There Your Heart Lies by Mary Gordon

There Your Heart Lies

Mary Gordon

There Your Heart Lies is a call to arms—a call to speak honestly about evil when it is before us, and equally about goodness—and will linger with its readers.

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From the award-winning novelist Mary Gordon, here is a book whose twentieth-century wisdom can help us understand the difficulties we face in the twenty-first: There Your Heart Lies is a deeply moving novel about an American woman’s experiences during the Spanish Civil War, the lessons she learned, and how her story will shape her granddaughter’s path.

Marian cut herself off from her wealthy, conservative Irish Catholic family when she volunteered during the Spanish Civil War—an experience she has always kept to herself. Now in her nineties, she shares her Rhode Island cottage with her granddaughter Amelia, a young woman of good heart but only a vague notion of life’s purpose. Their daily existence is intertwined with Marian’s secret past: the blow to her youthful idealism when she witnessed the brutalities on both sides of Franco’s war and the romance that left her trapped in Spain in perilous circumstances for nearly a decade. When Marian is diagnosed with cancer, she finally speaks about what happened to her during those years—personal and ethical challenges nearly unthinkable to Amelia’s millennial generation, as well as the unexpected gifts of true love and true friendship.

Marian’s story compels Amelia to make her own journey to Spain, to reconcile her grandmother’s past with her own uncertain future. With their exquisite female bond at its core, this novel, which explores how character is forged in a particular moment in history and passed down through the generations, is especially relevant in our own time. It is a call to arms—a call to speak honestly about evil when it is before us, and to speak equally about goodness.

Advance Galley Reviews

A good book with excellent plot line and beautiful characters.

Unfortunately my ARC expired before I could get to it! But I'm intrigued by this book & expect I will be buying it to get the chance to experience it!

Enjoyed this book. Interesting read of history about Spanish Civil War. Intense at times. The back and forth through time was done well with good transitions and helped develop the story and what the characters went through. Hard book to put down. Would recommend reading.

There are several books with this format of jumping back and forth in years from war time to many years later in peace and the U.S., but most of the ones I've read have focused on WWII, and it was refreshing to have a novel that tackled the Spanish Civil War in this way, telling the story of that war through the eyes of an outsider. Much of the idea space in the novel is taken up with the tension between fascism on one side and communism or anarchy on the other, in the context of the war, and the corresponding order vs natural chaos and fluidity in everyday life in all other contexts. Those who favor fascism also favor Catholicism in the story, in an obvious way since Franco and the Church were aligned, but also in a most subtle, intrinsic way, in their tendency toward blind hierarchy, order, and rules. Gordon didn't shy away from showing the atrocities committed by both sides during the war, the madness that is the only way to explain anything, but also the reflection on human nature that would allow such actions. The key questions that are asked about our human need for order and what that leads to are intriguing, and Gordon allows for nuanced answers. There is, for instance, one good Catholic man in the story, an exception that proves the rule and provides at least a little complication. Marian, the main character whose youth is spent in Spain and old age in Rhode Island, is compelling as a character, and there are a few other winning characters in her story, but I still haven't made my mind up about Amelia, her granddaughter -- I'm not sure she comes through clearly in the novel as anything but well-meaning but naive. Mostly I just felt that her ending was rushed and she didn't have time to prove to me as a reader that she could think things through any more clearly after her adventure than before it. Her story is strangely rushed. All in all, it's good, thought-provoking material that brings a small slice of the Spanish Civil War to life. I got a free copy to review from First to Read.

Their Your Heart Lies by Mary Gordon is another book that takes what is by now a very familiar approach - two time periods and two women. The broader context of the past is a history of Spanish civil war. I wish the book had stayed with the story from the 1930s such that as a reader, I lived it rather than a past and present that tells the story. That would make for a much more compelling book set against this turbulent history. Read my complete review at Reviewed for Penguin First to Read program.

Marian never really felt like she fit with the rest of her family, with the exception of her brother, Johnny, who she felt was truly a kindred spirit. And after his tragic death, she broke ties with them and headed to Europe to volunteer during the Spanish Civil War. Now in her nineties, Marian relays her experiences to her granddaughter, Amelia, telling a story that spans two continents and over seven decades. Having been tested by family, friends, strangers, and circumstances, Marian's story challenges notions of what it means to be a woman, a sister, a daughter, a mother, and a moral person in the face of adversity. If you enjoy historical fiction and character studies, then this is a book you would be likely to enjoy. Mary Gordon weaves a tale that keeps you turning the pages, watching and waiting to see what happens next in Marian's journey. Her story is a reflection of an eventful life lived, one of a woman who did the best she could despite the circumstances in which she found herself.

There Your Heart Lies is a story that raises more questions than it answers. Author Mary Gordon is challenging her readers to think more deeply about loss of faith and faith in spite of religion. This is the story of Marian Taylor, a daughter of privilege who grew up in a rigidly Catholic family, a family with no heart, compassion, or space for her brother Johnny. When Johnny’s homosexuality was discovered the family had him arrested and institutionalized where shock therapy and drugs would “cure” him by erasing him. He killed himself. Marian rejected her family, married Johnny’s lover Russell, and headed with him to work to aid the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. Internecine battles between the Communists, Anarchists, and the Russians supporting the government disillusion them, though Marian stays on after Russell leaves. It is there she finds love and friendship, including forming a strong friendship with Isabel and Tomás. Isabel hates the church for its siding with the rich before and during the war, for its bloodlust and murderous violence against the revolution. Tomás is a priest who takes a shocking action to avoid complicity in the repression of the church. The story alternates between Marian in Spain, during and after the war and 92 year old Marian in Rhode Island with her granddaughter Amelia who is asking her to tell the story of her life and who makes a pilgrimage, of sorts, to Spain in her grandmother’s footsteps. I enjoyed There Your Heart Lies because it provokes a lot of questions. However, several of the characters were caricatures. The Taylor family, father and brother Vincent have no complexity, neither does Pilar nor Ignacio. They are flatly fanatical, unsympathetic and awful people, made awful by their faith. This is a story as old as religion itself. I think Parker Molloy said it best, “people who claim that their bigotry is shaped by their religious beliefs are actually shaping their religious beliefs through their existing, prejudiced worldview.” But, then there is Tomás who is a saint in the sense of San Manuel Bueno, Mártir, that conflicted, doubting priest who Miguel de Unamuno used to realize and popularize his ideas in Del sentimiento trágico de la vida (The Tragic Sense of Life). His struggle complicates the wholesale condemnation of Catholicism. She is unflinching in showing that ideology functions like faith, that the Communists and Anarchists find themselves using their ideology with as much inhumanity as the Fascists and the Catholics. Marian is non-ideological, her devotion is to service, it’s more pragmatic. Is her argument that faith–religious or political–drowns out decency? Tomás has a lot of indecency to counterbalance for one character. The other weakness in the story is that Marian tells her granddaughter about life in Spain and then the rest of her life, her marriage and children and her more recent lover are more or less summed up with a “happily ever after” short shrift, as though happy families are boring. They are not. Those questions of faith and service would continue to be part of life…but we don’t learn about that. The granddaughter, too, seems more a vehicle for Marian’s history to be told. In some ways, her existence is just a way to get us to happily ever after. Nonetheless, this is a story that is going to insist on you thinking, weighing your own values. And that’s always a good thing. I should note that Mary Gordon has long wrestled with Catholicism, most particularly with the role of women in the church. There Your Heart Lies will be released May 9th. I was provided an e-galley by the publisher through First to Read. ????

Mary Gordon created a interesting character study in her novel, "There Your Heart Lies". In it she described the life changing experiences that Marian undergoes, starting from her early years as the daughter of a wealthy, strict, Catholic Rhode Island family and her relationship with her beloved brother Johnny. From there we see Marian disavowing everything she knows to elope with a Jewish doctor to help the Communist rebels fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Her experiences in Spain continue to shape her views as she finds love again and yet again, in Spain and back again in Rhode Island. Although Gordon creates an interesting character in Marian and her granddaughter Amelia, and their experiences do make for a satisfactory read, it was just that. This is a story about a particular woman's opinions, experiences, and moral judgements. I did not feel the "call to arms" that makes for a long lasting impact.

There Your Heart Lies was a compelling read. Marian's decision to leave a sheltered life as the daughter of exremely devout, ultra wealthy and conservative parents after the death of her brother was rashly made. Experiencing the death of youthful idealism that one may change the world - through Marian's experiences with her husband in name only and their involvement in the Spanish Civil War, his abandonment of her, her brief and passionate marriage, his death, and birth of their child - is a gruesome, painful journey. To save herself, Marian leaves that past far behind in Spain along with her child who has bonded with the grandmother who absolutely despises Marian. Years pass and that part of Marian's life fade into a brief, horrific, never mentioned memory. In her nineties, Marian's favorite companion is her beloved granddaughter Amelia. Diagnosed with cancer, Marian finally shares her early, traumatic years with Amelia. Amelia who is at loose ends decides to explore Marian's past and find the son Marian left behind. Will this journey set Marian free of her hidden past and help Amelie find her future or will it end in heartbreak for both of them?

An interesting premise, but I found the characters unlikeable and so did not finish reading.

The best parts of the book are those dealing with Marian's past. The story of how she ended up in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and what happened to her while there are fully fleshed out, however the final few chapters of the book suffer when focus switches from Marian to her granddaughter Amelia, and Amelia's lack of understanding of the story Marian tells her that drives her on a whim to go to Spain herself in a fruitless errand that serves no real purpose.

This is another novel connecting the past and present time, taking place in different locations as in so many novels these days. In this case it's 1937 in RI, New York City but mostly in Spain from 1937 - 1946 and 2009 in RI. The older person in these kinds of novels has a story, a secretive past and it's assumed that the younger person who is usually floundering learns something from the past story . I find that I'm tiring of this format. Having said that, I was enlightened to learn some history of the Spanish civil war and I genuinely liked the characters. Marian is from a well to do, staunch Catholic family with influence. Her father has enough influence to have a gay bar raided so her brother Johnny can be arrested and then committed to be "cured". The dire consequences for her beloved brother Johnny motivates 19 year old Marian to leave her family. She doesn't just walk away from them but goes far away to Spain to help provide medical assistance during the Spanish Civil War, as the wife of her brother's lover who is a doctor. Was she rebelling against the Catholicism of her family in working with the communists aiding those that suffered in Spain at the hands of the rich and the church who supported Franco or doing what she thinks will honor and preserve her brother's memory or just defying her father ? Maybe all of these . She experiences the horrors of the war, falls in love and experiences some personal horrors of own. At 92, she's made a life with loyal friends and has the devotion of her granddaughter, Amelia who at 22 can't find who she is. There are definitely some thought provoking themes - the civil war, the role of the church in the war, the stigma surrounding homosexuality, more stringent views than today , family relationships, who people connect to and who your family really is. Even though I liked Marian and Amelia, the connection between the past and present story fell a bit short for me. I'll still give it three stars for the characters and the history I learned. I received an advanced copy of this book from Pantheon Books through Firsttoread.

Mary Gordon's "There Your Heart Lies" is a compelling story of one woman's experience as an American volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, the secrets of her life during that time and immediately thereafter, and the sharing of her life's story with her beloved granddaughter. Moving smoothly from 1930s-40s in Spain to 2009 in Rhode Island, this work of historical fiction is powerfully narrated by Marion and at times less effectively by her granddaughter Amelia. The importance of confronting wrongdoing is central to Marion's character, and her loyalty and commitment to those she loves are strong. Amelia is a devoted and loving granddaughter, and while curious, respects the secrets Marion has kept from the family about her time in Spain and her childhood. Predictably, as Marion ages and her health fails, she agrees to share with Amelia these secrets, and Amelia must decide what to do with this information. This novel tackles important themes of the necessity of confronting evil, family relationships, war and peace, religion, and social class. I am grateful to have received an ARC of "There Your Heart Lies" from the Penguin First to Read program.

I loved this historical fiction about the Spanish Civil War. Most of the books I have read about this era focus on either one of the World Wars, the roaring 20's or the great depression but this book had aspects of all of those things with a main focus on the Spanish Civil War. I also enjoyed that this explored more of the darker themes of the time and was not centered on heroics, romance or a happy ending. It was very true to the time. Gordon told the story of Marian and used her life to shed light on many events and causalities of the time. It was nice that she also made it relevant to today by tiding the story in to today's timeline through the grand daughter. With Marin dying of cancer, her granddaughter realizes she knows next to nothing about her because she was always very private and in Marian telling her her story it helps to make history come alive for her. This is a small hiccup for the reader in the back flashes and retelling but it did not distract from the story too much. Gordon shows the less romantic side of the era from the prejudice of the New York/ New Port elite and the prejudice of the Catholic Church, the authoritative patriarchal overbearing Irish Catholic Ideas in her family, the struggles of homosexuals, suicide, the poor, and how all of this relates to the people of America and the communist rebels, and civilians of Franco's Spain. The same issues that caused Marian's brother to commit suicide, and her father to fire their long term Latino driver and the prejudice all around were not only present in Spain as well but so much bigger it lead to horrible violence and atrocities between the church and wealthy and those rebelling that it lead to Civil War. It was more than rich vs. poor, and the church vs rebels, and Franco vs communist but a fight for freedoms. It was impressive how the story showed the bad side of all involved not just one side. The idea that love could be found even in the worse situations and that it is not always as it seems or lasting is an underlying theme, but so is hope. The book showed that even in the absolute worse cases if you do not give up there is always a way, people willing to help, and a possibility to thrive and achieve your goals and possibly a better future. There is always hope as there is always hate. Excellent read for anyone interested in the Spanish civil war, the era, or historical fiction of any kind.

I hadn't read anything by Mary Gordon for quite some time and I was happy to see that she has written a new novel. This is a wonderful story about Marian and her granddaughter, Amelia. It is told primarily in Marian's voice and alternates between Spain in the late 1930s and Rhode Island in 2009. The writing is beautiful and created a sense of place for me as well as the difficulties of the civil war in Spain. All of the characters are well drawn and are engaging. Thank you to Penguin's First to Read program for providing me with an advanced reading copy

This book was a little bit of a struggle for me at first, but I stuck through until the end. The topic of the Spanish civil war was intriguing and I liked the back and forth between the past and somewhat present between grandmother and granddaughter. I normally enjoy historical fiction, but this book was not one of my favorites.

Historical fiction is my favorite genre and I did enjoy parts of this book, however it was a bit of a let down. Telling the story twice as a narrative and then repeating to Amelia was redundant. I really expected to learn something new as Amelia learned. Ok, not a book I would recommend to my book club.

The closest novel I can compare this book to is Michael Cunningham's "The Hours" in its scope and premise of something urgent telling you, "Yes, do it now, live." The cover, at first, had me convinced that I was going to read something from the '70's, and I wasn't receptive at first. Don't judge a book by its cover (although in this case, if there's a chance, I'd change it). The novel is divided into sections that go back in time as early as the late 1930's to 2009 and follow Marian Therese Taylor during her life in America beginning with her conservative religious family that share neither her views on religion or politics. Her only ally is her brother Johnny, who is hiding his true sexuality from his parents and other brother, and the two try as best they can to hold strong together only to see Johnny succumb to their family's judgment and is institutionalized and dies. Marian blames her family for what became of Johnny and marries Johnny's boyfriend Russell Rabinowitz. The two idealists go Spain to fight politically and work in hospitals there during the war. Having to hide who he is too, the marriage, however fake, takes its toll on Marian and Russell and he goes back to the States. From there, other marriages follow with Ramon Ortiz, a doctor who passes before she gives birth to their child, Ignacio. His parents take her in, but with a mother-in-law who seems to be drugging her and her child growing ever more out of her care, Marian starts to see the same strained conservative lifestyle becoming real again that she tried to leave. During her time there, she struggles to reconcile her lack of maternal instinct and becomes friends, however close or not, with the town doctor Isabel and her brother, a priest named Tomas (whose own stories are heartbreaking and sad). It's after this that Marian finally meets the man she is going to marry for the last time, Theo, and the two plan to marry and go back to the States for good. When we flash forward to 2009, we meet her granddaughter Naomi, daughter of Amelia. Marian now runs a greenhouse at 93, widowed, and fighting for ecological causes with no sign of slowing down. It's only then we discover that she's been diagnosed with cancer, and with Naomi struggling to become an adult, to live for the present, Marian finally answers the questions Naomi has about her life, her past, about its meaning, and that past coincides to the present in ways that make Naomi realize full things about how the past can't be changed, the present really is for living, and the future is unknown. All she can know is her own beliefs, her own moral compass, and what it takes to truly love. Naomi goes in search for Marian's long-lost son Ignacio and finds that the answers never are really that far away, sometimes what's right in front of you is what you need to get the answers you're looking for, or the peace you're looking for, too. I was taken in with this novel and I am sure readers will respond to it. Some objections may come from the repeated views on politics and religion that might scare away a few, but if you're willing to keep reading, you'll get that sense of urgency that I described earlier. Not for everyone, surely, but for readers that enjoyed "The Hours" or another Penguin read, "My Last Lament", and those who enjoy historical fiction, this is reading that is heartbreaking and purpose-filled all at once. You'll want to go out and do something to make the world a better place after you finish the last page.

This book was really difficult to get through. The chapters set in Spain were somewhat engaging, though I would have liked a little more of the history of the Spanish Civil war. The chapters set in the future were tedious. Just ranting and railing against the Catholic Church, constant complaining from Marian about her horrible father and brothers, nonsense about horses, uniforms, etc. A lot of repetition about what happened the past, information that could have been inserted in the other chapters, I found myself skipping paragraphs and even pages that were boring and rambling and added very little to the story. I did finish it but it was definitely a struggle and the ending was unsatisfactory

There Your Heart Lies by Mary Gordon was definitely not my cup of tea. There were parts that were really engaging but most of the time I was just trying to finish the novel. Historical fiction is a genre I normally enjoy, but I feel like there was no plot or growth to the characters.

My thanks to First-To-Read for this digital ARC of THERE YOUR HEART LIES by Mary Gordon. I generally don't go out of my way to choose books classified as "historical fiction" but I was drawn to this story, a telling of the Spanish Civil War through the eyes of a privileged, young American woman, because I was genuinely curious about her point of view. In the case of Marian, she joins the war effort as an escape from her overbearing conservative Catholic family following the tragic death of her brother. The story jumps back and forth from young Marian and her experiences in Spain to old Marian as a grandmother, finally sharing her past with her granddaughter Amelia, a tepid millennial who suddenly wants to know about Marian's life once a diagnosis of terminal cancer is introduced. The first third of the book was quite interesting and then it lost momentum and became repetitive, essentially the same story told in both timelines. There are a great many things to love about this story - the bond between Marian and Amelia is greater than a parent/child bond. The oppressive wealthy family and cruelty visited on the two youngest children (Marian and her beloved brother Johnny) could easily have been a novel in and of itself - the social attitudes towards women and homosexuality in the 1930's were atrocious. However, the story fell flat in several places and defied belief in others. For example, Marian's years under her mother-in-law's roof: How could any rational human being go 7 years before finding out they were being poisoned every day? And it was way too much of a stretch to believe that bland, rudderless Amelia could suddenly jump on a plane, find her way to the small town in Spain where her grandmother had lived and track down the despicable son Marian had left behind. The entire scene was unfulfilling and served only to add a soap-opera ending to a story that didn't need it. In the end I wish this were simply Marian's story from start to finish. The two timelines were unnecessary due to their repetition and also Amelia, an underdeveloped character, ultimately acted as a detractor. I'd have preferred more about Johnny and Russell and Isabel and Tomas, even Helga - all more interesting characters than Amelia. While the pace is slow, the heart of the story is worth the read. This will appeal to anyone who loves historical fiction and also those who have had near-fatal brushes with Catholicism or know someone who has.

If you like historical fiction you will like this book. Back and forth between the Spanish War and 2009. A grand-daughter learning about her grandmothers life and what she learns in the end. I thought the ending was drawn out in some areas but also ended to quickly and neatly, I wish there was more between the grand-daughter and grandmother in the end. But it was a good read...

I received an advanced copy from Penguin's First to Read. Thank you. I found the book to be dense and slow paced. I only gained true interest in the last 40 pages or so. Bummer.

I was interested in this book because I've not read much about the Spanish Civil War, and it started out promising, but by the end I was disappointed. Marian's story and her relationship with Russell was interesting, as was the conflict between the different factions on the side of the Republicans. But, once Russell left the story started to drag. The switch from past to present, and the addition of Amelia was unnecessary, as most of those segments were comprised of Marian rehashing the plot that was presented in the past. There were too many tangents that led nowhere, and I really didn't feel that the characters were well-developed. I really wanted to like this, but just couldn't do it.

I loved this book! I thought the book was well written and I liked how the author went back and forth between Marian's life in the 1930's and her present day life through the storytelling by Marian to her granddaughter Amelia. The author took us through Marian's journey from living in wealthy and very strict Catholic household to her experiences in Spain during the Spanish civil war, which like most of that generation, kept her experiences to herself until Amelia told Marian that she really didn't know her after finding out that Marian was dying of cancer. I feel the sadness that Marian experiences after the suicide of her brother, who she was close with and being disowned by her parents. Just when you think she has found happiness with her husband, a Spanish doctor, who was the father of her child, he dies and she is forced to live with her mother-in-law, who we find out is drugging her. I want to be mad at her for leaving her child behind but she knows that she never felt the love a mother should have for her child. She finally finds happiness when she is "rescued" by Isabel and Tomas and finally finds true love with Amelia's grandfather. My only disappointment was the ending. It left me wanting more of the story. I would definitely recommend this book to my family and friends.

The Spanish Civil War (1936 - 1939) was between democratic and left-leaning Republicans and Franco’s conservative Nationalists. The Nationalists had strong ties to the Catholic Church and the right. Many intellectuals and artists left the United States for Spain to offer their services to the Republicans. This brutal conflict forms the basis for Mary Gordon’s novel, There Your Heart Lies. My first thought in reading this book was how perfect the subject is for Mary Gordon. One of her recurring themes is Catholicism and it abounds here. After the tragic death of her brother, Johnny, Marian marries his lover, Russell, and they leave for Spain to offer their services in the fight against Franco. The story is told in two parts, that of 19-year-old Marian as she lives and matures amongst the horrors and aftermath of the war and as a 92-year-old woman, telling her story to her granddaughter, Amelia. There Your Heart Lies is filled with history, made intensely personal with one woman’s story. As a fan of Mary Gordon’s work, I thoroughly enjoyed this addition.

I really wanted to like this book. Elements of it were great, like the beginning in which Marian was caught between her wealthy family and the life she really wanted to live. The time she spent in Spain during the Civil War was also very interesting. However, the waters got murky when time shifted between then and the present day. The story also slowed down about 1/3 of the way through the book and never picked up again. I quickly lost interest. I was disappointing about the abrupt and unfulfilling ending, too. I don't know how Amelia added to the story. She wasn't really developed as a character and is really not a good indicator of the typical 20something young woman. Honestly, she was kind of a wet noodle. I wish the author wouldn't have kept switching timelines, and just kept a linear story focusing on Marian's journey.

This book sounded really interesting and it is at times. It flips back and forth in time between when Marian is a young woman and when she is a grandmother. The later times when she is recounting her life to her granddaughter seems a bit redundant though because the past is covered so well. It's more exciting living the past than telling someone else about it, I guess.

I enjoyed it but some parts just didn't click for me. I found young Marion's thinking very hard to understand at certain points. I understood running away from her family to Spain but why her stayed so long given how horrible it sounds baffles me. I like Amelia as a character, although she was a little bit boring at times. I particularly enjoyed the parts with Isabel and Tomas and their entrance into the story brought new life into what was starting to feel dead, which I'm sure was the point. I did appreciate how the author humanizes Marion in a way that allows us to forgive her for her treatment of Ignacio. As a Catholic, this was an interesting read and I thought Gordon handled the balance between explaining corruption and overzealousness without demonizing the entire religion rather well.

This has a lot of sadness and heartache. I liked how the story went back and forth between Meme in her 90's and when she (Marian) was in her 20's. It's sad how women were treated in the 1930's by their family and society. This was very well written. Slow paced as it travels through Marian's life revealing the heartaches and triumphs she experienced. I liked reading a different point of view from that time in history. Another part of the war we might not know about.

So close to not finishing. Two chapters in. The strings of incomplete sentences. Maddening. Annoying. The chapter where the story turns from past to present. Unnecessary. Filler that failed to move the narrative. Where was the editor? In the end, however, I was glad I stuck with THERE YOUR HEART LIES. Granted, the early going was rough, with the author's penchant for that stream-of-consciousness feel that you get from using incomplete sentences to paint the mood. But enough is enough, and at first the choppy structure was too much. Once the story really began, however, the prose flowed more smoothly and the tale took on a more engaging tone. The novel's protagonist is a woman of privilege who rebels against her family by joining the Lincoln Brigade to fight the fascists in Spain. Marian's background is remarkably Kennedy-esque, with her large Irish-American clan determined to become part of the well-heeled elite. Her brother is gay, while the Kennedys had a mentally handicapped daughter. He kills himself, in contrast to the Kennedy girl who was essentially killed by her parents when they had her lobotomized. There is much kowtowing to the Catholic clergy in Marian's world, and what better way to do the opposite than to become a socialist? Rather like young Kathleen Kennedy marrying a divorced Protestant British peer, yes? Early on, the story switches to modern times when Marian is an old grandmother seeking to instill that same rebellious spirit in her slacker granddaughter. As it turns out, Marian has hidden her past. Facing death, she decides to reveal her secrets, but the secrets are revealed first to the reader and then repeated in abbreviated form to Amelia. Marian the starry-eyed idealist meets the reality of overwhelming force as a nurse, but she also finds love and beauty in the quiet moments. While her comrades fight amongst themselves, socialists battling communists, she falls in love with a Spanish doctor whose family could beat out Marian's parents in the adoration of the Catholic clergy. She experiences life in the early years of Franco's brutal regime, when no one trusted anyone else and those who chaffed under the iron fist had to tread very carefully. All the hardship never diminishes her spirit, but when she gains an opportunity to flee Spain, she grabs it, to return to the same country she fled as a young woman who believed in a cause. Her life almost comes full circle when she lands in nearly the same place she left, but without the extravagant financial support or the religion that she associates with oppression. The novel is worth reading, after you've gotten past the early bits where Marian's new cause of protesting swan population control is given far too much space. The relationship that develops between Marian and Amelia is a key part of the story, and Mary Gordon does a fine job of showing the growth of understanding between the generations, along with an appreciation of the young for the life experiences of the old.

To me, the ending of a book is so important, maybe even more important than the beginning. I've always heard you need to catch the reader in the first few pages, but honestly I'll keep reading just to wait for that. That being said, I was interested in the beginning, but could easily put the book down at any point and not be excited to return to it. The characters were ok, but a little odd. Marian (I suppose she was the heroine of the story) never really showed much grit until she was older, but we never really saw what made her that way. Amelia's character didn't have much substance either. She loved her grandmother, but really that's all I gathered from the story. Now for the important part...The end was disappointing. It left me feeling nothing at all. It was almost as if the author got tired of writing and just stopped. Nothing about the story reasonated with me.

I haven't read Mary Gordon in the past and so cannot say how this compares to the rest of her work, but I hope this isn't her best work. I did enjoy the historical parts more than the current day parts and I wanted to read it because it was set in Spain. Marian's story is good which may get me to read other works by Gordon, but I found the ending lacking and somewhat abrupt and Amelia's character was not developed well and her trip to find Marian's son as well as her interaction with him was off somehow. I wanted to know a bit more about him as an adult and what his thoughts were, not just what he said to Amelia. The ending left me unsatisfied as a reader. Overall, I would give it 3.5 stars and probably wouldn't recommend it to either of my book groups.

Good, bad and not so good. First of all, I love books told over two time frames, this was narrated in the 1930's and 2009. Marian was a likeable character in the beginning and then maybe not so likeable. She became a bit of an excuse making victim, instead of the strong woman she started to be. Her granddaughter was likeable, but her story had no real depth. Though her young life was not without some real tragedy, she seemed liked a dazed millennial. Being unfamiliar with the author, I felt like I was reading a progressive, anti-Catholic, anti-rich person, pro-socialism treatise. What happened in the 30's cannot be judged by our beliefs today, things change. And generalizations are usually not helpful. I liked the story, but the author seemed to run out of steam at the end. No spoiler, but what Amelia does near the end of the book is pretty illogical. It seemed like an easy way to tie up loose ends. I did not enjoy the ending, seemed contrived after reading the first 3/4 of the book.

As a fan of Mary Gordon [most of the time], I was eager to read her latest novel. The book had two trajectories--a format I often love. Marian of the past--in particular her upbringing [strict Catholic, conservative family] and life leading up to, in, and after the Spanish Civil War [1936-39] and the present-day Marian--and most importantly her granddaughter, Amelia, but also some other characters. The contrasts and conflicts of Marian's young life were very interesting. Early on [no spoiler alert], it is revealed that her favorite brother in her large Catholic family is gay. She ends up being a beard/wife for his Jewish, communist lover--as you can imagine her family does not approve. A doctor, they travel to Spain together as volunteers--her fluency in Spanish will be useful. Much happens--you'll have to read to find out. I found I liked the past story much more than the present one. When the story switches to the present, Marian is ninety-two and living with her granddaughter who wants to know Marian's past--as it's been kept secret. Although the novel has revealed a lot about Marian's life up to that time, much more is told. Well-written and a solid three stars. Captured much of the time but not engrossed. And, I didnt particularly care for the ending.

I picked this book because it is set, in part, during the Spanish Civil War. I’ve been fascinated by that historical time and place ever since childhood, when a Spanish-born friend of my mother’s used to sing Republican songs from the civil war. But this story is much more than a Spanish Civil War tale. It’s about the cruelties that people inflict on each other and the way they justify them. It’s about the blurry line between love and hate. The novel is told in two time lines, one in historical Spain and the other in present-day Rhode Island, and the two time lines weave together in the end. I found the historical sections more compelling to read, though that is likely due to my interest in that place and time. The present-day sections, though, are an important element that reflects on the Spanish storyline from a different perspective and adds new layers and depth to the story. This is a literary novel and therefore very internal, but a compelling read for anyone who likes an exploration of the human condition and the fine line between cruelty and compassion, love and hate.

Young, wealthy Marian, who adores her older brother and was raised within a strict Catholic family, swiftly finds herself disillusioned with the religious extremism and hypocrisy of her family. Her older brother dies in "sin" after the machinations of their father drive him to suicide, and she runs away to Spain with her brother's lover, now her "husband", to serve as medical personnel in the fight against fascism in Spain. He quickly grows disillusioned and leaves Spain. Marian meets and falls in love with a doctor. She becomes pregnant, loses her newfound love, and must travel to his family, a kindly, but weak, father and contemptuous, vile mother who wedge themselves between herself and her new child until she feels no bond with him at all. She finds herself right back under the oppressive thumb of the Catholic Church with the family of her child's father. 7 years of torment with this family until she meets and falls in love with Amelia's grandfather, flees Spain leaving behind the son she never loved and starts a new family. This story switches back and forth between the 30s and 40s to present day, when Marian's granddaughter Amelia requests the only inheritance she wants: the story of her Grandmother's life. Complex characters, beautifully articulated backgrounds, and the outcomes of decisions decades old make this an utterly engrossing read.

This was the first book that I have read from Mary Gordon and I truly appreciated her writing style. I felt captivated between the the past story and history that Marian lived through. The correlation between her past and Amelia's present and future were tied in extremely well. I liked that Marian's story was related and then described to her granddaughter. This book reminded me that our ancestors and grandparents have a lot of history and background that applies to the present day. This was a great read.


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