By Clara Sanchez
Published by Alma Books
Reviewed by Jessica Patient
Clara Sanchez’s The Scent of Lemon Leaves is a curious book. Originally published in Spain, The Scent of Lemon Leaves has been a bestseller in Spain and Italy. Sanchez tells the story from the view of Julian, a retired Nazi Hunter, stuck in the past, and Sandra, a woman who has recently found out she is pregnant and has run away to her sister’s beach cottage on the Costa Blanca so she can decide whether or not she should marry the father of her unborn child. This is an intriguing approach and helps offers a young and old perspective throughout the novel.
“People think we’re anchored in the past, unable to understand the past.”
Sandra meets a Norwegian couple on the beach one morning and becomes close to them. She even gives up her sister’s cottage to move into their gated house and becomes intertwined with their friends. Julian has travelled from South America, after he receives a letter from his recently deceased work partner, saying he has spotted ‘wanted’ Nazis living in Spain. Both characters become snarled up in the lives of the Norwegian couple and their ‘brotherhood.’ Both characters are forced to deal with their pasts and face up to the future.
“They were at large among their victims, crossing paths with people they would have been only too happy to gas.”
The characterisation is very rich and sometimes this hinders the pacing of the plot. There are big revelations in the novel but sometimes these are suffocated by the characters stopping to think if what they were doing was right or wrong. The internal thoughts slowed the plot and made me reluctant to carry on with the novel.
“The present was devouring me and sometimes it seemed that I’d turned the page…”
The Scent of Lemon Leaves builds up the themes of deception, betrayal, loyalty and trust as Sandra tries to work out the truth and whom she can trust. On one hand, Julian is telling her that the ‘sweet’ old couple have helped with killing thousands of people. However, to her they seem to be a couple interested in her future and willing to protect her from the real world. Both Julian and Sandra have to battle against moral justice and legal justice to find the truth.
From the blurb, supplied by the publisher, I thought the novel sounded predictable. I was wrong. Sanchez holds together this psychological drama by twisting events and squeezing the moral core of the characters until it seems like the neither Sandra nor Julian can resolve their predicament.
If you like a book with intriguing characters and complex moral dilemmas then this book is for you.