Book Review: The Last Son’s Secret by Rafel Nadal Farreras

Among the olive groves and vineyards of southern Italy, a boy and a girl are born, moments apart. Far away in the trenches of World War I, their fathers have just died. Now all the men in Vitantonio’s family have been wiped out – all twenty-one. All except him.

Growing up together, war seems far away for the two children. But Vitantonio’s mother will do anything to protect her son from the curse of death that seems to hang over the family – and so she tells a lie. It is a lie that will bind Vitantonio and Giovanna, the girl who shares his birthday, together over the years. But as the clouds of another war begin to gather on the horizon, it may ultimately drive them apart…

What I Thought:
As part of my personal reading challenge this year, I am trying to read more books in translation – there are so many fantastic books out there in other languages and, sadly I won’t be able to work on the languages, but I certainly intend to seek out more translations to add to my wish list.

The Last Son’s Secret, originally written in Catalan, is beautifully translated into English by Mara Faye Lethem, and retains all the pace, emotion and drama of the original text.

I am a sucker for a wartime, historical novel, and while the lion’s share of the novel takes place between the wars, it serves in some instances as a useful history lesson – for example, I had no real idea that Italy fought with the allies in World War One, before forming a alliance with Germany by the 1930s. There is also a great deal written about the French resistance during the German occupation, but this book also provides an introduction to the Italian resistance and anti-fascists that were also working against the Germans.

While there is a lot of factual information, and real-life events in the novel, it is skillfully interwoven with the fictional characters, and so never seems like a ‘facts overload’. The narrative is very clear and focused, using the real events to add drama and tragedy into the story of Giovanna and Vitantonio. This is particularly evident in the World War 2 sections, where we have seen the two characters grow up from babies, but now follow them as adults, as they make their own decisions and follow their own paths.

In terms of readability, the book starts out at a good pace, then there is a minor lag as we watch the children grow up, but I wonder if this is just the nature of the idyllic lifestyle shown here? The pace picks up again as the threat of war looms and the World War Two sections are packed with action and very quick to read.

This is the first of Rafel Nadal Farreras’ novels to be translated into English, and I would definitely read more, should they become available.

The Last Son’s Secret was published by Black Swan on 29th June. For more information about the author and to read an extract of the novel, you can take a look at the book’s page on the Penguin website.

Note: I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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