What qualifies as a historical novel is among the great issues of the world – at least among reader/writer nerds. In a recent email conversation with a writer friend, we agreed that a book had to have more than a long ago diary date and an absence of technology to qualify. The time and place needs to be essential to the story. I would add that the book gets a big bonus from me if it makes me want to know more about that time and place.
A Thunderous Whisper by Christina Diaz Gonzales qualifies. In a story set in Guernica, Spain in the late 1930s, Ani is introduced as “Invisible. Irrelevant. Just an insignificant twelve-year-old girl living in a war-torn country.” Ostracized by her peers because her father is away at war and her mother works as a sardinera, she is called “Sardine Girl” and worries that she carries with her the smell of fish. Her teamwork with Matthias, another outcast because he is Jewish, to help his father’s spy operation becomes a central issue of the story. Matthias uses a different name for her – “Princess,” but she is not sure she likes it much better than “Sardine Girl.”
As they use the sardine business to cover carrying spy messages, she runs a dangerous course even as her differences with her mother escalate. She hears her mother’s words, “We are all insignificant. Just a whisper in a loud world.” She knows her mother is wrong and determines not to be insignificant.
True to this time and place, Christina does not tie all the ends in a “happily ever after” bow. I would like to have known more about what happened to Matthias, although I loved the way she left her readers with an intriguing hint in the epilogue. Perhaps a sequel is in order.
The book makes my list of historical novels since the story could only have happened in this time and place. It also gets my bonus since it left me wanting to know more about the Basque people of Spain and their response to the encroaching Nazi army.