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Friday, March 17, 2017

Stolen Lives by Matthew Pritchard

Stolen Lives is set in contemporary Spain and takes its plot from the headlines.  Immediately after the Spanish Civil War, a network of doctors, nurses, priests, and nuns stole babies born in Spanish hospitals and sold them.  From the headlines to fiction...

The fictional aspect of the plot begins when Teresa del Hoyo's body is found in a landfill.  The right-wing press plays up her background as a former drug user, but reporter Danny Sanchez explores the events leading up to Teresa's disappearance and discovers that before being reported missing, Teresa had been investigating events that led back to the Spanish Civil War.  

Teresa's activism and attempts to show the empty graves of children who were recorded as stillborn has generated the interest of a sinister priest known as a troubleshooter for a secretive religious order.  As Danny follows the threads that lead to a labyrinth of political and religious abuses, he finds himself in danger as well.

Although Danny Sanchez and Teresa del Hoyo are fictional characters, the systematic trafficking of infants occurred for decades in Spain,  perpetrated by those who should have been protecting the innocent.

Liked:  the characters, the intriguing historical aspect, the suspense
Not so much:  some pretty brutal descriptions
One surprise:  Teresa's sister Carmen is insufferable and made me so angry, but her determination to find out what happened to her sister was impressive.  

 My knowledge of the Spanish Civil War was limited.  I knew that Hemingway was a reporter during the Spanish Civil War, that Nationalists executed poet Frederico Garcia Lorca, and that Picasso painted Guernica to expose the atrocities of war when the village of Guernica was bombed by German and Italian fascists at the request of the Nationalists.  That was about the extent of my knowledge. The book was more than simply an interesting crime/suspense novel, it made me curious about a war I knew very little about and the secret network that felt no qualms about telling mothers their children were born dead, then selling the infants.

Matthew Pritchard worked as a journalist in Spain for ten years, and during that time, he couldn't avoid the persistent shadow cast by the Spanish Civil War.  From 1936-1939, the bloody conflict raged between the Nationalists, who received aid from Fascist Italy and Germany, and the Republicans (Democratic, but left-leaning) who received aid from the Soviet Union. Franco and the Nationalists won, and Franco ruled for 36 years.  

Stolen Lives takes a look at the repercussions of Franco's dictatorship.  Specifically, the novel looks at the child trafficking that began during Franco's reign and continued until the early 90's.  As many as 300,000 babies born in Spanish hospitals were sold to more financially stable and politically-approved families.  Doctors, nurses, priests, and nuns colluded in the sale of babies.  The Church supported the Nationalists during the war, and many of the early cases involved babies born to mothers who were Republican or leftist sympathizers.  The mothers were told their babies were stillborn, then the infants were given or sold to Nationalist families.  The practice continued for over 5 decades; in more recent years, mothers who were young, unmarried, divorced, or left-leaning in a staunchly Catholic country were most vulnerable.

Spain continues to reel from court cases concerning the child trafficking.  A couple of links: 

this article by Teresa Cantero gives some of the details.

The Lost Children of Francoism

Spain's Stolen Babies (BBC Documentary)

NetGalley/Endeavor Press

Crime/Suspense.  March 10.


  1. Just reading your review, I can see myself wanting to know more about the time period and the real headlines behind the fiction here. I will have to look for this book.

    1. It was interesting on a couple of levels!

  2. Wow, I had no idea about the child trafficking in Spain. The things they leave out of history classes! Sounds like it was a pretty good novel.

    1. I had no idea either. Actually, not many in Spain had any idea until around 2011, I think. Before that there were just a lot of "stillborn" babies, I guess. Talk about abuse of trust on the part of both the medical community and the Church...