A Million Drops

Written by Lisa Dillman (trans.) Víctor del Árbol
Review by Rebecca Kightlinger

“Nobody wants to be sent off to freeze to death in Siberia. So the police make up any damn excuse to send them there, no trial, nothing. All it takes is no internal passport.”

So begins Elías Gil’s nightmare. Having traveled to the USSR in 1933 to study and work, the idealistic young Communist engineer from Barcelona leaves his friends in a bar to go outside for a moment—without his passport—and is taken by police, shot, beaten, and jailed as a spy. Deprived of water for days, he tries to make sense of this “misunderstanding,” as his friends are arrested, mutilated, and forced to give him up. Faced with their betrayal and dying of thirst, Elías is offered water in exchange for his confession. “In the end, Elías picked up the glass, brought it to his lips, and with one sip sealed his fate.”

In A Million Drops, award-winning author Víctor del Árbol creates a world as mystifying as that of Josef K.’s in Kafka’s The Trial. But del Árbol takes readers further—across generations, continents, and wars—in a tale whose characters are bound by secrets, love, revenge, and hatred. And not the kind of hatred we usually see. This hatred simmers and festers for generations, consuming all in its path and curling the reader’s lip.

Readers who study the Spanish Civil War and the aftermath of the Russian Revolution will be gratified by del Árbol’s attention to detail. Those less familiar with the era will not get lost, thanks to the author’s clear depiction of place, era, and politics.

Blending personal, psychological, and historical elements in a nonlinear narrative, A Million Drops is complex, but del Árbol has the chops to pull it off. Take your time reading this one. It is worth every minute. Strongly recommended.