The Red Gene was published in April 2019. Paperback version available from Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones and all good bookshops. ISBN: 9781912666423. Kindle version from Amazon.
When Rose, a young English nurse with humanitarian ideals, decides to volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, she is little prepared for the experiences that await her. Working on one front after another, witness to all the horrors of war, she falls in love with a Republican fighter, Miguel. In 1939 as defeat becomes inevitable, Rose is faced with a decision that will change her life and leave her with lasting scars. Interspersed with Rose’s story is that of Consuelo, a girl growing up in a staunchly Catholic family on the other side of the ideological divide. Never quite belonging, treated unkindly, she discovers at a young age that she was adopted but her attempts to learn more about her origins are largely thwarted. It falls to the third generation, to Consuelo’s daughter Marisol, born in the year of Franco’s death and growing up in a rapidly changing Spain, to investigate the dark secrets of her family and find the answers that have until now eluded her mother.
“This fine historical novel traces the intergenerational legacies of the Spanish civil war through two groups of families, English and Spanish. At the narrative core is an English nurse who volunteered in the civil war, was caught in the violence of the Republican defeat and eventually returned to Britain. The parallel narrative follows three generations of Spanish families whose lives , unknowingly but irrevocably, were intertwined with Rose’s Spanish experiences. The author, an English writer and long-resident in Granada, effortlessly evokes the powerful ethos of the civil war and of life during the dictatorship and the post-Franco transition to democracy. Quite simply, this is an enthralling novel with real historical heft.” Judith Keene
Judith Keene, University of Sydney has written Fighting for Franco, International Volunteers in Nationalist Spain during the Spanish Civil War; Last Mile to Huesca: An Australian Nurse in the Spanish Civil War; and most recently Seeking Meaning, Seeking Justice in a Post-Cold War World.
“The Red Gene begins as an action story: the adventures of Rose, a young English nurse who goes to Spain to help the victims of the civil war, falls in love and unwittingly sets in motion a chain of consequences that will ring down the decades. Barbara Lamplugh is bold enough to look at lives on an epic scale. Her wide canvas takes in two countries, several families, five generations and nearly 80 years. Yet her story remains intimate in focus and poignantly observant of those vital close-up moments, whether in an English vicarage garden, a chaotic wartime hospital ward, or a festival in a Spanish village. This is a moving tale of motherhood under pressure: of love, loss and reparation for Rose and Consuelo, the two vastly different women at its heart. The suspense mounts as we wonder if they will ever meet. The Red Gene is a fascinating read that affirms the importance not only of the family you have, but also of the family you don’t know you have.” Jane Sullivan
Jane Sullivan is a novelist, literary journalist and columnist for The Melbourne Age in Australia.
“An evocative story of Spain set against the background of civil war and its aftermath. It focuses on individuals in Spain and England who were caught up in it, unknowingly sharing a remarkable story of connections. The big themes of history are brought alive through the stories of a diverse cast of characters.” John Simmons
John Simmons is the author of Leaves, Spanish Crossings and The Good Messenger.
“A wonderful book. It is so evocative of 1930’s Britain and the generation for whom Spain was a huge issue … I really enjoyed reading it, with so many of the characters so brilliantly realised” Jeremy Corbyn, former leader of the Labour Party
LONGLISTED FOR THE GUARDIAN’S ‘NOT THE BOOKER’ AWARD 2019
Interviews, extracts from the book and reviews on these book blogs
Review of The Red Gene on Bookphace
“A remarkably moving novel about love, loss, and family that spans three generations and almost 8 decades” – a CUB must-read!
When Rose, a young English nurse with humanitarian convictions, decides to volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, she is unprepared for the experiences that await her. Working on one front after another, witness to all the horrors of conflict, she falls in love with Republican fighter, Miguel. In 1939, as defeat becomes inevitable, Rose is faced with a life-changing decision that will leave her with lasting scars. Interspersed with Rose’s story is that of Consuelo, a girl growing up on the other side of the ideological divide in a devoted Catholic family. Never quite belonging and treated unkindly, Consuelo discovers at a young age that she was adopted. Yet, her attempts to learn more about her origins are thwarted. It falls to the third generation, to Consuelo’s daughter, Marisol, to investigate the dark secrets of her family. Born in the year of Francisco Franco’s death and growing up in a rapidly changing Spain, can Marisol find the answers that have eluded her mother?
The details of the wounded soldiers that Rose treats in Spain are sometimes graphic, but I think that is no bad thing because it highlights the awful nature of war. It is not just the casualties in this Spanish Civil War that are represented, but also those from all other conflicts in history. Scattered between such horrific details are beautiful and vivid descriptions of the Spanish countryside, from aromatic and attractive wild flowers to dramatic mountains. I felt utterly transported to this beautiful landscape, and it was easy to mistake the peaceful countryside as a place of refuge and safety and forget that Spain was a war-torn country.
I felt so much sympathy for Rose because of her experiences during the Spanish Civil War. However, her strength to move forward from them is uplifting and inspiring. Naturally, she longs for events to have happened differently and she wonders what could have happened had things occurred the way she wanted them to. Even when she is elderly, she is still haunted by her experiences as a nurse in the war and she cannot fill the hole that loss has left within her.
Consuelo is another character I felt empathy for because she is aware that she is adopted, and she instinctively longs to discover the identity of her real parents. Lamplugh is excellent in conveying Consuelo’s yearning to know her origins and discover the truth, however painful it may be. This makes Consuelo’s position a universal one for anyone trying to trace their family history. The Red Gene is a novel that really makes your heart swell with emotion as you witness a child’s and parent’s desire to fill a gap in their lives that is left by loss and the unknown.
I loved the structure of this book because it spans three generations and almost 80 decades, yet so much happens within that time. The alternating chapters between Rose, Consuelo, and Marisol really helped to provide pieces of the family jigsaw puzzle, which reveals connections and truths that are both astonishing and heart-breaking. As a reader, you feel like a detective piecing information together to try to create a coherent family tree, and this makes your reading experience thoroughly enjoyable.
The topics of family and family secrets are explored in great detail in this novel, and it became very tense at times, particularly towards the end of the book as family connections are uncovered. The ending is bittersweet as the truth is unveiled and the novel concludes in an appropriate manner which brings it full circle.
Overall, The Red Gene is a very powerful and moving novel about love, loss, and family. Spanning three generations and almost 8 decades, this is a novel that contains both heart-warming and heart-wrenching moments, and may even leave you wondering about your own family history.
Review in On the Shelf Book Blog
“The Red Gene is a fascinating and immersive read, describing the lives of English nurse, Rose and Consuelo who exists on the other side of this turbulent period in history and their tales criss-cross as war tears the country apart. It is a time period that I don’t really know that much about and I love this kind of novel, where I finish it and end up on Google for hours, researching all of the events in the book and looking at maps and photos of the real settings and events that have been portrayed in its pages.
This gripping novel takes us back in time to 1939, where Rose falls for the charms of freedom fighter, Miguel far from the safety and certainties of home. Love blooms amidst the turbulence of war but little does Rose know what fate will have in store for them as the war rages on around them. I loved the character of Rose and I found it easy to connect with her as she battles to overcome the many obstacles that she has to endure in the traumatic situation they find themselves in. The decisions that she makes have enormous ramifications for herself and for others and you cannot fail to be moved as you read on and imagine yourself in her situation.
If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I really love a novel where you explore events from more than one perspective. I think that Lamplugh is equally skilled at portraying the characters of Rose and Consuelo and their characters both spring to life for the reader as you get so involved in their stories. Lamplugh paints a vivid portrait of their struggles to survive in a dangerous and unpredictable time in history. I hate including spoilers so all I’ll say is that Rose’s idealism definitely puts her in situations in this historical period where going with your heart rather than your head can put you in situations that we can’t even imagine and there are several tense moments when your heart will definitely be in your mouth.
The way that this epic novel brings the horror and anguish of war and its effects on human lives so vividly to life on the page made me totally lose myself as I luxuriated in this read over Easter. I just couldn’t tear myself away from the suffering that was endured by so many people at this time in Spain and even though Lamplugh pulls no punches, her descriptions are moving rather than disturbing as she opens your eyes to a war that you might not know very much about. The fact that my friend has a family connection with these events lent The Red Gene an added poignancy for me and made me realise that even though this is a novel, the stories it tells were very much a reality for thousands of Spanish people and their sympathisers – who found themselves trapped in a conflict that they were powerless to do anything about.
If you love a historical read that brings moral dilemmas vividly to life and enjoy being totally immersed in a powerful and vivid narrative then you’ll love The Red Gene It’s a powerful story and I found myself quite emotional as it drew to a close, knowing as I did that even though Rose and Consuelo were fictional characters, they’d really lived for me whilst I was lost in the book. I will definitely look out for more from Barbara Lamplugh as the balance of historical detail, wonderful characterisation and emotional punch was a winning combination for me.”