Book Quote:

“And I know for a fact that the dead don’t come back.”

Book Review:

Review by Guy Savage (MAR 3, 2010)

If you read enough world literature in translation, sooner or later you stumble across some of history’s dirty little secrets, and this thought came to mind as I read See How Much I Love You by Spanish author, Luis Leante. The novel, which was inspired by a 2005 trip to the Western Sahara, goes back and forth in time from 2000 to the pivotal year of 1975. 1975 was the year of Franco’s death, and while the death of the fascist dictator didn’t exactly unleash worldwide mourning, it did signal tremendous changes for the Western Sahara–Spain’s only African colony.

In the words of Sri Lankan author, Roma Tearne, “Has there ever been a country, that once colonized, avoided civil war?” And this quote rings true for yet another civil war in yet another colonized country. Following Franco’s death, the Western Sahara plunged into a civil war with Morocco and Mauritania fighting against the nationalist Saharawi Polisario Front. Decades of fighting carried a heavy cost. The Saharawi population is now decimated and dispersed. In the 1980s, Morocco built a sand and stone wall which is “protected” by more than 5,000,000 landmines. On the west side of the wall or “berm” as it’s called, are some of the Saharawis under Moroccan rule, and on the east side of the wall, are the so-called “liberated zones” (which represent about 1/5 of the Western Sahara), controlled by Polisario military forces. Oh yeah I forgot about the napalm dropped by the Moroccans and the French. All this reminds me of Algeria, so perhaps it’s not too surprising to read that Algeria continues to support the Polisario Front.

See How Much I Love You is not an overtly political novel, but the battle over who controls the Western Sahara and its resources is the backdrop of this tale. In 1974 Spain, the working class Santiago and the upper-class Montse meet and fall in love. When the relationship goes wrong, Santiago, bitter and disillusioned joins the army and then volunteers for the foreign legion in the Sahara. Meanwhile Montse continues the expected course of her life–eventually becoming a successful doctor, married to a highly-regarded and, as it turns out, philandering cardiologist.

Twenty-six years later, now middle aged, divorced and depressed, Montse carries on with her life. While she’s successful professionally, her bleak personal life is non-existent. She’s long since forgotten her youthful passion for Santiago, but then fate intervenes one evening. A badly injured woman arrives by ambulance at the hospital where Montse works. Although the woman dies, she leaves behind a handful of tattered photographs, and in one of the photos, Montse recognizes Santiago. The photograph shows Santiago “dressed like Lawrence of Arabia, with a long white tunic and a dark turban, undone and handing loose over his shoulders.” The photograph is dated 1976, and yet Montse was told that Santiago was killed in the Sahara during the 1975 Marcha Verde (Green March).

Part of the tale is set in 1975 and follows Santiago’s alienation from the actions of his fellow soldiers along with his growing affection for and identification with the native Saharawi people. The rest of the story follows Montse and her journey in 2000 across the Western Sahara to discover the truth about what happened to Santiago. This unforgettable, dangerous quest leads her not only to the truth about Santiago, but also leads to the truth about Spain’s past. Both Santiago and Montse’s lives are permanently affected by the results of Spain’s colonial ventures long after the Western Sahara has stopped being an “issue” for Spain. Santiago is sucked into the moral quagmire in 1975, but Montse’s awakening occurs in 2000 in a country still wrecked by the fallout of a long-fought civil war. Montse’s complete ignorance of Spain’s role in the Western Sahara reflects society’s collective ignorance of closet wars fought on distant shores.

In spite of its title, See How Much I Love You is not a love story. Montse is driven to discover the truth about Santiago not from any misplaced notions of excavating romance, but from a deep-seated need to discover the truth about her past, Santiago’s fate and also just what really took place in 1975. Those who decide to read this thought-provoking, serious novel would be well advised to read the background information at the end of the book first. Written by Danielle Smith, the founding director of Sandblast, a London-based charity which supports the Saharawi cause, this background clarifies some of the historical information that may be necessary for many readers. The novel covers a great deal of political territory–Santiago in 1975 Western Sahara, and Montse in 2000 traveling across some very harsh remote territory with various groups with various political (and criminal) intentions scattered throughout the region. Reading the background information prior to beginning the novel helps put the story in perspective and avoids confusion. For those readers who want their fiction to carry a serious political or social bite, then See How Much I Love You is recommended.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 3 readers
PUBLISHER: Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd (January 1, 2010)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
AMAZON PAGE: See How Much I Love You
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Literature Fest on Luis Leante

Wins Premio Alfaguara

EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another Spanish author we like:

Javier Cercas

Bernardo Atxaga

Antonio Munoz Molina


March 3, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Africa, Translated, World Lit, y Award Winning Author

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