SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Frozen Heart’ by Almudena Grandes

The Frozen Heart

In a small town on the outskirts of Madrid, a funeral is taking place. Julio Carrion Gonzalez, a man of tremendous wealth and influence in Madrid, has come home to be buried. But as the family stand by the graveside, his son Alvaro notices the arrival of an attractive stranger—no one appears to know who she is, or why she is there. Alvaro’s questions deepen when the family inherits an enormous amount of money, a surprise even to them. In his father’s study Alvaro discovers an old folder with letters sent to his father in Russia between 1941 and 1943, faded photos of people he never met, and a locked grey metal box. The woman is Raquel Fernandez Perea, the daughter of Spaniards who fled during the Civil War. From the provincial heartlands of Spain to the battlefields of Russia, this is a mesmerizing journey through a war that tore families apart, pitting fathers against sons, brothers against brothers, and wives against husbands. Against such a past, where do faith and loyalty lie?


The Frozen Heart really is THE Spanish novel. As soon as I wrote my review, I found I was not the only one to say so. Two families, from the Spanish civil war until 2005, and how Spain and a family is the sum of the past. Here we have two families – the Fernandez Munoz family, Republican, rich and holidaying in Torrelodones (just north-west of Madrid) up until the war. The other side shows the Carrion Gonzalez family, with a conservative patriarch who supports the fascist regime, married to a woman who is part of the Socialist party (kaboom!), who live in Torrelodones.

Come to 2005 and Julio Carrion Gonzalez, a millionaire and a charismatic magician, has died. No one knows where he made his money or what happened during the war. Enter Alvaro Carrion Otero, his son, who is about to learn a whole lot more. Alvaro meets a woman (of course, beautiful) at his father’s funeral, who was an advisor for his father and his fortune. Despite being married, Alvaro falls for Raquel Fernandez Perea. For the delight of readers, Raquel has secrets and the scene is set for explosion.

The author of The Frozen Heart has written an incredible story (one that makes an author jealous, I tell you), which brings together love and greed, respect and heartache. Spain’s national identity is so complex that so many cannot understand. Should people reject their past, hold onto it? The book states the ever-present theme – One of the two Spains will freeze your heart – a line which has not yet become outdated, as wounds do not heal. This book is modern and tells of history in one. What is so great is that the main character’s dilemmas are not unique – so many people in Spain are suffering the same serious demons.

I suppose it as natural that I, being my own history, and my writing, would love this book. But anyone can love this book. Enjoy a grand-sized read and be educated without noticing. I cannot think of a book to top this story, not because of a unique story, but because of the realness exhibited.