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• Friday, March 23rd, 2018

Maria Duenas was born in Puertollano, Spain in 1964. She is a doctor of English philology, a professor at the University of Murcia, has worked at various universities in North America and has published several academic articles. Duenas has also taken part in numerous educational, cultural and editorial projects. She lives in Cartagena, Spain.

After twenty years of being an academic, Duenas decided to do something else. She says: “’I’ve always been a good reader, I’ve always been involved in the world of language, how it works and I have always had a very vivid imagination, so I decided to put those three things together”.

She became well-known in 2009 in her native Spain because of her first spy book, The Time In Between, which has won numerous literary awards. Maria Duenas has published three novels to date. Her first novel: The Time In Between, was published in 2009. Her second successful book: The Heart Has Its Reasons was published in Spanish in 2012 and in English in 2014 and has won the Madrid Culture Award for Literature. Both her novels have been best sellers and have been translated into several languages. Her third novel: La Templanza was published in 2015.

The story of The Heart Has Its Reasons starts in September 1999 with the bewildered, heartbroken, Blanca Perea, a forty-five-year-old accomplished professor, who has worked for fourteen years at a Madrid university. She has been happily married for twenty-five years to Alberto and has two independent grown-up sons from him. Suddenly her life seems to come to an end when her husband abandons her for a younger woman who is carrying his child.

Distressed and overwhelmed by her husband’s perfidy, it takes Blanca two months to try to attune to her harsh reality. She now has one thing in mind, to escape her troubled life as well as everything around her and anything that reminds her of her previous settled marital life. Somewhere where she doesn’t know a soul and no one knows her.

Hastily, Blanca accepts a temporary research grant, financed by a mysterious private foundation called SAPAM at the small California University of Santa Cecilia, a small town north of San Francisco. It is an ungratifying job, poorly paid, for people with lower professional status than her PhD degree. Blanca’s new post consists of the compilation and classification of the archives belonging to the eminent, exiled Spanish professor, Andrés Fontana, who died thirty years back in 1969 in a car accident at the age of fifty-seven.

After introducing her story, the author takes the reader through two interconnected stories involving three characters; the story of Blanca Perea and the charismatic professor, Daniel Carter, in the present and the story of Andrés Fontana and his bright pupil, Daniel Carter, through flashbacks from the past.

The protagonist, Blanca Perea, is living a hard time trying to recover from the shock of her divorce while attempting to rebuild a new life for herself. Daniel Carter is a successful university scholar who wants to revive the legacy of his late Spanish professor and mentor, Andrés Fontana, by having all his work about the Spanish Franciscan monks classified and updated by Perea and by helping her with his valuable knowledge about Fontana.

As for professor Andrés Fontana, his character, as well as his ventures are revealed, owing to the notes he left behind and to the several analepses revealing his particular interest in the last of these missions, which he called Mission Olvido and whose track seems to have been lost.
In her novel, the author pays tribute to all the teachers who suffered exile because of the Spanish Civil War and the dictatorial, military regime of General Franco. The exiled Spaniards were welcomed by the USA and were allowed to pursue their careers in their adopted country. Duenas also pays tribute to the Franciscan missionaries and in particular to the Spanish Franciscan friar, José Altimira from Mission San Francisco de Assisi, who founded the Mission San Francisco de Solano in Sonoma in 1823. There is also a mention about El Camino Real – the royal road – the historical trail that linked California’s Spanish missions.

The Heart Has Its Reasons is a composite, rich story with several plot twists. It is well documented, with historical events from the nineteenth century about the Spanish Christian missions. Then it moves to the twentieth century with General Franco’s autocratic regime, along with life in Spain in the fifties and sixties, including the exiled, little-known, Spanish writer, Ramon J. Sender, the subject of Daniel Carter’s thesis.

While digging into the distant past through her work, Blanca Perea discovers the imagined Spain by her exiled and migrant compatriots. By searching into Andrés Fontana’s papers, helped by Daniel Carter and going through all the past and present secrets, intrigues and deceits around her, Blanca surprisingly finds herself more able to face her insurmountable problems with more clarity.

The story underlines the cultural differences between Spain (the old continent) and the USA (the new world). The author depicts a subtle, endearing Blanca Perea as a modern woman who refuses apathy and fights to conquer the adversities that life inflicts on her. Maria Duenas emphasises the tenacity of human nature which is capable of a new start after a significant loss by reinventing itself by moving forward. This idea is expressed in Carter’s speech at the Thanksgiving dinner hosted by Carter and Perea’s friend, the university’s secretary, Rebecca Cullen, another bruised soul by a deceitful former husband.

Carter uses as a reference to his speech, Rebecca’s favourite song, Gracias A La Vida sung by Joan Baez. He says the lyrics, “give thanks to everything that helps us be happy on a daily basis. The eyes to see the stars, the alphabet to compose beautiful words, the feet to roam through cities and puddles and all those daily activities that some no longer have, and those of us who do should feel immensely grateful for. Because sometimes, even if the going gets tough, in the end, we always have those small things.”.

Category: Book Reviews
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