The Scent of Lemon Leaves, by Clara Sanchez
The international bestselling novel, The Scent of Lemon Leaves, is a story told through two different narratives. It swaps between the first person narrative of pregnant Sandra, a thirty year old woman enjoying some time alone to consider the direction her life is taking at her sisters holiday home after leaving her job and boyfriend, to the narrative of Julian, an elderly Jewish man, who has come to Europe to visit an old friend.
However, the real story does not begin until these characters meet another elderly couple, and it is then that their stories intertwine.
One day at the beach, vulnerable Sandra meets an elderly Norwegian couple, Fredrik and Karin, who provide the soon-to-be mother with company and friendship during this uncertain time in her life. Sandra soon comes to think of the elderly couple as the grandparents she never had. It is Julian, however, who makes both Sandra and the audience question their true intentions.
Julian is a former concentration-camp inmate who, along with his old friend, Salva, belonged to a group dedicated to hunting down Nazi officers from around the world and bringing them to justice. Now in his old age, he is left unable to do as much as he once could, but this does not hold the story back. It is Salva he is heading back to Europe to meet, after receiving a letter from Salva’s care home. When Julian and Sandra meet, it becomes obvious he is the only one around to realise what she has stepped unknowingly into. As a result, they must trust one another and form an unlikely friendship.
There is a battle for Julian; he must try to distinguish the people he is able to trust (if any) from those that may become a threat. It is a lot for one elderly man to keep to himself, and the company that Sandra brings also means he can unload his troubles onto her.
Something that struck me the most about this book was the believability of the characters. The plot at times could have become very unrealistic, but the strength of the characters and how they react to certain situations brings it back to earth. The scene is always well set, from Sandra sitting at the beach on a boiling hot day, to one of the common rain-storms that make travelling hard for Julian. It is easy to imagine and sometimes I was surprised to look up from the book and realise I was not really on the beach with Sandra, enjoying the sun.
Would I recommend this book? Yes! And I already have, to many people. The Scent of Lemon Leaves is a truly brilliant book, with something for everyone; love, life, the importance of finding yourself and, above all else, the strength of friendship. The story is made all the more haunting by being based largely on truth, and even worse, on real people. Not surprisingly, it stays with you for a long time after you’ve read it.
Already a best-seller in Italy and Spain, The Scent of Lemon Leaves is sure to soon become another hit when the English translation is released to a whole new audience this June.