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A story of SPAIN that many would rather forget

29th April 2024

Stolen Lives by Joyce Yarrow – a story of Spain that many would rather forget.

A story of SPAIN that many would rather forget

The Stolen Lives of the title are firstly those of a great many Spanish babies who were born to ‘unworthy’ women in a series of birthing clinics across Spain during the Spanish Civil War and into the decades that followed. Mothers were anaesthetised during labour, the babies were then taken away at birth, and the mother was told her baby had died and had been christened then quickly buried before she came round from the anaesthetic. In fact the babies were either sold to childless families or given as favours to the high and mighty amongst Franco’s supporters. Their mothers never saw them again. Secondly, The Stolen Lives refers to those from the left of politics who simply ‘disappeared’ under Franco’s rule. Their only ‘crime’ was to oppose the government. Many hundreds of mass graves have now been discovered.

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There are active movements in Spain to attempt to reunite stolen children with their birth mothers (but many mothers have now passed on…) and to identify the bodies discovered in the graves. All this is by way of background to Joyce Yarrow’s excellent new novel, Stolen Lives.

Alienor Crespo, the Seattle journalist now living in Spain (and the hero of Joyce’s last book – Zahara and the Lost Books of Light) is once again plunged into mystery and danger. Her great uncle was one of the disappeared whose whereabouts have never been discovered. She knows some who suspect their babies were stolen at birth. She sets out – not welcomed by those with vested interests – to discover the facts and help people, as necessary, to find closure. She is greatly aided in her endeavours by her powers of second sight (called Vijitaswhich enable her to travel back in time into the minds of her forbears. Her family were originally Jews from Rhodes who escaped the Nazi invasion by fleeing to North Africa and then on to Spain (with some heading for Seattle). Franco was not welcoming and one little girl, Lea, was sent on to Russia for her safety. Life there was not as she, or her godfather, had expected. She grew into a KGB agent before returning to Spain. A crate of gold coins from a bullion train had been ‘liberated’ by Lea’s godfather and hidden somewhere in Southern Spain. In her Vijitas Alienor, working with Lea, finds clues as to exactly where they may be.

Back in the present day, things are getting increasingly dangerous. KGB officers are tracking Alienor in the belief she can lead them to the gold. An exciting hike through the mountains with Lea ensues… Lea is also pretty certain that the child she had when she returned from Moscow is one of the ones that was stolen. Again with the help of Alienor’s Vijitas, she manages to track down her daughter with unexpected consequences.

Stolen Lives is a good story well told. I found Alienor’s Vijitas to be an interesting device in carrying the story forward. I think they work, but I can imagine some who may find them a little strange.

Tony for the TripFiction team

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