Paco Roca heartbreakingly captures the grief that many adult children go through after their parents die, which especially hits hard as the ten-year anniversary of my father’s death was this week and I still mourn my mother now gone two and a half years.
Set in Spain, three siblings have arranged to meet for a weekend at their family’s former country home after their father has passed. They plan to clean out and spruce up the place in anticipation of selling it. First to arrive is the middle child Jose and he and his wife begin to clear out the home. He reminiscences about his growing-up years, as the house was built when he was a child and his handy father was a task-master, as the family built the house themselves. (This character is a novelist, making me wonder if it is based on himself, as the book includes a photograph at the end that looked like the character Jose and his father.) After they leave with plans to return with paint and more supplies, the oldest brother Vicente arrives with his wife and teenage son. Vicente inherited his father’s handiness and sets to work immediately repairing the house, putting his son to work like he had put to work himself as a child. Last to arrive is the baby sister Carla and her husband and toddler daughter. We get windows into each adult child’s perspective of growing up with their stern father and quiet mother, who had passed away before her husband.
As the story progresses you see how each of the three was shaped by their father, both good and bad, and there are some regrets in their relationship with him in his final days. I sided with Vicente, for I too am the responsible eldest, and he had to make hard decisions about his father’s care when his two younger siblings were not available. But the three come together to build a pergola that their father had always dreamed of, and they eat their meals together as a family, leaving open the possibility of actually keeping the house to promote future family gatherings.
Roca’s delicate artwork is a marvel, as its sepia-toned panels pull you into the Spanish countryside, and moves between the past and present day. Additional details such as the family tree diagram and the almond tree rings were poignant additions to the narrative. So while this beautifully told story might have been about a single family, it represents many families once their parents are gone. This portrait of a family’s intimate domestic tragedies will make readers reflect on their own families, as sadly, we all lose our parents eventually. I try to maintain strong ties with my four sisters and extended family despite us all having busy lives, as once a family bond is broken it is hard to reestablish. This is a story I can see myself coming back to again, and picking up on new nuances in this fictional family dynamics, as my own family dynamics continue to evolve too.
April 8, 2023 at 3:43 pm
I think this is where are with my brothers and sister. What comes next? I could definitely be closer to my family.
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April 10, 2023 at 8:27 pm
Family ties are important and typically are worth the effort!
April 10, 2023 at 2:50 am
This sounds like such a moving story- really want to check it out. Great review!
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April 10, 2023 at 8:28 pm
Thanks! I hope you enjoy it.