“The Vineyard” by Maria Duenas. 544 pages. Atria Books: 2017
“The Vineyard” is an engrossing read of historical fiction that spans the diverse worlds in 1860’s Mexico, Cuba and Spain. This is a novel of sacrifice, ambition, heartbreak, resilience, adversity, triumphs and defeats, silver mines, family, intrigues, grand passion and vineyards. The main character, Mauro Larrea is a 47 year old Spaniard who builds a great fortune in the silver mines of Mexico. After risking everything and finding himself on the wrong side of the American Civil War he is swamped by debts and uncertainty, and gambles the last of his last money in the hopes of an opportunity to restore his fortune. He has four months to pay off the moneylender and a task that would seem impossible to most people. Mauro is undaunted and knows he has more than himself to worry about. His daughter Mariana can conceal his situation from her husband’s family until her father restores his fortune. His son Nicolas, however is another story. His engagement may be in jeopardy if his fiance’s family learns of Mauro’s dire circumstances.
He gambles and wins an abandoned house and vineyard in Jerez, Spain. His goal is to travel to Spain to sell the property and return to Mexico with no one any the wiser. When Soledad Montalvo, wife of a London wine merchant, comes into his life, his future is less assured. He becomes entangled with the family that previously owned the vineyard and wholly immersed in the sherry trade and decides he wants to restore the vineyard to its former glory.
Dueñas also explores the notion of national identity. Although Mauro is a Spaniard by birth, the Spaniards he encounters on his return call him the “Indiano,” a derogatory term meant to lump him with the native Mexicans encountered by Spanish colonialists. On their way to a fancy party, Claydon assures Larrea that the guests are “quite accustomed to putting up with the eccentric behavior of foreigners. And, despite our origins, at this stage in our lives that is what both you and I mainly are.”
Duenas has a very lyrical style, rich and vivid in plot and the lush descriptions of Mexico, Cuba and Andalusia transport you through the three phases of Mauro’s journey. This is a charming tale andif reader likes Kate Morton and Kristin Hannah they will enjoy this book.
Luba Sawczyn is the Branch Manager of the Graham Public Library. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (336) 570-6730.