The Swiss Nurse
This novel is based on the real-life story of Elisabeth Eidenbenz, who ministered to the orphaned children and expectant mothers displaced by the Spanish Civil War in 1937. This valiant Swiss nurse and her assistants established a maternity hospital over the border in France that saved hundreds of lives. Mario Escobar has done extensive research to provide a factual history of the events portrayed, and Eidenbenz’s heroism deserves to be recognized.
Sadly, however, this novel is seriously overwhelmed by the many tragedies it attempts to portray. It includes the story of Peter, an idealistic American who fights for the Spanish Republic, and his Spanish wife, Isabel, as they try to flee from Franco’s troops to find safety in France. The pair are separated several times and suffer many hardships and losses. Peter is arrested by various forces more than a few times. Isabel joins with Elisabeth but loses many friends in her flight to France. The novel also portrays diverse, displaced victims who are likewise trapped by the war; most do not survive.
The telling of the individual refugee stories is weakened by exaggerated description, hackneyed dialogue, and occasional trite moralizing. The characters have no depth, which makes it hard to identify with their plight. Violence overwhelms the plot action. In recounting this painful time in modern history, Escobar would have done well to remember that less is more.