cover image The Year of the Flood

The Year of the Flood

Eduardo Mendoza. Harvill Press, $16 (160pp) ISBN 978-1-86046-044-9

Though his prose is nearly stilted by old-world formality (maybe it's the translation), Mendoza (The Truth About the Savolta Case) spins a compelling tale of money, faith and love. In the 1950s, with memories of the Spanish Civil War still raw, a determined mother superior named Sister Consuelo, trying to raise funds to convert a nunnery's medical clinic into an old-age home, approaches a rich land-owner in the Catalonian countryside. This innocent overture leads to untold complications for Sister Consuelo, who finds that her attraction for the wealthy Don Augusto is entirely worldly and utterly undeniable. As Don Augusto becomes more caught up in the finances of the plan, Sister Consuelo gets more intimate with the details of his life-his romantic past, his support for Franco in the Civil War and his fear of mountain bandits. Their burgeoning affair is complicated by the torrential flooding that afflicts the region and closes the nunnery's operating room, as well as by the wounded leader of the bandits, who kidnaps Sister Consuelo and tells her a thing or two about Don Augusto's ungentlemanly nature. The plot is straight out of a dime-store novelette, but Mendoza relates it with moral intelligence and emotional resonance, investing his characters with ample, adult ambiguities. When, many years later, Sister Consuelo reminisces about the doomed affair, it is difficult to say whether she or Don Augusto was spurned. (Apr.)