On a summer day at the arcade, timid sixteen-year-old Ignacio Cañas encounters two charismatic rebels: El Zarco (“Blue Eyes”) and his gorgeous girl, Tere. Entranced, he crosses the border into their dangerous world, becoming their partner in crimes that quickly escalate.

Twenty-five years later, Tere materializes in Cañas’s office, needing help. Cañas has settled back into middle-class life, becoming a successful defense lawyer. Zarco has matured into a convict of some infamy. Yet somehow, with new stakes, this three-way affair will begin again.

Synopsis from goodreads

I don’t read too much translated fiction as I almost always find myself disappointed with the quality of the English translation. But in this one, the translation (by Anne MacLean) is flawless retaining the Spanish flavor of the original writing, while still providing a smooth non-jarring reading experience. I found myself really enjoying the language in this one and I lingered over it for the past couple of weeks, savoring it like a bit of candy stuck in my mouth.

Plot-wise, the first half of the book where Cañas, Zarco, and Tere are teenagers is action-packed, fast-moving, very exciting. It also provides a great insight to life during the seventies in 70s Spain during the post-Franco period. I raced through these pages.

However, the second part of the story about Tere, Zarco, and Cañas in middle-age is not that interesting. There is a bit too much focus on the love story between Cañas and Tere, which in my mind was a bit too similar to the love story depicted in The Bad Girl by Maria Vargas Llosa. Basically the love story was one-sided and boring, and I wish the author had put a little more focus on the friendship between Zarco and Cañas.

Because, let’s face it, Zarco is the heart of the story, and I enjoyed the portions of the book he was in, and if I have any complaints it is that he is isn’t given more time in the novel. He became an even more interesting character when I googled a bit and found that his character is based on a famous real-life criminal.

I especially love that Cercas chooses to give us such an ambiguous character sketch of Zarco, resisting the urge to present him as a glamorous Robin Hood type of character. In the book, the media idolizes him sometimes painting him like a heroic outlaw, but at all times, Cercas makes sure we are aware of the real Zarco and the disconnect between Zarco and his infamy.

So, yeah, coming back to the main point, I think the book loses its way a bit in the second half what with the romance and all. There’s also a bit too much psycho-analysis of everyone’s motivations and characters. I didn’t mind the psycho-analysis too much, it was interesting, but there’s no denying it slows the pace of the story.

But towards the end the book finds its way again towards a satisfying ending. I won’t say the end blew my mind, it was a somewhat predictable end, but still the way it was written was note-perfect.

Huge thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for sending me this book for review consideration.

You can also purchase a copy of this book from Amazon

  • Sharry Cee

    “I don’t read too much translated fiction as I almost always find myself
    disappointed with the quality of the English translation.” – I totally agree with this for the most part!! And yeah, I read a book recently where the author tried to insert a romance into the story but it just felt out of place…

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