In addition, babies were often taken away from their mothers at birth, not only if they were unmarried or jailed, but if they were of a different political persuasion to the fascists. This rule was considered to be of benefit to the couples of the Francoist regime who wished to adopt a child, or sometimes in order to indoctrinate them to agree with the new politics of the state. Even after the war it became a state policy that continued for some years.
Other characters in the story also help with this issue, but won’t go into any more detail, as I’ve no wish to make spoilers.
Here’s an extract from the Prologue:
Ventas prison, 1938
My dearest love,
Let me assure you that I am well. The silence in the prison cells as thousands of women prisoners wait for the call they dread is deeply distressing. Every night is the same. The guards come in the hour before dawn to select the next victims to be shot by firing squad. The only crime of many of these poor women is to have supported their husband by not revealing his whereabouts, or simply to raise funds for the Republican cause. Even failing to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church with sufficient diligence can result in execution, particularly if the family is of the wrong political persuasion.
Sometimes I feel that anticipating one’s death is almost worse than the actual event itself, rather like waiting to be sacrificed to ancient pagan gods. The agony becomes so intense that desperation grows inside me to get it over with quickly. Each night, when the call finally comes, the eyes of the women being taken go instantly blank, as if they’ve already departed this world and are looking beyond the grim walls of the prison to a life of peace in the hereafter.
They walk to meet their fate with pride and courage, dressed in their best, heads shaved. I confess to breathing a sigh of relief each time I am passed by, even if my heart bleeds for those less fortunate than myself. An emotionally charged silence generally follows, as those of us who have been spared listen for the sound of the shots that mark the end of yet more innocent lives.
Some prisoners have had their sentence commuted to anything from ten to thirty years. I can’t recall how much of my five-year sentence I have served here in Ventas prison, or La Pepa as some call it. I’ve lost track. But then time no longer seems relevant. I do hope you are still safe, my darling. I live in hope for the day when this dreadful war is over and we’ll be together again.
Sorry, my love, but I had to stop writing this letter and have returned to it a night or two later. I was interrupted by a heart-rending scream, then forced to watch in agonised silence as a woman frantically fought a guard who was dragging her child from her arms. He strode away with the screaming infant tucked under his arm as if it were no more than a rabbit. Silence descended upon everyone as the poor woman fell into a stupor, realising she had but hours to live. Perhaps she no longer cared, having lost the battle to save her child. The lack of facilities is such that many babies don’t survive birth. Nor do their mothers.
It is 1936 and Spain is on the brink of civil war. Across Europe, young men are enlisting in the International Brigade to free their Spanish brethren from the grip of Fascism, leaving sisters and lovers at home.
But not all women are content to be left behind. In Britain, Charlotte McBain and Libby Forbes, friends from opposite sides of the class divide, are determined to do what they can; in Spain, Rosita García Díaz, fiercely loyal to her family and country, cannot stand by and watch. Three brave women, inspired by patriotism, idealism, love and even revenge, dare to go into battle against tradition and oppression.
Tying them all together is Jo, Libby’s granddaughter. Five decades later she travels to Spain hoping to make sense of a troubling letter hidden among her grandmother’s possessions. What she learns will change all of their lives forever.
Deceit, heartbreak, and a longstanding fear of reprisals must all be overcome if the deeds of the forgotten women are to be properly honoured.
Other blogs about Forgotten WomenReaders Book Club Questions for Forgotten Women
Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War
Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War