In the Dark

Written by Anamaría Crowe Serrano
Review by Carrie Callaghan

In the winter of 1937, the ancient city of Teruel is buffeted by snowstorms and war, as the changing fronts of the Spanish Civil War cause the city to change hands repeatedly. War has thrust two very different sisters together, and one of them, María, has a dangerous secret: a man living in the dark under her stairs.

As the war rages, filling María’s small house with more people, the secret becomes more difficult to sustain, while people find surprising comfort and danger in their found family. Meanwhile, the man under the stairs watches, fearful yet in some ways more profoundly happy than he has ever been.

The author is a poet, and In the Dark often feels like a prose poem. Each section is no more than two pages, often less, showing fractured snatches of consciousness of the various characters whose lives intersect (often to tragic effect) in this novel. At first, these fragments can be confusing or disorienting, especially as characters’ identities remain obfuscated. But as the novel progresses, both the characters and the stakes stabilize, and the novel sinks its teeth into you – addressing the blinding nature of ideology, the tensions between sisters, and the weight of forbidden love.