I’m sipping my chai tea and nibbling on a slice of freshly baked Date Bread as I think about our recent book club discussion, and plan out my reading time for today, as I have another book club meeting tomorrow night and I’ve still got over 100 pages to go - yikes!
My volunteer book group met yesterday to discuss a book I’d never read before, The Creator’s Map by Emilio Calderon. I selected this book because it was one of the titles that my public library offered as a book club set, so clearly some Reader’s Advisory librarian felt that it was a good title for a book club, and sometimes I look to other sources for book choices for my own book club. This novel, whose main character is based on a real person, tells the story of José María, a young man who, while studying architecture at the Spanish Academy in Rome 1937, where a group of Spanish scholars and other exiles is taking refuge, gets mixed up in a plot to undermine the Nazis as they attempt to invade Italy, a plot headed by Montse, the young beautiful daughter of one of the richest men at the Academy, with whom José falls in love. While everyone else is pro-fascist and supports Franco and Hitler, José is not interested in politics at all, until he meets Montse. She is is elusive, secretive, and standoffish, but José’s heart is lost to her, and he is determined to do whatever it takes to win her over. He suspects that there is a romantic relationship between Montse and Prince Junio, an ardent fascist supporter, Gestapo official and personal emissary to Heinrich Himmler, but how can that be, with Montse so strongly against Hitler? It seems that José’s only way to win her heart is to expose Junio for who he really is… but what is his true identity? José becomes involved in the mission Montse has been tasked with, to gather information about the Nazis and pass it on to a British Intelligence agency, including their moves regarding the search for the Creator’s May, a map that has been rumoured to be created by God, showing where the greatest powers are concentrated on earth, and supposedly housed in the Vatican library. When they manage to steal the map and open it, it turns out to be poisoned, and of course, it is a fake, but this leads to speculation on both sides, the fascists and the resistance - who poisoned the map? who planted the map? why was the priest killed? and most importantly, how is Junio involved and whose side is he on? It was a bit like The Da Vinci Code and also reminded me of The Name of the Rose, but not nearly as well done. In fact, we all agreed that it was a confusing book to read, that it was difficult to follow the plot, and that José was a weak character (one member called him a “milquetoast”). But we also agreed that it was really interesting to learn about the experiences of the people of Spain in the years leading up to and during WWII, which is not something we read about often. I was thinking the same thing as I was reading the book, that I have read many books about war experiences from the British perspective, the German perspective, the Canadian and American perspectives, even from the Australian and Japanese perspectives, but never from the Spanish or Italian ones, so it was definitely a history lesson for me. And it was interesting to read about the relationship between the Vatican and the Third Reich, which was what historian Calderon wanted to explore in the novel. While we didn’t really enjoy the book, everyone was glad they read it, and it led to an interesting and lively discussion. So I would not necessarily recommend it for the plot, characters or use of language, but it was an interesting look at the history of the Spanish exiles in Rome at that period in history, and while the plot was confusing and it was not extremely well-written, I found it to be a quick read, both because it was a short novel and because it was fast-paced.
That’s all for today. Get outside and enjoy the sunshine!
Bye for now…