Blanca, a Spanish linguistics professor, is suddenly set adrift by her husband’s sudden decision to leave her for a younger woman. She decides she needs to get away, to go some place where no one knows her. An administrator at her university helps her find a grant to do some research work in California for a few months. Within 9 days she arrives at her new home away from home.
The work she has to do is no way related to her usual academic pursuits but she sets out to do the best she can: She has to organize the papers of a professor of hispanic studies, Andrés Fontana, who passed away some thirty years ago. As she does this, she finds herself getting interested in what he had been doing towards the end of his life: finding the “forgotten mission”, Misión Olvido, that a renegade Franciscan brother is suspected to have founded without permission from the authorities after establishing the last official mission of the Franciscan order in Sonoma.
While she is doing this work she becomes acquainted with several members of the department, as well as with Daniel Carter, a former student of Professor Fontana, and himself a professor of hispanic studies. She finds herself attracted to Daniel, but given the recent changes in her life circumstances as well as her doubts about his motives for helping her, she keeps her distance.
It turns out that Daniel Carter is behind the dummy foundation through which Blanca received the grant, and that his intent was both to rehabilitate his former mentor’s memory and to find more information about the forgotten mission. We learn quite late in the book that his wife was killed in the same car accident as Professor Fontana, while doing some research with him. When Blanca finds this out, she pushes Daniel away, accusing him of having betrayed her trust.
In the end, they do work together to resolve the mystery of the forgotten mission and the information they find is key in stopping a local commercial development that Daniel was actively opposing. As the Christmas break approaches, Blanca must face her return to Spain, spending the holidays with her grown children and resolving the situation that her husband’s departure has left her in.
This book was an interesting read, especially the life story of Andrés Fontana and how he ended up in the US, as well as how Daniel Carter met his future wife while on a trip to Spain and how he manage to convince her family to let her marry him. The description of life in Spain around the civil war and after is also quite interesting. However, as with El tiempo entre costuras, I found the characters’ descriptions to be quite shallow. In addition, the resolution of the moments of tension is often too smooth, “too good to be true” (well, of course, they are not true as this is fiction). María Dueñas does take on a lot, given the amount of historical ground she covers. So far, this is what she does best but her fiction would gain in strength if the psychology of the characters gained in subtlety and if the plots lines were more realistic. Many comments I found on the web also fault the novel for being too long and for meandering too long, and essentially for just not being as good as her first one.
This book was published in English under the title The Heart Has Its Reasons and it is possible to read a preview here.
Dueñas, María. Misión Olvido. Atria Español (Simon & Shuster), 2012.