Death of a Nationalist

Written by Rebecca C. Pawel
Review by Nicole Leclerc

In making us feel the omnipresence of fear, hunger, violence, suspicion, love, destruction, courage, cowardice, survival and death as a way of life, Pawel brings us the closest we’re likely to get to post-civil war Madrid, 1939.

Through two main characters, Tejada the nationalist Guardia and Gonzalo the Red runaway, embroiled in a successful plot involving the black market, we understand the coexistence of virtue and evil in an individual, the tendency to view the enemy as a monster, the dilemmas when morality clashes with survival, the complexity of Spanish politics, the daily effect of civil war on victors and losers, the motivations behind individual acts, and the emotional presence of a city. Harsh scenes of torture and pain are starkly contrasted by brightly lit glimpses of life in peacetime. The tone is never preachy, always just. The supporting cast is as complex as the stars, the scenery breathtakingly vivid.

For a debut novel, Pawel proves she is a stunning writer with her grasp of this space/time history and her understanding of the human heart.