IN THE NIGHT OF TIME. By Antonio Munoz Molina. Translated by Edith Grossman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 641 pages. $30.
Antonio Munoz Molina's "In The Night of Time" is a sweeping love story enveloped by the horrors of the Spanish Civil War.
The protagonist Ignacio Abel was born lower-class but rose in society, becoming an acclaimed architect and married into an upper-class family. His wife Adela is older, and their marriage has become loveless, at least on his side.
Working on his most important project, the creation of the idealistic University City in Madrid, Abel is plagued by setbacks due to government instability. (It was on these very grounds that Franco's fierce battle for control over the capital took place.)
As Madrid begins to descend into the madness of revolution, Abel meets the wealthy American Van Doren, a philanthropist who offers him a position at an American University in Upstate New York, as well as Judith Biely, a young American traveling in Europe. Abel and Biely begin an affair.
This is but a part of Molina's big picture, which is Spain's Civil War, and the author writes passionately and meticulously about this complicated conflict. The detail is astounding as we see the world through Abel's eyes. Events soon take control of the affair, and Judith leaves Spain.
The Spanish Civil War has never been easy to explain; Abel, a socialist, struggles to understand its complexities by conducting imaginary conversations with historical figures and others.
"The revolution is necessary surgery," spouts one such figure, the writer Jose Bergamin, who presides over the Anti-Fascist Alliance. "The cut, of necessity, has to be bloody," he says. "But what counts is not the spilled blood in and of itself but the smoothness of the operation."
Abel struggles with his own loyalties: to his family, country and morals. His life in Madrid is becoming increasingly dangerous, although a registered Socialist, Ignacio is stopped repeatedly by Republican revolutionaries roaming the darkened streets of Madrid, demanding he show his papers. At one point, he narrowly avoids a firing squad. As casualties mount, he walks the streets of the old city looking for an old friend, Professor Rossman, among the corpses.
As the situation becomes more desperate, he decides to escape, like many of the intelligentsia. He hopes to get to the U.S. where a new future beckons. He embarks on a two-week nightmarish journey, by truck, train and ship, finally arriving at his destination, where the rest of the story unfolds.
In this monumental book, Molina has described with brutal honesty the atrocities committed on both sides of the war, an event that more than eight decades later remains a wound not quite healed.
Reviewer Frances Monaco is a writer based in Charleston.