Strengths: Beautiful prose and a mix of genres
Weaknesses: Sometimes the protagonist changes at a crucial point!
Why I read it: Sent by Bloomsbury – thank you!
Publisher: Alma Books / Bloomsbury
Setting: Costa Brava, Spain
Rating: 9 out of 10
The Scent of Lemon Leaves is translated from the Spanish and I’m so glad it was (as I’m sure my Spanish friend wouldn’t translate for me and my Spanish is limited to ‘hola’). It’s a beautiful book that transcends genres – it starts as a hunt for Nazis, grows into a friendship between two unlikely people, containing thrilling suspense and a look at relationships.
The book is told in alternate first person – starting with Julian. Julian is a former inmate of the Nazi concentration camps and he and his friend, have been trying to hunt the officers down over the years. Julian returns to Spain from Buenos Aires after a letter from his friend Salva about an infamous Norwegian Nazi couple living there. On arrival, Julian finds Salva is dead. If he wants these people to come to justice, it’s up to him. Enter Sandra. Sandra has fled her partner after finding she is pregnant – she’s not sure what she wants. Coming over ill on the beach one day, she is rescued by Fred and Karin, who happen to be the people Julian is hunting. As Sandra is brought deeper and deeper into the Brotherhood, she and Julian become friends to try and discover what is going on. Although these people may be elderly, they certainly have the power to try and dissuade Julian and Sandra by fear.
Although the cover may not look like it, this book is quite a thriller, especially once Sandra realises her wannabe grandparents are high ranking Nazis. There were times that I just couldn’t stop reading, wanting to know what happened next. At other times, this book moves more slowly, exploring the friendship between Julian and Sandra and how they can help each other. The book also looks at other relationships too – such as Julian and his daughter, Sandra and her unborn son and the power play between those in the Brotherhood. It’s also an interesting relationship between the past and the present. The past hangs heavily on the characters’ minds – for Julian, it’s bringing the Nazi officers to justice on behalf of those who didn’t make it to old age and for the Brotherhood, it’s trying to regain lost glories and stop the ageing process.
There’s a lot of talk about age and its effects on the body. We know repeatedly that Julian needs to take a lot of medication to keep functioning and Sandra is horrified at how skinny he is. Alice, one of the Brotherhood, looks oddly young for her age and Karin is riddled with arthritis. It’s interesting that some of the main power plays and arguments between the Brotherhood take place over medication. The reader is asked to judge if given that these people who committed crimes are now old and falling apart, should they be brought to justice? What should be the outcome for them? Julian’s ultimate decision I found both acceptable in ways and unacceptable in others.
I enjoyed how the novel ended. It wasn’t as I’d predicted and the winding down was symbolic of the ageing process. Definitely an enjoyable read with some unexpected twists.