1748, Seville: Caridad, a recently freed Cuban slave, wanders the streets of the city. Her master is dead and she has nowhere to go. When she meets Milagro Carmona – a young, rebellious gypsy – the two women are instantly inseparable. Milagros introduces Caridad to the gypsy community, an exotic fringe society that will soon bring them love and change their life forever.
From the tumultuous bustle of 18th-century Seville to the theatres of Madrid, THE BAREFOOT QUEEN takes us into the murky world of tobacco smuggling and ther persecution of the gypsies.
Showing us the birth of Flamenco, it is a historical fresco filled with characters that live, love, fight and suffer for what they believe.
Another epic read from Ildefonso Falcones. Set in his native Spain.
It is hard to review such an epic story without detailing the plot and that is not something I want to do, as the joy/despair engendered in following the story lies in not knowing what happens. But basically it is the story of Caridad and Milagros who become friends in Seville in 1748. Caridad is a former Cuban slave who find herself alone and penniless in Seville after her Master died aboard ship when they were en route from Cuba. Milagros is a young gypsy girl, living in the Triana district of the city. When they meet, thanks to Milagros’s grandfather Melchor taking pity on Caridad, they recognise in each other kindred spirits and become firm friends. This changes dramatically following the murder of Milagros’s father and both leave Seville for Madrid (unbeknown to each other) for a life far removed than that they had imagined. The desire to see whether Milagros and Caridad resolve their differences and regain their friendship for me became secondary to the blossoming relationship between Melchor (Milagros’ grandfather) and Caridad and as to whether that is resolved you really need to read the book.
While the women in the book are in many ways strong in that they survive their misfortunes and strive to carry on, they are also subservient and it is that subservience that causes many of their problems. Though it is easy to be critical from a 21st century viewpoint. Life for women of their class in this period was a hard, with men mostly seeing them as sexual objects with little worth,and throughout, Caridad in particular, is sadly used and abused. For Milagros, not only was she a woman, but also a gypsy, and the novel is set against the background of the start of the state persecution of the gypsies. Her parents are imprisoned, which is instrumental in dictating the way her life path changes.
What I love about Falcones’ book is the way he is able to mix history, geography and social comment into his novels. By the end you realise you’ve not only had a great read, but also a fascinating history lesson. The Barefoot Queen is a story of slavery and the Tobacco trade, the role of the Church in Society, what life was like on the margins of society and the persecution of the Gypsies. It is ironic that when we think of the cultural heritage of Spain, the costumes, the music and Flamenco – these are all part of the gypsy heritage that for over 300 years the state tried to destroy and that the Barefoot Queen helps to celebrate.