Have you ever found a story that makes you feel as if you’ve always known it, a million different memories from your own life flickering before your eyes as you read it, filling you with overwhelming melancholy and longing, only to recognise it as nothing more than a youthful dream that never happened? I was completely unprepared for this book. Being a massive fan of Karina Halle’s extraordinary brand of storytelling, I knew that loving this book would not be a farfetched possibility, but I never expected to connect with a story so completely, so personally, and so unconditionally, that it felt like I could taste every emotion, every mood, every hope, forcing myself to savour it for as long as I could because I never wanted to part with the characters. The is the story of two lone stars adrift in their own galaxies of unhappiness, whose lives change and gain colour the moment they meet. Against all odds, and even against their own better judgement, they find their home in one another, their story defying our preconceptions of the meant-to-be scenario and showing us how unpredictable and unyielding true love can be. Every part of this atypical fairy tale moved me, my heart swelling from joy one moment and crying from sorrow the very next, making this book one of the most surreally beautiful and yet truly realistic tales I have ever come across.
“Are you afraid that love will clip your wings?”
“No, I’m afraid that losing love will.”
Vera Miles is a young woman in her early twenties, the black sheep in her family and a stranger in her own life. Her relentless pursuit of temporary ‘Band-Aids’ for her loneliness leads her to a month-long stay in the Spanish countryside as part of an English tutoring program for Spanish-speaking residents. But what appears to be nothing more than just another desperate attempt to cure her own apathy in a long string of impulsive and sudden decisions on her part, proves to be the very place where Vera’s heart would finally come to life.
“Just what in the f*ck did I sign up for?”
Mateo Casalles is a man who feels stuck in a life he never truly wanted. A former soccer champion, he has had to put his passions aside to become the man everyone expected him to be, now trapped in a loveless marriage and living a life devoid of true happiness. When he meets Vera, the gentle-natured but heavily tattooed walking contradiction, he is enthralled by every single facet of her colourful personality. She lights up the spark in him that he believed was long gone, every moment spent in her company bringing forth more and more of the man he once used to be.
“You made me stop chasing the days. You made me hold onto them.”
Regardless of their unquestionable mutual attraction, however, the obstacles before them are many and they are impossible to ignore. Vera’s own life has conditioned her to value the sanctity of a family over anything else, ever her own happiness. She resists the pull between them with every fibre of her being, while her heart breaks each day further and further. When they finally succumb to the chemistry between them, all we see is the once-in-a-lifetime quality of their bond and the irrepressible desire that makes them gravitate towards one another. But finding love is not the same as keeping love, and what they both recognise as a life altering connection proves to also be their greatest challenge.
“Love is like a thief, it robs you of all thought and logic and all you have left is a heart that you can only pray is strong enough to survive the rest.”
As we follow Vera and Mateo’s hesitant romance, from a shy and hesitant flicker at first to a blinding supernova of emotions in the end, we are reminded of how much the right kind of love can change a person, even when born under difficult circumstances, and how desperate the human heart is to love freely, completely, selflessly. This is not a traditional love story, there are no heroes or villains in it, no black or white scenarios to cling onto, as every element of this tale is painted with just another shade of grey for us to ponder on and reconcile with our own lessons in life. You may feel inclined to judge these characters’ decisions at some point in time, but remind yourself frequently of how unpredictable life can be and how little control we have over our own hearts.
“Sometimes you are stuck being the person you are and not the person you were. Or could be.”
Love has no regard for time, age, geography, or what others believe we should feel – when it is true, love blooms against all odds and eventually finds a way to survive even when we try to extinguish it. Vera and Mateo found love when they were searching for themselves, and that love is palpable on every single page of this incredible book. Deeply passionate, heartfelt, unpretentious, this story is told with such raw honesty and indisputable skill, that we are able to understand these two characters to the point of feeling every single emotion running through them. We feel their uncertainty, their struggle, their desperate attempt to preserve their own integrity and do no harm to others, but we also feel their undeniable attraction, need for each other, knowledge that they are complete human beings only when in each other’s arms. It is one of the most well-rounded stories I have ever read and it is also one of the most beautiful.
If you have never read a Karina Halle book, let this be your first one. But be warned, everything after it will pale in comparison…
“Love, in English, is love…”
“Love in Spanish is you.”