Monday, February 11, 2013

"Valley of Betrayal," by Tricia Goyer

Tricia Goyer, a writer with a slew of novels about World War II to her credit, stumbled upon the Spanish Civil War in researching an earlier book. She’d read about an American pilot who had crashed in Nazi-occupied Belgium and applied survival skills picked up as a volunteer in the Iberian conflict.

Like many of us, she became smitten with both the conflict and with the country itself and dedicated her efforts to crafting "A Valley of Betrayal (Chronicles of the Spanish Civil War, Book 1)"which would appear to be the first in a series.

the highway scribe came across Goyer during one of his frequent forays onto the Web site of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA) where students, Hispanophiles, sectarian communists, tried and true veterans of the International Brigades, and eminent scholars like Paul Preston and Fraser Otanelli trade-off information, requests, and arguments on a “list” overseen by New York University.

Or something like that; it’s a little hard to figure out.

Goyer joined the list chatter last year, asking for a little help and got some rough handling due to the fact her publisher, Moody, is a “Christian” editorial house.

A confirmed, confessed and convinced non-believer, the scribe was inclined to smirk as well, but opted for a more gracious approach since he’s found in his long career that writers are mostly self-involved and incapable of kindness toward others of their craft.

Goyer responded to the scribe’s suggestions, whatever they were, by purchasing his book “Vedette,” which, you know, represented the total for sales in 2006.

Soon thereafter, too soon it seemed, she announced on the ALBA list that she’d finished the work. the scribe contacted her and she sent a free copy.

The Christians are winning in highwayscribery’s book.

Despite the short turnover time, Goyer has done an admirable job in tackling a muddled, now distant, and controversial subject. Her capacity for research and historical reconstruction is rather remarkable as she renders lively and detailed portrayals of revolutionary Barcelona, Madrid under siege, the horrors of the front, and the tragedy of Guernica.

That’s a full plate and it is achieved with a simple, straightforward style that doesn’t try too hard, but successfully pulled the scribe into her dramatization.

“Valley’s” primary character is Sophie Grace, a young woman hurrying to Spain on the trail of a photographic journalist named Michael with whom she is in love and hopes to marry. Michael’s betrayal of her affections is mirrored in the larger conflict around Sophie and deepens her confusion as she looks for a rock to lean on in a country where the very earth moves beneath her feet and few people are who or what they claim to be.

The supporting characters include Deion, an African-American volunteer to the International Brigades; Father Manuel, a Basque priest from Guernica trying to reconcile his support for the “godless” Republic with the savagery of Franco’s Catholic crusade; Philip, an American track runner pulled into the conflict by the anti-Fascist impulses of his teammate Atticus; and Ritter, a Nazi pilot with the Condor Legion.

Leading Sophie on her path to self-realization as a painter of propaganda posters for the Republican cause and amateur nurse on the front, Goyer pulls each thread taught to the culmination at Guernica where distinct literary fates await.

Goyer is especially good at spreading layers of increasing narrative desperation in the Republican ranks which seemingly choke the reader as much as those on the ill-fated Loyalist side.

There is an inherent problem with writing literature about the Spanish Civil War in that the conflict was exceedingly complex and hardly anybody knows anything about it anymore. So there is an unavoidable didactic touch, very light, spread throughout early parts of the book that will serve neophytes, but grate on more seasoned buffs.

As to the “Christianity” contained within the tale, it is hard to see where it amounts to anything more than what you find in most literature, faith playing the role it does in so many lives. And Goyer comes alive when she treats the ethical and moral questions confronting both she and her characters. She does it with intelligence and a knowing hand without coming off preachy/creepy.

The unbeliever may cringe somewhat at Sophie’s final realization that her blown-off-course fate in Spain was part of “God’s plan,” but the scribe confesses to hearing that from some of the dearest people in his life, all of whom accept him in spite of the iconoclasm and brazen atheism.

Which is to say this story fits into the story of the world, and certainly into that of Spain circa the 1930s.

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