2011 Books in Translation Chunkster Historical Fiction

The Hand of Fatima by Ildefonso Falcones

The Hand of Fatima Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor

Five words from the blurb: Christian, oppression, Moors, Arab, conflict

It has taken me over six months to complete this 970 page epic. The book gives a detailed history of 16th century Spain, revealing the horrific violence that took place in Grenada when the oppressed Christians battled against the Arabic Moors. The book is narrated by Hernando, the son of an Arab woman who was raped by a Christian priest. Having mixed blood Hernando finds it difficult to be loyal to either side and through strong friendships with those from both religions he tries to bring peace to the region.

This book is massive in terms of both length and scope. I knew nothing about this period of history, but a basic knowledge is assumed and so I found that I had to research some sections in order to understand what was happening. I also found that having a Spanish map available was helpful, as without knowing the geography it was difficult to know the distances involved for each journey.

At daybreak, they began to climb to Moclin, where a commanding fortress defended the entrance to the plains and the city of Granada. They covered the same distance as on the first day, but this time uphill, feeling the cold of the mountains penetrating their rain-soaked clothes until it seeped into their very bones. They could not leave Moriscos on the road, so all the fit men had to help those who were not well or even carry the corpses, as there was not a single cart for them.

The pace was often painfully slow, as many side stories were weaved into the main narrative. I would frequently struggle through 20 pages, abandon the book for a week or two and then try again, only to be caught up in a new plot thread that captured my heart and hurtled me through another 70 pages….where I would then stall again. It was frustrating and gripping in almost equal measure!

This book isn’t for the faint hearted – there are many graphic scenes of rape and violence. The massacres of entire villages are described in vivid detail and I admit that I sometimes skimmed over a few paragraphs to prevent the terrible images from entering my head.

I’m pleased that I read this book, if only to be made aware of this turbulent period of history. I think it could have benefited from being much shorter, but the basic premise of the book was very good.

Recommended to those who love historical fiction and are not afraid to invest a serious amount of time in a long, meandering book.


Stu of Winston’s Dad and Richard of Caravana De Recuerdos are hosting a Spanish literature month.
Head over to their blogs for lots of other Spanish literature recommendations!


11 replies on “The Hand of Fatima by Ildefonso Falcones”

I wanted to pick this up but was put off by the sheer size of it. With graphic scenes and violence…uh huh.. not sure about this book now… Maybe another day.

Well done for finishing it though!

LOL Oh I on the verge of changing my mind now.. Yes I will probably read this since it is shorter than A Suitable Boy. Anything is shorter than A Suitable Boy! 😀

Sam, Yes – the graphic scenes are appropriate. These terrible things happened and they are not glorified, but simply explain what happened. The size intimidated me too, but sometimes you just have to go for it! Enjoy 🙂

thanks for the mention Jackie ,Like Jov I put off by the size a bit ,but I do like Nick’s style of translation he is one of my favourite spanish translators ,all the best stu

I’ve just read The Cathedral of the Sea by this author which I enjoyed a lot. In that book, and it seems especially in yours, there was sometimes a little too much histoical explanation rather than fiction. Every now and then I felt I was being educated, which I hadn’t asked for – I just wanted a good historical story. This book seems even more so, and maybe just too much for me.

This sounds like one that is definitely best to read over a long period of time. I’m currently reading a book that is over 1,000 pages long and I am breaking it up with an audiobook to make it less intimidating.

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