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by Víctor del Árbol and Lisa Dillman, trans.
Other Press, May 2021
589 pages
ISBN: 1635429951

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In this intricate tapestry of interwoven lives, Víctor del Árbol develops a deep and moving portrait of two elders. They come to know each other and their troubled family relationships as they leave their senior care home on the rugged southern coast of Spain on a voyage of discovery.

One, Helena, is introduced in the opening chapters as a child living in Morocco in 1955. Her father has abandoned her and her English mother who, distraught, tries to drown herself and Helena in the sea. Flash forward to 2014, where she and the uptight former accountant Miquel, dealing with the onset of dementia, live in a posh but deadening senior residence.

Helena and Miguel could not be more different, yet their differences draw them together. In time they learn about their families. Both have estranged children, both had unhappy marriages and affairs that didn’t help them escape, and both had tortured relationships with absent fathers and mentally ill mothers.

Interspersed with their stories, there are scenes in Malmo, Sweden, where a beautiful young girl, Yasmina, is being used by a drug kingpin to seduce a corrupt police official. Her mother was similarly trapped in prostitution and violence; we eventually learn that her grandfather, Abdul, is a link that connects these threads to Helena’s past.

ABOVE THE RAIN is skillfully layered and masterfully plotted. Excellently translated by Lisa Dillman, its characters and the connections between them across time and space are revealed over the course of a lusciously-rendered panorama.

If the weft of the tapestry is characters discovering themselves and reflecting on troubled relationships with their past and their children, the warp is violence. Del Árbol explores the societal violence that punishes forbidden love, intimate partner violence that turns Miquel’s pregnant daughter’s life upside down, the violence of criminal enterprises and criminal law enforcement officers that use women as pawns, and the violence of the Spanish Civil War that consumed Miguel’s Republican father, a prisoner who died alongside countless others constructing a now-crumbling monument to fascism.

Despite the constant presence of violence lurking around the corner, ABOVE THE RAIN is above all a tender and insightful story of two people uncovering their pasts and finding meaning and purpose in the waning days of their lives.

§ Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, May 2021

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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