“… y Santi sentía ya, confusamente, como una borrosa premonición, la melancolía del exilio.”
– pg. 21
“… and Santi already felt, confusedly, like a fuzzy premonition, the melancholy of exile.”
El otro árbol de Guernica by Luis de Castresana is a novel told from the perspective of 12 year old Santiago, known as Santi, through the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. After war breaks out in Spain, north Spanish families decided to send their children across Europe in an effort to save them from the war. Most of the children were sent to England, but some like the children in the novel, were sent to Belgium. This novel was a touching, semi-autobiographical tale that I would definitely recommend.
Santi’s story begins in on his train to Bilbao, Spain, when the children leave their parents and are put on the boat to Brussels. From there, Santi is thrown into adulthood, caring for his younger sister Begoña. Their life in Brussels is not easy, dealing with a completely different culture, a new family, and fear for what is happening at home. While reading this story, I often teared up.
The back of the novel says that it is available in English, but I have been unable to find it. If you have had some Spanish instruction, you should be able to read this book with a good dictionary. It’s told from the perspective of a child, so while I couldn’t leave the dictionary at home, I could get by with only looking up one or two words per page. There were lots of little Spanish traditions that I learned from reading this book – like the tradition of tugging on someone’s ears for each year they’ve been alive on their birthday.
My Spanish 1 teacher often told our class about being one of these children, about escaping one war, only to be thrown into another one (WWII). It was fascinating to learn more about her story through the eyes of Santi. Definitely recommended, I’ll keep looking for an English translation!