There Your Heart Lies

Written by Mary Gordon
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In 1937, a year into the Spanish Civil War, New Yorkers Marian and Russell are on board the SS Normandie on their way to Spain to help the Republican cause. They are an unusual couple. Marian is a naive 19-year-old from a wealthy Catholic family she has abandoned, and Russell is a Jewish doctor, the former lover of Marian’s late brother. Theirs is a marriage of convenience, to satisfy their idealism to care for the wounded in Spain. On the battlefront, Russell cannot endure the horrors and hardships of war and returns home. Marian is left to suffer more misfortunes and is confined in Spain in dangerous circumstances for nearly a decade. She is unable to talk about her experiences until, in her nineties, she is diagnosed with cancer and living in a cottage in Rhode Island with her granddaughter, Amelia. Amelia finds her grandmother’s disclosures extraordinary; they induce her to visit Spain to resolve them and seek her own identity.

In her eighth novel, Mary Gordon, winner of several literary prizes, presents important insight which inspires us to realize that lessons from the past can help improve our lives. This message is delivered aptly and progressively through the unique relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter. Marian’s volunteering at a tender age to fight fascism in Spain—which turned out to be a dress rehearsal for WWII— not only shatter her idealism but shape her character, as do her experiences following that war and its fanaticism. Marian passes down these lessons, and Amelia learns more about them herself by traveling abroad. The shifts in the novel between wartime and Marian’s old age keep the storyline engrossing without being confusing. Highly recommended.