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In The Dark by Anamaría Crowe Serrano

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Historical Fiction

By Swirl and Thread

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‘They don’t know this is the beginning, before everything else, and no one imagines death on their doorstep.’

In The Dark by Anamaría Crowe Serrano is published with Turas Press. It is described as ‘a heart-rending tale of the bitter daily hardships of survival during war, of the struggle to extract truth from a multitude of truths – and of a love that yearns to transcend the conflict, no matter what the cost.’

Among her many talents, Anamaría Crowe Serrano is a poet and one of the first things that struck me when I started reading In The Dark was the rhythm of the prose. To read In The Dark is a very unique experience. It is a book that completely captures the reader in its grasp and brings you right back to 1937 and the Battle of Teruel. Teruel is a city in Aragon situated to the east of Spain and was the site of one of the most bloodiest campaigns of the Spanish Civil War between December 1937 and February 1938. It was eventually a military turning point in the war for Franco with huge numbers of casualties on both sides. Anamaría Crowe Serrano refers to her grandfather, José Maria Serrano Sos, in the acknowledgements and his involvement in the Spanish Civil War, where she says “I have spent much of my life pondering the reasons that might motivate decisions I found hard to accept. I think I understand a little more now, in a Socratic kind of way: the more I know, the more I realise how much I will never really know”In The Dark is clearly a labour of love for the author and it shows.

María and Julita are two sisters living in Teruel with opposing views on the conflict taking place around them. Both their husbands are fighting but on different sides. The war is taking its toll on the sisters’ relationship. With a number of children between them to shelter from the chaos, they eventually end up living together in María’s house following the destruction of Julita’s family home. The atmosphere fizzles between the two of them as they clash over every action taken within the household. Julita is bossy, demanding, belittling others, bringing tension with her at all times. María is on edge. What Julita doesn’t know is that there is someone else in the house, hidden under the stairs in a secret hideout. There hides a soldier, a man who has abandoned his post, and is fearful of the death that will follow if he is caught. María is keeping him safe.

As the battle wages on around them, those inhabitants who are left behind must make do to survive and soon María’s home becomes a haven for others, a safe place where shelter and company is available. But María is struggling. While she tries her utmost to help these strangers who are slowly invading her home, she is also trying to secretly protect this deserter, whose very presence would mean certain death for others in the household.

In The Dark is broken into short chapters, told from both María’s and the deserter’s perspectives. His thoughts are fractured and have a staccato rhythm to them, like the rat-tat-tat-tat of a gun. We get broken insights into his nightmares and the horrors of warfare that he has run from. He is terrified. He lives in this box fearful of sleep, in case he snores and draws attention to himself. He is living like a caged rat and the claustrophobic atmosphere is exceptionally depicted by the author with descriptions that almost make it a challenge to breathe when reading it. While it’s structure may not appeal to everyone, it is definitely one I encourage everyone to take a risk on. I honestly do not think you will regret it.

My heart was constantly on edge for María. A brave and courageous individual standing up for what she believes in, María is passionate about protecting those she loves. Torn on all sides, she does have her moments of weakness questioning her actions but her bravery remains strong at all times.

In The Dark is a novel full of anguish and pain, fear and suffering but there are also very heart-warming moments scattered throughout the book as some fascinating personalities join the household. The daily hardships of life in Teruel are incredibly portrayed, almost adding an extra sense to the reading experience as the smells, the cold, the depravation are all so very palpable throughout.

Anamaría Crowe Serrano has written a remarkable novel. In The Dark is an extraordinary and vivid reading experience, one that will remain with every reader for quite some time after the final page is turned. Giving the reader this incredible insight into the Spanish Civil War from the female perspectives of María, Julita and other women, In The Dark is historically immersive and quite a special novel.

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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