Friday, 16 May 2014

The barefoot queen, Ildefonso Falcones

It is 1748. A black woman leaves a ship in Sevilla, Spain. She used to be a slave at a tobacco plantation on Cuba, but her master died at sea and now she is free. There is one problem, she has no idea what she can do with that freedom. Without work, money or any knowledge of the foreign country she now is, her freedom is of little use to her.

Caridad only has two things, a voice to sing with and a knowledge of tobacco. The gypsy Melchor finds her and takes her to his family. In her singing he recognizes her pain and her tobacco knowledge he can use. He is, like so many gypsies, involved in smuggling tobacco.

Melchors family are Vega’s, a group of proud gypsies who do not bow to the laws of the Spanish king or the Church. They are gypsies and they are free. There is also a group of gypsies who do follow the rules of the civilians and there is no love lost between these two groups.

Caridad becomes friends with Melchor’s granddaughter Melagros. Melagros is in love with gypsy Pedro Garcia, who belongs to one of the gypsy families who forget their own way of living.

In 1749 there is a decree from the king that all gypsies must be arrested. Men and women are brought to different prisons. The goal was to break the gypsies and to get rid of them for good.

Melagros’ mother, Ana, keeps her dignity and her pride as a gypsy, despite the fact she will be in prison for five years. They cannot break her and she keeps fighting for what she feels is important.

In the five years that follow, Melagros, Melchor and Caridad are separated from eachother. Melchor and Caridad go to Madrid, but here Melchor has to flee and Caridad ends up in prison. Melagros escapes the mass-arrests, and marries Pedro Garcia. She becomes a dancer and singer in a theater in Madrid, but then she realizes her husband is a vile man.

The barefoot Queen is a rich tale of friendship, revenge, love, music, pride and freedom.
Ildefonso Falcones, who previously wrote Cathedral of the sea, does not spare his characters anything, often you think the situation cannot get worse, but it always can. Especially when the characters are separated from each other their circumstances are horrible and almost without hope. Only when they find each other again, their luck also changes. Ana is released from prison, Caridad finds her freedom and even love and Melchor gets his revenge.

The barefoot Queen is an amazing read, it is over 700 pages, but it does not bore for a moment. And when you read it, you also get to know the gypsy-community, you understand how the smuggling of tobacco worked, you learn about the situation in the theatres of Madrid and you feel the music the gypsies and the slaves make in your bones. Because they sing until they taste blood.

Original Spanish title: La reina descalza
Published in 2013
An English translation will be available in August 14 2014.

3 comments:

  1. Talk about a beautiful book cover. And what a plot! I can see where you'd need 700 pages to tell this story. This isn't an author I've read before, but I think I might take a crack at him this summer. Thanks for the great review!

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    Replies
    1. I can also really recommend Cathedral of the Sea by the same author. That book is set in 14th century Barcelona. An amazing read!

      KInd regards,

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    2. Good to know! Thanks for the recommendation. I'm always on the lookout for good reads...and good authors.

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