an African slave, forced to work on a tobacco plantation in Cuba for many years. She is unexpectedly freed when her master dies while she is accompanying him to Spain, but ‘freedom,’ it turns out, is relative, when she is dumped onto a foreign shore, penniless and ill-equipped to survive.
By pure luck, she is, after some horrible misadventures, taken in by the gypsy community. She forms a bond with the man who takes her in, Melchor, and becomes fast friends with his granddaughter, Milagros.
However, both bonds will be strained and torn by the turbulence of the world they live in.
The gypsy community is both persecuted by the government and divided within itself. The gypsies live by their own laws, and too often those ‘laws’ are a dizzying swirl of old grudges and vicious vendettas. Life also isn’t easy for any woman in 18th-century Spain, where husbands and patriarchs assume their word is law.
The novel follows both women through the events of several years of their lives. It’s rather a long book, but it kept my interest throughout. However, I felt that the third-person omniscient narration style made me feel a little bit distanced – from all the characters, but especially from Caridad. This may have been partly intentional, as, when we meet her, Caridad is seriously emotionally damaged and closed off from even her own feelings, as a defense mechanism. But I felt like I wanted to get closer to her.
The setting here may be the star of the show – 18th-century Spain comes to colorful life through Falcones’ excellent writing. I felt fully convinced of the verity of his depiction of the gypsy community and the research into the historical persecutions that they experienced seemed thorough.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for the opportunity to read this book. As always, my opinions are my own.