Author: Ildefonso Falcones
Type of book: Gypsies, revenge, slavery, freedom, 1748-1755, roundup, Spain, Barcelona, singing, opera, daily struggles, jail, loyalty, friendships, interracial relationship, May/December romance, fighting, smuggling
Year it was published: 2014
A historical epic full of bravery and romance that follows two women as they make a life for themselves in 18th-century Spain.
It's January of 1748. Caridad is a recently freed Cuban slave wondering the streets of Seville. Her master is dead and she has nowhere to go. When her path crosses with Milagros Carmona's-a young, rebellious gypsy-the two women are instantly inseparable. Milagros introduces Caridad to the gypsy community, an exotic fringe society that will soon change her life forever. Over time they each fall in love with men who are fiercely loyal and ready to fight to the death for their rights as a free people. When all gypsies are declared outlaws by royal mandate, life in their community becomes perilous. They soon find themselves in Madrid-a city of passion and dancing, but also a treacherous one full of smugglers and thieves. Caridad and Milagros must help in the gypsy's struggle against society and its laws in order to stay together; it's a dangerous battle that cannot, and will not, be easily won. From the tumultuous bustle of Seville to the theatres of Madrid, The Barefoot Queen is a historical fresco filled with charaters that live, love, suffer, and fight for what they believe.
There are a lot of characters, but the most important ones are Caridad, Milagros and Melchor. Caridad is a slave from Cuba who is also African. In beginning of the story she tends to be frightened and uncertain of her role and sees her destiny as extremely bitter. She has been abused and raped multiple times. She is also extremely talented with tobacco leaves and is loyal to those who care for her. She is also numb to all sorts of emotions. Milagros is Melchor's granddaughter, a beautiful and talented gypsy young girl who is sensual, headstrong and wants to do the best she can for others. She also has desires towards a forbidden man. Melchor is probably one of the most interesting and likable characters that I've encountered. He definitely defies the stereotype of being old and is known as El Galeote. He is a smuggler, tends to have nine lives and can survive just about anything. He is also very proud and never forgives wrongs.
There is beauty in ugliness
The story is in third person narrative, told primarily from Caridad's, Milagros's, and Melchor's points of view. Some other characters such as Pedro Garcia or Celeste also come in, but they only have brief point of views before disappearing. I am being honest in saying that it took me awhile to get into the story because I know next to nothing about Spain in 1700s, and the author gives a great detail of attention to the scenery and panorama of that time. I also enjoyed learning about the gypsies and was pleasantly surprised to be rooting for a romance that I never thought I'd root for. Almost towards the end the pacing of the plot speeds up and then slows down once more. It's a bittersweet book and it doesn't shy away from the ugliness of those living on the fringes of society. I also loved the slow developing romance between the two characters.
(From the book)
Ildefonso Falcones is a lawyer and internationally bestselling and award-winning author of Cathedral of the Sea, and The Hand of Fatima. With more than seven million copies sold, his previous work has been translated into more than forty languages worldwide. He lives in Barceloa with his family.
I regret that I didn't start reading the book sooner. While the size does look a bit overwhelming, and it did take me a bit to get into the story, but once the reader gets into the story, this is a experience that I don't think many will regret. Previously I've read some reviews about this book and there were complaints about the suffering of women in the novel, and that it's a bit dark. I do admit that these complaints do have value and they are true. At the same time, this novel is historical fiction, and the author just happened to be a little more true to the history by portraying the women the way he did. The women are far from being weak characters, but they are at the mercy of men and of society as well as various mores, which makes their destinies and lives sadder than they have to be.
This is for Blogging for Books
4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)