Ildefonso Falcones (Barcelona, 1958; Spanish Wikipedia article), a lawyer and best-selling author of historical fiction (Cathedral by the Sea, The Hand of Fatima) recently published his third novel, entitled La reina descalza [The barefooted queen]. According to a recent review by Javier Gutiérrez Carretero in La Vanguardia‘s culture supplement “Cultura/s” (March 27, pp. 12-13), it treats the changes in gypsy culture in 18th century Spain after King Fernando VI dictated their social confinement. The story, structured in six chapters, centers on the beginnings of the art of Flamenco by following two protagonists: Caridad, a black woman who gained freedom from slavery at Cuba, and Milagros, a gypsy woman of the Carmona clan, a rebellious and loving youngster. These two different characters go together on a journey of initiation that starts and ends at San Miguel street in the Triana neighborhood of Sevilla. The plot dives deep into the traditions and manners of a culture based on honor and pride, and it presents the society of an epoch with few heroes and many thugs; two agitated lives condemned to otherness and suffering due to royal mandate and social prejudice.
Gutiérrez names four reasons for Falcones’ continuing success – La reina descalza starts with an initial edition of 500.000 copies: 1. An attractive subject that “traps” the reader and centers on another dark moment of Spanish history. 2. A serious documentary effort that enables the reader to contextualize this unknown moment in a precise epoch and space and to identify with the touching destiny of its protagonists. 3. A clear and simple language without stylistic “fuss” that allows for quick reading. 4. A very potent marketing effort by the publisher.
The reviewer sums up: “… a type of historical novel specialized in a quickly consumable entertainment for a broad public, in which the historical anecdote gains absolute protagonism at the expense of whatever literary ambition of an aesthetic type.”