The Hand of Fatima [Ildefonso Falcones]

I was back, back in a tale that was going to engross me and take me over, where I would feel every twist and turnn in the fate of the protagonist.  The young bastard of a muslim girl who was was raped by a Catholic Priest is that protagonist.  Shunned by both of the warring religions in Catholic Spain, Hernando is loved by his mother, Aisha, but despised by his step father, Brahim.  He learns the catechism and prayers from the church Sacristan while at the same time the Koran from the Scholar Hamid, whose name he later takes up.

Hernando’s family are caught up in the revolt by the Morisco’s against their Catholic oppressors and during this he inadvertently rescues Fatima, who he falls body and soul for.  Unfortunately his step father also takes a liking to the young Fatima and in the first quarter of the book she passes from one to the other like a prize mule.
When the revolt is finally crushed Hernando and his family are amongst the thousands dispersed throughout Spain.  Working his way up from shovelling manure at a Tannery to working in the Royal Stables he marries Fatima after Brahim is pushed out of the picture, and there is a brief period of peace in Hernando’s life.  But Brahim returns to wreak revenge at the end of part two and Hernando’s life changes once again, and he focus’s even more intently on his plan to try to unite the two warring religions.

When I say epic, I don’t just mean the arc of the story, the book is over 900 pages long.  After a while despite the sheer horror of what happened at the time, you almost run out of raw emotion to feel it, although there are a few times when my head was screaming for something to happen differently, someone to arrive earlier, for a meeting to end differently.  I had to ignore the pile of unread books on my book shelf, which seemed to look at me accusingly every time I passed them by, they have been moved down out of eye level since.  The other thing was that I didn’t think this was as good as Cathedral of the Sea, Falcone’s first novel, set in Barcelona, which loved.

Still it consumed me, during the bad parts I hated the book and the emotions it made me feel, but carried on turning the pages until I knew Hernando’s fortunes had turned, and during the brief respites of happinesss I turned the pages and enjoyed the prose that opened a window to this period and place.

If you have an interest in the history of Spain, Christianity or Islam, or just want an epic tale that will wrench your emotions through life in 16th Century Spain, then I would definitely put The Hand of Fatima in your own hands.

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