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by Gabriel Urza
Henry Holt, August 2015
257 pages
ISBN: 1627792430

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Memories lend a powerful force to life, whether they be individual or collective memories. In this novel, never was that truer than in the case of Muriga, a small town in the Basque region of Spain. Ravaged by memories of Franco and the Civil War and haunted by the treatment of its people, ties to separatists run deep, if hidden. It's little surprise that young people are attracted to separatist political movements, like ETA, as they seek to imprint their mark on the world.

However, such youthful adventures turn deadly in the case of one local man, Jose Antonio Torres. When he disappears from the train station on his way home one evening, the whole town is shaken to its foundation.

As a result, secrets will be revealed, alliances will shift, and several young men will be hauled off to prison for the rest of their lives.

Telling the story from three different perspectives, first time author Gabriel Urza perfectly captures the ghosts that haunt us and the forces that pull people to do things they never could have imagined. In the age of ISIS, we are beginning to see how the young are manipulated by the injustices they seek to correct, even as they are used by the powers that be. We also see the cover-ups and lies that families tell each other to continue forward, even as things are cracking at the seams.

This is a beautifully written, unusually thoughtful book. The mystery of who killed Jose Antonio and why seem almost beside the point. The larger issues have to do with relationships, within families, between partners, within a community, and nationally as a country. It's not always easy to do the right thing, even with the best of intentions.

Moreover, when things get tough, people tend to fall apart despite the cliched positive strengthening so many would rather proclaim.

Life is challenging, and memories can make it more so. Those things that affect us most deeply are often heavy burdens to carry. Gabriel Urza explores this point with humanity in his beautifully crafted tale.

Christine Zibas is a freelance writer and former director of publications for a Chicago nonprofit.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, August 2015

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