Summary and book reviews of Winter In Madrid by C.J. Sansom

Winter In Madrid

By C.J. Sansom

Winter In Madrid
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2008,
    544 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2009,
    544 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa A. Goldstein

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About this Book

Book Summary

Fans of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind and Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong will fall in love with Winter in Madrid, the arresting new novel from C. J. Sansom. In September 1940, the Spanish Civil War is over and Madrid lies in ruins while the Germans continue their march through Europe. Britain stands alone as General Franco considers whether to abandon neutrality and enter the war.

Into this uncertain world comes Harry Brett, a privileged young man who was recently traumatized by his experience in Dunkirk and is now a reluctant spy for the British Secret Service. Sent to gain the confidence of Sandy Forsyth, an old school friend turned shadowy Madrid businessman, Brett finds himself involved in a dangerous game and surrounded by memories. Meanwhile, Sandy’s girlfriend, ex-Red Cross nurse Barbara Clare, is engaged in a secret mission of her own—to find her former lover Bernie Piper, whose passion for the Communist cause led him into the International Brigades and who vanished on the bloody battlefields of the Jarama. In a vivid and haunting depiction of wartime Spain, Winter in Madrid is an intimate and riveting tale that offers a remarkable sense of history unfolding and the profound impact of impossible choices.

Chapter One
London, September 1940

A bomb had fallen in Victoria Street. It had gouged a wide crater in the road and taken down the fronts of several shops. The street was roped off; ARP men and volunteers had formed a chain and were carefully moving rubble from one of the ruined buildings.

Harry realized there must be someone under there. The efforts of the rescuers, old men and boys caked with the dust that hung round them in a pall, seemed pitiful against the huge piles of brick and plaster. He put down his suitcase.

Coming into Victoria on the train, he had seen other craters and shattered buildings. He had felt oddly distanced from the destruction, as he had since the big raids began ten days before. Down in Surrey, Uncle James had almost given himself a stroke looking at the photographs in the Telegraph. Harry had scarcely responded as his uncle snarled red-faced over this new example of German frightfulness. His mind had retreated from the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Discussion Questions

  1. Institutions loom large in the book, from public school (which is the equivalent of private school in the US), to the Communist party, to the Catholic Church. How do the main characters reinforce and/or defeat them?

     
  2. Bernie begins the book as a devoted Communist, yet eventually becomes disillusioned with its ideology. Disillusionment with the Catholic Church also plays a large role in the book. Why does the author juxtapose the two? What are the dangers of ideology?

     
  3. The threat of approaching winter permeates the book. What does the cold weather symbolize? Why did the author choose to set the book during the winter?

     
  4. Each of the book’s main characters is ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Themes of power and fate resonate throughout the novel, and are revisited particularly at the end. Whether or not the conclusion is fitting is up for interpretation.   (Reviewed by Lisa A. Goldstein).

Full Review Members Only (650 words).

Media Reviews
The Daily Mail

Sansom's action-packed thriller is a classic tale of old loyalties pitched against new ideologies. Its portrait of murderous corruption, ranging from the Monarchists and Falangists in the government to the diplomats at the British Embassy, shows Franco's Madrid to have been even murkier than Harry Lime's Vienna.

Kirkus Reviews

Wise and melancholy and, eventually, very tense.

Publishers Weekly

This moving opus leaves the reader mourning for the Spain that might have been-and the England that maybe never was.

Dublin Evening Herald

Not since Robert Harris...have I come across a writer who captures the mood of an era so succinctly and graphically. It's as if Winter in Madrid were written in sepia...Winter in Madrid is not only a crash course in the politics of the era but serves as a marvellous primer on the duplicity and treacherousness of our species and yet gives us hope that there are exceptions to these terrible generalisations. Highly recommended.

The Independent (UK)

Various literary ghosts haunt this novel. There are touches reminiscent of Graham Greene, such as the threatening eruptions of the brutal Falangists, after the fashion of the Tontons Macoute in The Comedians. Hemingway's here too, in the terse prose. But Sansom transfigures his sources into a moral universe very much his own. The sexual and moral equivocation is handled with cool assurance.

Reader Reviews
P. Hawkins

"Winter in Madrid" and the Shardlake Series
Mr. Sansom has the potential to be a great writer, but falls short of that goal. Any author that overuses words or phrases leave something bitter in his or her writings. In fact, throughout the four Shardlake series, I began to count the very ...   Read More

J. CRESSMAN

Winter in Madrid
A grey, cheerless,morbid tale of Spain's dreary civil war, written, I suspect by an author quite lacking in faith, hope or positive outlook. One might gather, by his writing, that Sansome, is an unhappy Left-winger--Too bad. Not, in a book that you ...   Read More

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Did you know?

  • Spain has been through much political upheaval since General Franco's time. Following his death in 1975, parliamentary democracy was restored. Since then, Spain has tried a military-backed government, as well as ones led by the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), and the People's Party. The People's Party was in office from 1996 until 2004, when the PSOE won office in the aftermath of the March 11 terrorist bomb attacks in Madrid.

     
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