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  • Writer's pictureHinton Magazine

The Heart of a Life: Spanish Civil War Novel Captures the Essence of Forgiving But Not Forgetting

David Illsley’s The Heart of a Life centres on the Spanish Civil War as he shares the story of those who either suffered or flourished during the Franco years and the inescapable ripple effect of the conflict that resonates decades late.

Published on 23rd August 2022, The Heart of Life is a mesmerising glimpse into the realities of the Spanish Civil War and its generational aftermath.

Eloquent and meticulously researched, the author delivers a novel that brims with undertones still evident between families eighty years after the conflict, and to which he is privy due to his decision to live as a foreigner in rural Spain for more than 20 years.

Delighting all those with a passion for Spain and its history, the richness and originality of David Illsley’s debut novel has already found praise from fellow Hispanophile and author of Driving Over Lemons, Chris Stewart. But rest assured, there will be many more singing the praises of this hard-to-put-down and intriguing read.


Two ambiguous relationships, generations apart, are ignited by the spark of the Spanish Civil War. Over time, old memories clouded by fear and shame force their way back into the light, although slowly, as one enigma is unlocked, another is summoned. Just how long can Maria stay true to a dream? Will Jacob remain ultimately loyal to the cause? Will the documents they carry to the British manage to alter the course of the war? And many years later, will the troubled Jess discover the truth, with or without the support of a charismatic former UN peacekeeper?

The author says:

“You can guess how it goes in a tiny village of fewer than 400 souls. When - for 20 years or more - you toil with your neighbours in the fields, sweat together, build houses, get drunk together, sit on the town council, and wait at the school gates for your kids together, then stuff just gets said. Secrets come out, the roots of grudges and vendettas are leaked, stories are recounted, and bit by bit a bigger picture emerges.

As a so-called guiri – an outsider – it’s been a privilege to engage at such close quarters. Many of the friends I made in rural Spain, those who experienced the Civil war and its grisly aftermath, are now dead; I cannot offend or bring disgrace to those who either suffered or flourished during the Franco years; but I can try to share their story. It’s almost as though I have a duty to do so.

Much time has passed since the transition to democracy, and most - though not all - of the wounds have healed. A spirit of forgiveness and of compassion is now encouraged at all levels of society… at least officially. But you can’t exorcise all the old demons all at once, the cold bones in the unmarked mass graves are way too close to the surface, and just sometimes, in the embarrassed pause after a disturbing giveaway remark say, or in the boorish condemnation of ethnicity or gender in a late-night bar, you still get the irrefutable whiff of something wicked, of something we thought - or hoped – that we’d long since discarded. For this reason alone it is important that we be reminded of the not-too-distant past. Forgiveness? Oh yes. But forgetting? I suspect we might do this at our peril.

Chris Stewart, author of Driving Over Lemons says: “An irresistibly readable book, whose narrative is compelling and intriguing, and whose characters are believable and skilfully drawn without recourse to conventional cliché. The whole thing is well-researched and authentic, and treated with eloquent compassion.”

Published by Cranthorpe Millner Publishers, The Heart of a Life (ISBN: 978-1-80378-100-6) is published on 23rd August 2022 and is available in paperback (£10.99) and Kindle format. Waterstones | Foyles | Amazon | Cranthorpe Millner


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