Author: Alli Sinclair
Alli Sinclair is a well traveled Australian author whose international adventures and love of dance inspire her story-telling, which is something that shines through in Under The Spanish Stars.
Katarina Sanchez has recently had a heart attack which causes her to take stock of her life and she decides the time is right to track down the origins of a mysterious painting given to her by her father. She is not well enough to undertake the journey herself so tasks her grand-daughter Charlotte with the mission. Sitting back now and pondering the story I wonder if there was more to it right from the beginning. Katarina and Charlotte are described by the family as being two peas in a pod, it has always been Charlotte who understands her Abuela Katarina the best.
Charlotte takes leave from her position in the family business, which she has little love for, and sets off for Granada – the homeland Abuela refuses to speak of. There were a few unexpected twists in this one that I don’t want to ruin for anyone, and a few that were fairly predictable; and one which has left me still with questions.
Katarina has been gone from Spain for decades and refuses to talk of her time there so none of her family are quite sure what happened to bring her to Australia which means this fact gathering mission could be quite the eye opener for the whole family.
The narrative is written in alternating chapters with Charlotte’s travels in the present and Katarina’s life in 1944. Both timelines are written in the third person which makes it very easy to follow. Sinclair has a poetic way with words that brings the landscape to life and evokes the artistic passion felt by the characters in the story.
We learn, through Charlotte’s travels, of her early artistic dreams to be a painter which were quashed by self-doubt and a less than resounding first exhibition. She gave up the dream to pursue a career in the family business as a risk assessor which has taken over every aspect of her life. Granada ignites the passion in her once more but she is determined to stick with the safe path.
Charlotte’s quest for the artist leads her to flamenco guitarist Mateo Vives, who has connections to the gypsy clan the artist belonged to, and brings her into the world of flamenco and gypsy culture. A world that is rich in colour and passion but quite closed off from outsiders, it is only her burgeoning friendship with Mateo which even gives her a look into their community living outside of town.
The story was vivid, the romance palpable, the passion of flamenco vibrant and the characters for the most part were quite well drawn. My biggest hurdle was the broken English Mateo used, I realise that Spanish is his native language and his English is secondary but there were times I found it very grating to read his dialogue. The language barrier between he and Charlotte sometimes made conversation, and understanding, stilted and I think that carried over into their relationship.
The history of the area and the gypsy clan was both tragic and fascinating and I loved reading about Katarina’s life in 1944, her courage and bravery was commendable. The history of flamenco was something completely new to me, all of the complexities, not to mention the trouble it could cause.
The mystery was quite compelling, and the desire of they gypsy clan not to remember their past was something I couldn’t fathom, no written records. I quite liked the reawakening of Charlotte’s artistic side and the vibrance it brought back to her life.
Under The Spanish Stars is a glorious tale of love, family, history and culture that will transport you to far off lands and lift your spirits to dance to the poetry captured on the page.
Under The Spanish Stars is Book #6 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2016.