Translated by Julie Wark
Published by Alma Books
When Julian receives a request from Salvador, his long time friend, to visit him in Alicante, he decides to go even though he knows there is a strong possibililty that he will never return to his home in Buenos Aires. For Julian is in his mid-eighties and Salvador has requested his help in capturing two former Nazis, a man and wife who oversaw the extermination of the Jews in Mauthausen, the very concentration camp where Julian and his friend were incarcerated. When Julian arrives at his friend’s nursing home, he finds Salvador has died. Julian, who wished only to return to the normality of humanity following his escape from the Nazis, finds himself inheriting the dead man’s mission for justice.
At the same time Sandra, a thirty-year old pregnant woman who is alienated from her family and has left the father of her child, is suffering from morning sickness on the beach. An elderly couple comes to her aid. They befriend her, employ her as a companion to the woman and establish themselves as a surrogate family. Not until Sandra’s path crosses with Julian and she becomes aware that she is working for the only foreigner to be awarded the Gold Cross (and therefore extremely cruel) is there any sense of menance. Will she be able to extract herself from the situation without giving away that she knows who the couple really are?
Clara Sánchez’s novel is based on the fact that after the Second World War, many Nazis found refuge in Spain, where they managed to live to a ripe old age without anyone bothering them. In her novel they have formed a protective community, complete with new recruits. Now in old age and dying off, though still ruthless when necessary, they are aware that they may yet be called to account for the crimes of the past.
This is an intelligent novel exploring the moral legacy of the past. Is there any point pursuing Nazi war criminals when those still alive are now old and feeble? Is there still a threat in leaving them in peace? As for their victims, can their wounds heal without justice? Absorbing too, the juxtaposition of the outlooks of old age and youth. Julian, an old man on the cusp of death, reflects on his life and his attempts to establish normality and meaning after being reduced to a piece of flesh with no rights to exist on the earth. Sandra, a young woman on the cusp of life, lost in contemporary doubt as to the meaning and purpose of her own. And, of course, those old Nazis, going underground to survive in an world order they lost; the Aryans, prey to the devastations of old age just like everyone else, ready to be exploited in a thoroughly modern way …..
After all, what goes around, comes around.