In the county of Basque, in northern Spain, three men stop at a bar before a wedding. In the bar resides Maria Antonia Etxarri, a teenager whose life is due to be intimately, if reluctantly, intertwined with the bride’s, Isabel Cruces. Told alternately through flashbacks to the past, including the war which occurred shortly after the wedding, and from a doctor’s viewpoint in the present day, The Wrong Blood slowly reveals to us a story of love and need. Two women, lives irrevocably altered by the war, find something that they need in one another, and find some degree of fulfilment even if their lives don’t turn out as they’d originally planned.
This is one book that demonstrates beautifully the reason I rarely stop reading books – I almost always finish them, and whether you agree that’s a good idea or not, it does mean I discover some gems I’d otherwise have stuck on the DNF pile. I have a history of disliking historical fiction set in Spain, but this sounded so appealing I just had to give it a try. At first I thought this was going to be another book I didn’t really like that much – I didn’t really understand what the three men were doing in the bar, the language felt distant and peculiar, and I just didn’t like the doctor. While I never really liked the doctor, I eventually grew to find the language poetic as I got further into the story and treasured the connections made in the rather strange beginning, as it all came together amazingly well by the end.
It was when the war began that things got interesting, because those events set off the huge changes that beset Maria Antonia and Isabel. When the novel starts, we know that Maria Antonia has inherited Isabel’s house in the present, even though Isabel has a grandson who is coming to stay there and Maria Antonia appears to have been the housekeeper. This immediately made me wonder what had happened, what connection bound these two women that Maria Antonia would be favored over Isabel’s own progeny? It took the whole novel to get there, but I finally found out, and it all made sense in the end, even the title. And along the way we’re treated to lovely prose (the translator did an excellent job here) and a very atmospheric story. I even loved that the time flipped from the past to the present because the contrast between the earlier Spain and the current Spain was marked and fascinating.
This particular novel fits perfectly the type of historical fiction that’s occupying me these days; set in a slightly unusual (for me) location and time with a compelling story to tell and great writing to back it up. It was such a wonderful read that I’m still thinking about it, and I am enthusiastically recommending The Wrong Blood to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. I don’t think you’ll be sorry if you give it a shot.
I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free through Netgalley for review.