I liked David Gaughran’s A Storm Hits Valparaiso. Latin America and its drive for independence seems to get scant notice in the North Atlantic region, so its great to see it treated to such epic detail from the Sweden-residing Irishman. The story revolves around a large cast of characters, but mainly San Martin, an Argentine who fought for Spain against Napoleon, but is now fighting against Spain for South American independence; Thomas Cochrane, a wronged Brit fighting the British establishment, then involving himself in South America’s conflict; Diego, a lowly soldier; and Catalina, a strong woman who ends up a prostitute.
They all get caught up in the decisions of the decaying Spanish Empire and those of their own politicians. The novel’s themes, of freedom from Spain, and slavery, love, and survival, play across Argentina, Chile, Peru, and London. Geographically, it’s massive. The character population is also huge.
And that’s why I liked it, rather than loved it. A book like this needs to reach War and Peace lengths to give the characters any kind of depth. Each chapter moves from one character to another, which is fine, but it makes each feel like a short story, and with much of the dialogue coming across as stiff, especially San Martin’s. A couple of lowly characters, who have their own story strands, barely develop before they die on the battlefield.
If not given the length to breathe, then maybe the book could have concentrated on a few key characters. I would have liked to see San Martin as a background character, with the focus aimed at brothers Diego and Jorge, and Catalina. The book starts with Catalina in her father’s tavern, shooting verbal fire at Spanish sailors who are trying it on with her. It sets the scene beautifully. If it could have centred around her and the brothers, their passions representing the larger struggle between the colonies and Spain, then this would have been truly epic. In the end, too many characters dilute its impact, all not given enough room to expand their lungs, making it read for much of the time like a history book rather than a novel.
A good read, then, with magnificent historical research, but it could have been so much better.
Buy the book from the links below the cover picture above.
Here’s David Gaughran’s excellent website: http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/