Albi is a “then” and “now” story of an effect of the Spanish Civil War, specifically on the rural village of El Rincon, its inhabitants, and those in its surrounding territory.
Albi carries the narrative from the day when Albi, as a small boy, hears the chilling sound of marching feet of the Nationalist army as it approaches, and then occupies the village square.
The impact of this invasion and all its ramifications colours not only Albi’s youthful experiences but has its own widely disruptive effect on his family and neighbours. Albi’s innocence is inevitably tarnished and his judgements deeply confused. As a consequence he finds himself caught in a web of guilt and self doubt which increasingly haunts his adult life and eventually threatens to follow him into a tormented old age.
Hilary Shepherd’s approach to this project is supersensitive, meticulous and passionate. Her re-creation of the setting and of the politics, and her identification with the situations of her central characters are faultlessly impressive.
If anything diminishes the effect of this novel, it is that the writer is a little too possessive of it. She leaves very little for the reader to do but concur with the her account of events, sound as they may be. We are taken, carefully through an amazing and plausible story, but Hilary Shepherd’s treatment tends to deprive the reader of making his or her own discoveries as the narrative unfolds, or of forming their own sensations of compassion. or lack of it, for Albi’s actions.
Nevertheless we have here a highly commendable piece of historical storytelling.