Open Sea

Written by Cynthia Steele (trans.) María Gudín
Review by Cindy Vallar

Captured by pirates, Catalina “Len” and her mother are taken to England, a move that forces her mother into prostitution when no ransom is paid. An English priest rescues Len and takes her to live with the Leighs, a family with secrets. Her life becomes deeply enmeshed in theirs, especially that of their younger son, Piers. Growing political and religious unrest endanger the Leighs, and Len makes a fatal mistake. When only she emerges from the unfathomable nightmare, guilt strikes her mute and despondent until a wounded Spaniard sends her the medallion she gave to Piers, whom she believes dead.

Piers Leigh confides his deepest thoughts and dreams to Len and, even when afraid, she shares his adventures. His dream of becoming a sailor is destroyed when the Parliamentarians come to power, but their vindictiveness and a betrayal from within the family eventually allow him to join the Royalist navy. Parting from Len is bittersweet, but he vows to return to her one day. The war is not the grand adventure he expects, and his sins and news of Len’s death spiral his life downward into piracy, from which there can be no redemption.

This memorable tale pulls no punches. It occurs during the 1650s, with earlier years recounted in flashbacks. Gudín artfully draws readers into Len’s story until it is impossible to put down the book. After nearly 200 pages of first-person viewpoint, the sudden switch to Piers’s story, also told in first person, is jarring and less compelling, although the need for events to unfold from his perspective is vital. The epilogue relates their final chapter but is revealed by a third character in first person. The translation is seamless and the tale rich in historical detail, vividly recreating 17th-century life in two very different worlds.