The Wind from the East, by Almudena Grandes, trans Sonia Soto

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The Independent Culture

Two strangers from Madrid flee to Spain's windswept south-westerly coast, to try to relaunch their lives and cast off tormenting memories. Sara, 53, of humble origins, and the 40-year-old surgeon Juan, are good people trying to do their best. But each carries a terrible secret, a vengeful act - Juan's impulsive, Sara's deeply plotted - against those who had destroyed their lives.

In Almudena Grandes' novel, when Sara first scouts the housing development near Cadiz for a final roost, she notices that the high walls that separate the villas not only protect residents from capricious winds said to drive them mad, but also hide those within. After Spain's civil war, Sara's republican father was sentenced to death, but survived through the intercession of a rich lady for whom her mother worked as a maid. The lady agreed to raise the young child, but to return her to her impoverished family at 16.

Sara grows into a woman who belongs nowhere, and who plans her revenge. Juan has been consumed since adolescence by a forbidden love that culminates in family tragedy. Each escapes their past, seeking refuge and a new start. Juan moves next door to Sara with Alfonso, his brother with the mind of a child, and his niece Tamara. They meet on the beach, and share a cleaning lady. Maribel is the mother of Andres, who knows everything about the vagaries of the winds. These deracinated people form a kindly kind-of family.

In her fifth novel, Grandes reaches the peak of her powers. This magnificent saga of shipwrecked lives grips from the first sentence and weaves parallel intrigues of memory and survival, money and revenge, resolved only in the closing pages. The Ages of Lulu - Grandes' debut - shook the literary world with its erotic celebration of a newly uncensored Spain, and its mastery of disjointed biography. Here, she has perfected her ability to leap between stories and epochs. So clearly drawn are her characters and circumstances - the social landscape of post-Franco Spain no less sharp for being mediated indirectly, as if through the zigzag portal of a Moorish keep - that you never grapple to keep track, nor cease to care. Riffling through the pages is the treacherous wind that stirs up turmoil on this gusty shore. But it also sweeps troubles away and, finally, makes everything right.

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