Novel set in Victorian Birmingham
Spanish Crossings by John Simmons, novel set in London. Guest review by Isobel Blackthorn
9th July 2018
Spanish Crossings by John Simmons, novel set in London.
When it comes to travel fiction, the title ‘Spanish Crossings’ may mislead some readers, as the novel is set predominantly in London before, during and after the Second World War. A prologue set in Spain foreshadows a life, the main narrative in a sense a eulogy, opening a window on heartache and immeasurable suffering, but also on resilience, survival and strength.
Meek and mild legal secretary, Lorna is thrust into unfamiliar territory when she’s put in charge of administering 4,000 refugee children from Bilbao after the German bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. Lorna visits the camp where the children are held before they are relocated, and meets and befriends Pepe, a fifteen-year old refugee. She agrees to take him under her wing. What unfolds is a slow flowering as Lorna allows Pepe, his passion and his love for her into her life. Through his eyes, she learns of Spain and Spanish culture, of politics, struggle and resistance.
Spanish Crossings is sensitively told, restrained, at times even dispassionate, the narrator careful not to overwhelm. It’s a voice commensurate with Lorna’s cautious nature. Spanish Crossings is on one level a coming of age story of a woman in her twenties crippled by a restrictive upbringing.
For all the heavy content of war, Spanish Crossings is a light read; the pages turn quickly. Evocative descriptions of wartime London season the narrative, bringing to life an almost cinematic sense of place. The values, the customs, the people, the buildings, the buses, the trains are all brought to life on the page.
Perhaps everyone should read a book such as this, for its detailed account of a single war crime alone, for in Spanish Crossings the reader is presented through fiction with history afresh. Simmons is making the moral point that the Spanish Civil War was a practice run for what was to come, Germany and Italy helping General Franco suppress democracy (Republicanism) while Britain and France sat back and watched. The consequences, for the Spanish, were dire. Perhaps also today, it is important to remember those earlier waves of refugees seeking sanctuary from war. Spanish Crossings is novel to remind ourselves of our humanity.
Isobel Blackthorn for the TripFiction Team
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