By Carolyn Williams
“The Wrong Blood” by Manuel de Lope is a story both sweeping and
personal, about two women of different backgrounds brought together by similar circumstances during the Spanish Civil War. First published in Spain in 2000 as “La Sangre Ajena,” John Cullen’s 2010 English translation conveys language like “roses as plump as a wet nurse’s breasts,” and preserves the emotion beneath the text, a true feat in translation.
The primary storyline, which deals with the Civil War time period, focuses on María Antonia Etxarri, an innkeeper’s daughter who, while waiting one night on a squadron of rebel soldiers, feels with a
level of certainty, that she will be raped. Sure enough, a sergeant takes her to bed, and for the rest of her life she is never entirely sure whether or not she gave her consent. Either way, the events of that night alter her irrevocably. She enters service and begins to work for Isabel Herraíz, a young war widow who, like María Antonia, finds herself pregnant and without a man. At her estate, Las Cruces, they form a pact which the young, recently lamed Doctor Castro witnesses. This secret forms the backbone of the novel.
Interwoven with the wartime story is one
of Miguel Goitia, Isabel’s grandson, set a few decades later. He has come to Las Cruces for an extended stay in order to study in peace and solitude as he prepares for his bar exam, a guest of the current owner of the house, the now-elderly María Antonia, who inherited it after Isabel’s death. With little knowledge of his family’s history, and only hazy memories of his deceased grandmother, Goitia studies on a regimented schedule, eats at specifically appointed times and interacts with almost no one, all of which is quietly observed by his interested neighbor, Dr. Castro.
Castro, starved for human companionship so many years after a
motorcycle accident that left him permanently crippled, attempts to cultivate a relationship with Goitia, hoping for a friendly camaraderie with a fellow intellectual. Rebuffed by the intense young man, Castro is not discouraged, but continues his careful study of Goitia, reflecting on the history of the youth’s family to which he was witness, and, more importantly, certain secrets that now only he and the elusive María Antonia know in full.
The mysterious family secret around which the book revolves is built up so that it is hard to miss,
but the overall effect of the book is satisfying . A story of family and war, “The Wrong Blood” is the kind of novel that operates on two levels: a surface of beautiful language and vivid description underlain with an intense, emotionally striking plot.