Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ildefonso Falcones - The Hand of Fatima

Snared between two cultures and two loves, one man is forced to choose...
1564, the Kingdom of Granada. After years of Christian oppression, the Moors take arms and daub the white houses of Sierra Nevada with the blood of their victims.
Amidst the conflict is young Hernando , the son of an Arab woman and the Christian priest who raped her. He is despised and regularly beaten by his own step-father for his 'tainted' heritage.
Fuelled with the love of the beautiful Fatima, Hernando hatches a plan to unite the two warring faiths - and the two halves of his identity...

Comment: This is another book I borrowed from a friend who likes historical fiction a lot. She knows I like many genres so she suggested this title which presents the Muslim/Christan fights and persecutions in Spain, in the 16th and 17th centuries.

This is the story of Hernando, he's a Muslim whose father was a Christian priest who raped his mother. The setting is Spain, late 16th century and around the time the king gave the order to expel all Muslims from the country. Hernando is a young boy when the book starts and we follow his life and all the challenges that he must overcome just by being in the middle of two religions. Hernando has many good moments, but also tremendous bad times that affect himself and those he swears to protect.
Always with the utopic goal of uniting two religious under the same God, Hernando lives the live of a Muslim, tries to honor the Christian ruling of the time and is living a hard life but always keeping the faith of his ancestors.

I liked this story. The book is huge, more than 900 pages which means a lot of detail.
The most obvious thing that pops up is the amount of detail the author inserted in this story. His research was deep and exhaustive and shows the amount of time he certainly dedicated to setting up the writing of this book, plus the time to actually write it.
This effort alone should be recognized, but the truth is, his work is well structured as well.

This book is a work of fiction for the most part. But there are countless historical facts as the basis for this novel and the characters show how it was to live in those times and even more, how apart the faith was for the different religions.
Something that nowadays still happens, which only shows to prove that no matter how long time passes by, things et in stone take a long time to change, to improve, to be understood.

The fictional part of the story is divided into four parts, focusing on how Hernando lives his live honoring his Muslim faith, how he falls in love and tries to live respecting that, how he wants to honor his faith and those of his peers and finally the wishes of God, which he believes everyone should know it's the same for Muslims and Christians.
Hernando is the key character in this book and his actions, his faith, his behavior and attempt of honoring those he respects and cares about shape this book and start off many of the decisive action scenes which will be the starting point of many things.

Many scenes are hard to accept. There wasn't the acceptance of nowadays - which is still so low and xenophobic - and the killing of people based on faith alone is a hard hit against humanity. But in the end people make choices and in a time where here wasn't no newspapers spreading the word, where there wasn't no Internet showing things second by second, fear and prejudice and power plays were easier to hide and to execute. Although part of History, some things, killing children, condemning people to death, making people do despicable things, are hard to swallow. This book doesn't hide from that and I confess some parts were hard to read about. Still, I don't think it was the most graphic book I've read pertaining historical fiction.

The fictional parts about Hernando also have happy times. In the end, all people everywhere want the same things, happiness, a good life for their children, the chance to live a live they can be proud of...Hernando has all this, as he has awful experiences to deal with, to live through. His character is who gets us, the reader, closer to what reality must have been for so many nameless people from so long ago. But that reality is here shown in all its harsh details.
Hernando ends up with a HEA but in these types of books HEAs aren't sugary and pink like in other books. His path to a quieter life had its highs and it's lows and some of the bad things made me sad and shed a tear here and there. I think this is a book to read with a heavy heart.

The writing is easy, the story flows despite its length but I admit there are many pages with descriptions and political settings that I didn't care much about and I didn't pay the attention is should. But 900 pages is a lot so despite most of the information  remains, there's a lot of it that just doesn't grab you the same way. Some parts felt boring, yes.

Still, despite the flaws and the boring parts, I wished Hernando's HEA were better. There's one thing he wants throughout the whole book and when he has finally the time to live it, life isn't as easy as that. It felt almost bittersweet. There are also some misunderstandings that affect some happenings which I get from plot needs, but it's annoying to see it. In real life this happens too, and it certainly happening int he 16th century as well, but in fiction we also want things to happen better.

This historical fiction story is rich in details, scenes and History. It's a lesson so obvious, why don't we learn from the mistakes of yesterday, but here it it, human flaws and behavior. Even seeing how wrong we can be, we still don't respect others. We all want to be the ones who know best, who should be entitled to know more, to have more power over others. How sad, how contemporary still.
Grade: 7/10

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