Author: Victor del  Arbol

Publisher: Other Press

ISBN: 978-1590518458

A Sensational Read
Whew, what a read!

There is a saying “Truth is stranger than fiction.” This book, based on a true story, exemplifies the above adage.The text, spread out over three generations is a powerhouse of emotion, documenting the extreme physical and mental hardship experienced by the principal characters because of their basic will to survive in the steppes of Siberia during the early thirties. The narrative is mesmerizing, to say the least. One gets carried away by it, one lives with them as they play out their thoughts and feelings according to their interests, instincts and values.

My personal reaction, even before I had completed the book was that it must be a true story. It is impossible to recount such intricate emotional complexity otherwise. And going by the epilogue to this book, how right I was! At the end of the narrative, I was worn out, enervated by the physical sensations that swelled up, occasioned by the kind of evil that this kind of sustained suffering can evoke.

The text of this book also has an unusual format. Each chapter provides a snapshot in time, they alternate between Moscow in the thirties, and Barcelona in the early twenty first century.  This uncertainty of what happened next is exploited in a wily fashion to hold the reader’s interest, making the book, a real page turner. The reader’s curiosity as to what happened next, becomes overwhelming,  even though one is physically tired out by the sequence of events and the multitudinous characters that play their assigned roles.

Elias Gil is a young engineering student in Moscow during the early thirties.. By a quirk of Fate, he is sent to Stalin’s Siberia, where he comes across a man called Igor Stern, among others. Igor is hell bent on destroying Elias.This he does by staking claim to Elias’ most treasured possessions, going by the law of the jungle, viz,”Might is Right”.

On another timeline in 2002, Elias’ only son, Gonzalo, a practising lawyer, is investigating his sister Laura’s suicide. A host of characters, including a child prostitution racket is built around Elias and Gonzalo within these two timelines. There are also the backdrop of 1930’s Siberia, World War 2, General Franco’s Spain and of course, Barcelona in the early 2000’s. Both Elias and Igor manage to escape from Siberia. But they are connected by a strange umbilical cord which manifests at unlikely moments in extremely destructive ways. I would like to leave it at that, to avoid making a “spoiler”.

I have seldom read a book that affected me at such a visceral level.This is not your concocted thriller with fabricated, larger-than-life  characters. The characters we meet in this book, come alive in all their vulnerability with both positive and negative traits.

This is a truly a power packed book that will not fail to stir the reader to the core.

Warmly recommended with a note of caution for the squeamish.