Book Review: The Red Gene by Barbara Lamplugh

A remarkably moving novel about love, loss, and family that spans three generations and almost 80 decades” – a CUB must-read!

When Rose, a young English nurse with humanitarian convictions, decides to volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, she is unprepared for the experiences that await her. Working on one front after another, witness to all the horrors of conflict, she falls in love with Republican fighter, Miguel. In 1939, as defeat becomes inevitable, Rose is faced with a life-changing decision that will leave her with lasting scars. Interspersed with Rose’s story is that of Consuelo, a girl growing up on the other side of the ideological divide in a devoted Catholic family. Never quite belonging and treated unkindly, Consuelo discovers at a young age that she was adopted. Yet, her attempts to learn more about her origins are thwarted. It falls to the third generation, to Consuelo’s daughter, Marisol, to investigate the dark secrets of her family. Born in the year of Francisco Franco’s death and growing up in a rapidly changing Spain, can Marisol find the answers that have eluded her mother?

The details of the wounded soldiers that Rose treats in Spain are sometimes graphic, but I think that is no bad thing because it highlights the awful nature of war. It is not just the casualties in this Spanish Civil War that are represented, but also those from all other conflicts in history. Scattered between such horrific details are beautiful and vivid descriptions of the Spanish countryside, from aromatic and attractive wild flowers to dramatic mountains. I felt utterly transported to this beautiful landscape, and it was easy to mistake the peaceful countryside as a place of refuge and safety and forget that Spain was a war-torn country.

I felt so much sympathy for Rose because of her experiences during the Spanish Civil War. However, her strength to move forward from them is uplifting and inspiring. Naturally, she longs for events to have happened differently and she wonders what could have happened had things occurred the way she wanted them to. Even when she is elderly, she is still haunted by her experiences as a nurse in the war and she cannot fill the hole that loss has left within her.

Consuelo is another character I felt empathy for because she is aware that she is adopted, and she instinctively longs to discover the identity of her real parents. Lamplugh is excellent in conveying Consuelo’s yearning to know her origins and discover the truth, however painful it may be. This makes Consuelo’s position a universal one for anyone trying to trace their family history. The Red Gene is a novel that really makes your heart swell with emotion as you witness a child’s and parent’s desire to fill a gap in their lives that is left by loss and the unknown.

I loved the structure of this book because it spans three generations and almost 80 decades, yet so much happens within that time. The alternating chapters between Rose, Consuelo, and Marisol really helped to provide pieces of the family jigsaw puzzle, which reveals connections and truths that are both astonishing and heart-breaking. As a reader, you feel like a detective piecing information together to try to create a coherent family tree, and this makes your reading experience thoroughly enjoyable.

The topics of family and family secrets are explored in great detail in this novel, and it became very tense at times, particularly towards the end of the book as family connections are uncovered. The ending is bittersweet as the truth is unveiled and the novel concludes in an appropriate manner which brings it full circle.

Overall, The Red Gene is a very powerful and moving novel about love, loss, and family. Spanning three generations and almost 80 decades, this is a novel that contains both heart-warming and heart-wrenching moments, and may even leave you wondering about your own family history.

One Comment

  1. Alfie hall says:

    Very good review. I have read the book and found it very difficult to put down, it runs at a pace that is difficult to leave, I rationed myself to 3 readings and highly recommended The Red Gene a must read.

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