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Friday, November 14, 2014

The Barefoot Queen by Ildefonso Falcones (History fans - this is a must read)


The year is 1748 and the time is bad, very bad for women everywhere. 

Caridad is a former slave who accompanies her master to Sevilla in Spain from Cuba. En route he dies and fortunately gives the girl her freedom. A freedom she knows nothing about. She has no idea how to live as a "free" person. She does not even consider herself as a person. Not even a chattel. She does not consider that she is worth anything - an animal in her opinion is worth more than her. 

This story is about Caridad and how she eventually throws in her lot or rather her lot was thrown in with her with the gypsies of Sevilla. Her chance encounter with them changes her life for not just her but also for Melchor who pities the woman and takes her back to his village. Much to the amazement, disgust and anger of his fellow gypsies Melchor takes her under his wing not for any ulterior motives but out of simple human goodness. He himself cannot understand why he does this but it is one of those inexplicable happenings which change life for both of them and also for the clan from which Melchor comes.

Intertwined with these two characters we also have the very forceful character of Ana and Jose - Ana the daughter of Melchor who has a constant battle with her husband and divided loyalties of whom to choose - father or husband. Her daughter Melagros whose beauty and sensuousness is not a blessing but a curse eventually leading to her almost total destruction. 

Historically fascinating as it reveals a period of history in Europe and Spain in particular where the gypsies are reviled, persecuted and hunted for over 150 years. The sadness of the story is enormous. But, you cannot put this book down. I am not one for sad stories but this was historical sadness on an epic scale. 

The courage, boldness and pride of the gypsies may have been their own downfall because this is what caused outsiders to dislike them. Their inability to integrate and become part of the common populace was their major drawback and this drew the ire of the aristocracy and the Emperor at the time. His edicts were far reaching and inhuman. It made the aristocracy not just cruel, but sadistic as well. 

Another over riding feature of this era was the treatment of women. There was virtually no position for women anywhere and if you did find a father who was fond of his daughter, the fondness or love was governed by dictates of the time. Melchor was different for his times and this set him apart. No one born in present day times would hanker to be a woman in the 1700s, even if you were aristocratic or from the king's family. 

The book was a fabulous read for me. I found it unput downable!

Sent to me via Netgalley for an honest review and through its publishers Crown Publishing.

3 comments:

Blodeuedd said...

It sounds great

DoingDewey said...

This sounds interesting, but I also don't typically like sad stories, so I'm not sure I could make myself pick this up! It seems like it could be kind of depressing.

Dr. Caroline Crimm said...

This book is obviously not written by an historian. The 18th Century was the Age of the Enlightenment and women were NOT being mistreated with the regularity which he seems to feel is required. True the gypsies, like the Jesuits were being run out of Spain, but this kind of exaggeration is extreme. He needs to check his history.
Dr. Caroline Crimm, Huntsville, Texas