The book takes place between 1929 and 1940, a time in Spain where the situation was quite terrible. Like in his previous book the action takes place in Jerez mainly, my hometown.
Lele, the female main character, lives with her parents and siblings in Zarza Street in the quarter of San Miguel. It is one of the neighbourhoods with the most marked personality in the city. It was born as a suburban slum to the southeast of the city walls in the sixteen century after Alfonso X conquered the city back. Now San Miguesl is a well-situated, populous quarter.
Beltrán has his house in Porvera Street, one of the most important streets in the city. It has its origins at the end of the sixteenth century as its direction is as old as the old city walls.
The first time Lele and Beltrán see each other is in Casino Jerezano, which at the time was in Larga Street. This is where her father worked as a waiter. Lele works there on New Year’s Eve in 1929 at the party the club threw and invited Primo de Ribera.
At the beginning of the book Miguel Primo de Rivera is the head of the government and is invited to the party on New Year’s Eve thrown by the casino. Miguel Primo de Rivera y Orbaneja (January 8, 1870 – March 16, 1930) was a dictator, aristocrat, and military officer who served as Prime Minister of Spain from 1923 to 1930 during Spain’s Restoration era. He deeply believed that it was the politicians who had ruined Spain and that governing without them he could restore the nation. Primo de Rivera led a military coup in September 1923. He was appointed Prime Minister by the King. He promised to eliminate corruption and to regenerate Spain. In order to do this he suspended the constitution, established martial law, imposed a strict system of censorship, and ended the turno system of alternating parties.
During the New Year’s party there is a mention to his statue that had been placed in Arenal Square recently, which was in 1928, and executed by Mariano Benlliure.
Beltrán car is a red Alfa Romeo 6C 15oo Touring.
The car that he uses more is called Plymouth. Plymouth was a brand of automobiles based in the United States, produced by the Chrysler Corporation and its successor DaimlerChrysler. The brand first appeared in 1928 in the United States to compete in what was then described as the “low-priced” market segment dominated by Chevrolet and Ford.
The car that Beltrán buys for Lele is an red convertible Austin Seven Ruby.
When Beltrán is studying in Madrid, he mentions the riots in the city to protest agains Callejo plan for universities. The plan included certain independence to every university, compulsory and optional subjects which establishes a uniformed certification system in the whole country. What caused discrepancies was the assimilation of the system in public universities to those run by Jesuits and Augustines, which was refused by students and professors, which triggered numerous strikes.
After that, we learn about the resignation of Primo de Rivera. When Primo de Rivera lost the support of the king and the armed forces, his dictatorship was doomed. Troubled by the regime’s failure to legitimise itself or to solve the country’s woes, the king also began to draw away. Alfonso, who had sponsored the establishment of Madrid’s University City, watched with dismay as the country’s students took to the streets to protest the dictatorship and the king’s support for it. A clandestine pamphlet portrayed Alfonso as Primo de Rivera’s dancing partner. Yet the king did not have to remove Primo de Rivera. On 26 January 1930, the dictator asked the military leaders if he still had their support. Their lukewarm responses, and his recognition that the king no longer backed him, persuaded him to resign two days later. Primo de Rivera retired to Paris, where he died a month and a half later at the age of 60 from fever and diabetes on 16 March 1930.
Miguel de Rivera was succeeded by Berenguer. Dámaso Berenguer y Fusté (4 August 1873 – 19 May 1953) was a Spanish soldier and politician. In January 1930, following the forced resignation of the dictator Primo de Rivera, King Alfonso XIII ordered Berenguer to form a government and restore a degree of normality to the country. As prime minister, Berenguer repealed some of the harsher measures introduced by Primo de Rivera, earning his regime the nickname dictablanda ( the toothless dictatorship). He also faced a number of problems – increasing demands for the abolition of the monarchy; disorganisation among the country’s political parties after seven years of repression making the calling of prompt elections an impossible task; labour unrest; and at least one military uprising.
While in Madrid Beltrán is collared by someone called Isabelino Ruiz, the secretary of General Emilio Mola. Emilio Mola y Vidal (9 June 1887 – 3 June 1937) was a Spanish Nationalist commander during the Spanish Civil War. Mola was made Director-General of Security in 1930, the last man to hold this post under Alfonso XIII.
In Jerez during the holy week in 1930 Beltrán gets to know Sonsoles Domecq. We know that Beltrán belongs to the brotherhood of Mayor Dolor. It is the oldest brotherhood in Jerez.
It was during the procession when some field labourers’ protests and demanostrations took place, which ended up with a conflict between demonstrators and the police. This was called “Las carreraas del dolor”, and that year while the procession was in Lancería Street a waiter dropped a tray, causing a stampede, people running even though they didn’t know why.
Beltrán and Sonsoles also go to see the brotherhood of Jesús Nazareno, whose procession takes place on Good Friday night.
Antonio Barea, Lele’s first boyfriend, belongs to the CNT. The Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT; “National Confederation of Labour“) is a Spanish confederation of anarcho-syndicalist labour unions. From 1918 on the CNT grew stronger.
On August 17, 1930 the Republic Alliance signed the pact of San Sebastián. Those present there were Alejandro Lerroux, Manuel Azaña, Nieto Alcalá-Zamora, Miguel Maura, Indalecio Prieto and Eduardo Ortega y Gasset. In that part these men agreed to created the Committee of Conjunction, which soon would beome the interim government of the Republic.
Antonio, who belonged to the CNT, often took Lele to a house in Justicia Street where the union for bricklayers met.
When Berenguer resigns, Juan Bautista Aznar became the head of government. Admiral Juan Bautista Aznar Cabañas, KOGF (Cádiz, 1860–Madrid, 1933) was the Prime Minister of Spain from the resignation of Dámaso Berenguer y Fusté on to the deposition of King Alfonso XIII and the proclamation of the Spanish Second Republic on April 14, 1931.
There is a reference to Sonsoles helping in “La Gota de Leche”. “The “Gota de Leche” (Milkdrop) was the name given to those institutions created to solve the prblems caused by malnutrition and hight infant mortality for those families who could not afford a wet nurse.
Isabelino approaches Beltrán for funds for the party founded by Angel Herrera. Ángel Herrera Oria (19 November 1886 – 28 July 1968) was a Spanish journalist and Roman Catholic politician and later a cardinal. He co-founded and presided (1908-1935) the Asociación Católica Nacional de Propagandistas (ACNdP) (Propagandists Catholic National Association), and the rightist party Acción Nacional (named after Acción Popular) (1931), presided Spanish Catholic Action (1933-1935), and edited (1911-1933) the pre-Civil War most important Catholic newspaper, El Debate.
1931 is when the king went into exile. On 12 April, the republican parties lost in the municipal elections, however they won in the large cities, where state had significantly less means to influence their outcome than in the rural areas. The municipal elections were fought as a virtual referendum on the future of the monarchy, with the high number of republican votes despite the huge number of irregularities carried out by the government meaning a defeat for the King. On 14 April, he fled the country as the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed, but did not formally abdicate. He settled eventually in Rome.
The Second Spanish Republic was the republican regime that existed in Spain from 1931 to 1939. Following the Provisional Government between April and December 1931, the 1931 Constitution established the Republic. The king’s departure led to a provisional government of the young republic under Niceto Alcalá-Zamora.
The second time Beltrán picks up Lele from the bottling plan, he takes her to the racetrack. The jockey-club was created in Jerez in 1868.
In May 1931 several churches and convents were set fired to in Jerez and other parts of the country. Between May 10 and May 13, 1931, several convents and other religious buildings were burnt in Spain. The riots started in Madrid. In Jerez the buildings that were victims of these demonstrators were San Francisco, Carmen church and the house of Jesuits.
In 1935 Isabelino Ruiz comes to Jerez for funds for CEDA. The Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Right-wing Groups (Spanish: Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas, CEDA) was a Spanish political party in the Second Spanish Republic. A Catholic conservative force, it was the political heir to Ángel Herrera Oria‘s Acción Popular. The CEDA saw itself as a defensive organisation, formed to protect religion, family, and property. Gil Robles set up CEDA to contest the 1933 election, and tacitly embraced Fascism.
Beltran and Isabelino Ruiz meet in Los Cisnes Hotel. It was the most luxurious hotel in Jerez.
There are references to other places in Jerez in the 1930s. Lele and Beltrán go for lunch to Café Fornos quite frequently. It was the most popular and distinguished establishment in Jerez in the first half of the 20th century.
There is also a reference to P.U shoe shop. I remember going to that shoe shop when I was a little girl, but then it was closed down at the end of the 1980s (I think).
Through Isabelino Ruiz we learn about the failed coup d’etat of Sanjurjo. Sanjurjada was a military coup, staged in Spain on August 10, 1932. Resulting mostly from corporative dissent among the army though also with some political inspiration, it was aimed at toppling the government but not necessarily at toppling the Republic. Following brief clashes it was easily suppressed in Madrid. Hardly any action was recorded elsewhere except Seville, where local rebel commander general José Sanjurjo took control for some 24 hours, but acknowledged defeat when faced with resolute governmental response. Due to his brief success and attention given during following trials, the entire coup has been later named after him.
In February 1936, elections were held in Spain. Legislative elections were held in Spain on 16 February 1936. At stake were all 473 seats in the unicameral Cortes Generales. The winners of the 1936 elections were the Popular Front, a left-wing coalition of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), Republican Left (Spain) (IR), Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), Republican Union (UR), Communist Party (PCE), Acció Catalana (AC) and other parties. They commanded a narrow lead in terms of the popular vote, but a significant lead over the main opposition party, Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right (CEDA), of the political right in terms of seats. They were the last of three elections held during the Spanish Second Republic, coming three years after the 1933 general election which had brought the first of Lerroux’s governments to power.
Manuel Azaña was the President.
There are also references to Asturias Revolution. The Asturian miners’ strike of 1934 was a major strike action, against the entry of the Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right (CEDA) into the Spanish government on October 6, which took place in Asturias in northern Spain, that developed into a revolutionary uprising. It was crushed by the Spanish Navy and the Spanish Republican Army, the latter using mainly Moorish troops from Spanish Morocco. 2,000 persons died in the uprising: 230-260 military and police, 33 priests, 1,500 miners in combat and 200 individuals killed in the repression.
In the holy week of 1936 the only brotherhood that went on procession was the “Cristo de la Expiración”, and I remember this is something my grandmother used to tell me when she was alive.
In 1936 Falange was made illegal. After the general elections which ended up with a triumph for Frente Popular, Falange, who until that moment had been a minority group, receives an avalanche of young activists from CEDA. The tumultuous situation in Madrid and the main cities increased and the conflicts between activists in the other parties and Falange peaked. After a terrorist attack against socialist Jimenez de Asúa, which was carried out by a Falange activist, the judge that ruled was murdered by Falange gunmen. These facts led to Falange being made illegal, and some of its leaders were sent to prison on March 14.
During the spring of 1936 the premises of Guadalete and Diario de Jerez, the two local newspapers, were set to fire.
In July 1936 José del Castillo was murdered. José del Castillo Sáez de Tejada (29 June 1901, Alcalá la Real – 12 July 1936, Madrid) was a Spanish Police Guardia de Asalto (Assault Guard) lieutenant during the Second Spanish Republic. His murder by four Falangist gunmen on July 12, 1936 led to a sequence of events that helped precipitate the Spanish Civil War.
Another man who was assassinated was José Calvo Sotelo. José Calvo Sotelo (6 May 1893 – 13 July 1936) was a Spanish politician, minister of Finance during the Dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera and a leading figure of the anti-republican radical right during the Second Republic. After Guardia de Asalto leader José Castillo was killed by falangists at 10pm on 12 July, in the first hours of 13 July a group of Guardia de Asalto and other leftist militiamen led by Civil Guard Fernando Condés went to Calvo Sotelo’s house in a revenge mission, arrested him and later killed him with gunshots in a police truck. His body was later dropped at the entrance of one of the city’s cemeteries. According to all later investigations, the perpetrator of the murder was a socialist gunman, Luis Cuenca, who was known as the bodyguard of PSOE leader Indalecio Prieto.
Before the war breaks out, Beltrán takes his family and Lele to Gibraltar, and they stay at the Rock Hotel.
The uprising’s timing was fixed at 17 July, at 17:01. However, the timing was changed—the men in the Spanish protectorate in Morocco were to rise up at 05:00 on 18 July and those in Spain proper a day later so that control of Spanish Morocco could be achieved and forces sent back to the Iberian Peninsula to coincide with the risings there.The rising was intended to be a swift coup d’état, but the government retained control of most of the country.
In Jerez the uprising was successful, and the man who led the rebels was Salvador de Arizón y Mejías.
The event that is a turning point in the novel is when Antonio Barea is shot before Lele in Taxdirt Street.
After the war, when Beltrán tries to talk to his daughter about his wife’s death, he starts telling them about their surnames. Sonsoles Domecq came from an old family whose first member in Jerez was Pedro Domecq Lembeye in 1816.
As for his surname, it comes from Beltrán de la Cueva, who was the favourite man of Enrique IV. Beltrán de la Cueva y Alfonso de Mercado (c. 1443 – 1 November 1492) was a Spanish nobleman who is said to have fathered Joan, the daughter of Henry IV of Castile‘s wife Joan of Portugal. His alleged daughter, called “la Beltraneja”, was deprived of the crown of Castile because of the uncertainty regarding her parentage.
When Lele has to flee to Madrid, one of her favourite places is the Plaza del Sol where she can see the neon sign for Pedro Domecq.
When Lele is arrested, she is sent to the prison of Ventas. This prison was built in 1931, and the project was to build a model prison for women, since they were usually huddled together in deposits for female inmates, called ‘galeras de mujeres’. This prison conceived by Victoria Kent tried to dignify the conditions for women for their later reintegration.