Love In War by Stewart Lytle

Stewart Lytle is the author of Love In War, a sweeping historical romance set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. I asked Stewart to explain the background to a novel set in a war that is often overlooked.

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Writers of historical fiction are approached often with, “You should write about my parents. They have a great story.” Being polite people, historical fiction writers listen for a few minutes to a tale that would never make a good novel, then find something else they have to do. 

That was not the case when this writer was invited to breakfast in Dallas several years ago to meet a very colorful character who proposed that I write the story of his parents’ escape from the Spanish Civil War.  

We started breakfast early, and I was prepared to leave after I politely listened until my eggs were gone. But to my surprise, by mid-afternoon I had filled most of the notebook I carry, and we – Jaime Sendra and I – were planning a second session the next day.

His narrative that captured me was one I used as the opening of Love in War. Marti and Montserrat (Montse), the protagonists, were fleeing Barcelona by train, escaping the war and Felix Castell, an evil Republican Army officer, when they faced an existential problem at the French border. A Spanish border agent and Army officer stopped Montse from crossing with her husband to safety in France because her infant daughter did not have a passport the Spanish government required to cross. 

The novel is told by that infant, now an adult, to a Madrid television producer. Last month, Jaime and his five siblings celebrated their oldest sister’s 90th birthday in Guadalajara. But I get ahead of myself.

Montse, as any mother would, was traumatized. If she turned back to Spain as the border guard insisted, she would be caught by the evil Captain Castell and thrown into prison or executed. She had narrowly escaped Felix’s clutches by tricking him into thinking he had raped her. She knew he would be in a foul, probably murderous, mood.

Being a highly resourceful woman and a banker’s daughter, Montse would fit well into an M.K. Tod novel. She was both resilient and determined to escape the war and Felix, and go with her husband to Mexico. She told the border guard that if her daughter could not cross into France, then the infant would have to stay with him. 

Her shoulders sagging in sorrow, she told the guard: “You have a kind face. I know you’ll give her a good home.”  

At that moment, two things happen that helped Montse save her baby. When she realized she was in the arms of a stranger, her daughter started to scream. When she dropped the egg sandwich she held, a valuable jewel Montse and Marti were smuggling out of Spain fell to the ground at the foot of an unscrupulous Army sergeant. 

The sergeant, who had been injured in battle and desperate to find a way to survive after the war, palmed the jewel and suggested to the border guard that he allow the baby go with her mother. 

Most Americans, including me at the time I had breakfast with Jaime, know very little about the Spanish Civil War. Jaime’s request that I write about his parents’ escape gave me the chance to learn about the war and fulfill a dream that was born in college when I first read Earnest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.  

What I learned as I researched the war was that my impressions about the Republican Army, Hemingway’s heroes, were not entirely accurate. Papa Hemingway portrayed the Republicans as the good guys and General Francesco Franco’s army as the bad guys. The truth is that neither side was good. Both were evil. And people like Marti and Montse were the good people caught between. 

The war, waged in the 1930s, was a precursor of World War II with Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini backing Franco, and the Russian government and private American citizens, particularly the literary elite, supporting the Republicans.

When a movie producer in Barcelona read the script based on Love in War, he said, “Thank God, someone finally got it right.” He was pleased that Felix, the evil Army officer, was a Republican, not an officer in Franco’s Nationalist forces. 

One of the reviews of Love in War, which I cherish, came from Kirkus Review that praised “its impressive command of the historical period.” For that I thank the Internet, several books and a member of the Sendra family, who guided me through.  

Love in War is categorized as historical fiction, although it is inspired by the true story of a star-crossed couple in Catalonia, 70 miles outside Barcelona. From different strata of society, Marti was a poor farm boy and Montse, the privileged banker’s daughter, were not destined even to meet, much more fall in love. 

But love won. Having knocked Marti off his bicycle with her father’s car, Montse is immediately smitten, but the romance goes nowhere until Marti and his Godfather open a bakery next door to a shoe store Montse’s family owned and where she worked. Banned from seeing her, Marti drilled a hole in the wall between the store and bakery so they could pass love notes. 

Years later after Felix chased the couple out of Spain to Mexico, they capitalized on Marti’s skills as a baker to open what today is the largest bakery in the world. If you have enjoyed Sara Lee breads, Entenmann’s coffee cakes or Thomas’s English Muffins, you have tasted Marti’s legacy.  

Love in War won the gold medal this year for historical romance at the Ben Franklin Awards by the Independent Book Publishers Assn. and has a lot of five-star reviews on Amazon. Visit www.loveinwarnovel.com.

Let me know what you think at stewart_lytle@yahoo.com

Many thanks, Stewart. True stories are so powerful! And it’s amazing to see how successful Marti and Montse ultimately were. Congratulations too on the movie deal!!

Love In War by Stewart Lytle

Love in War is a new historical romance novel that portrays a passionate story of young love growing out of the cauldron of war. Based on a true story, it is being made into a feature film. The Spanish Civil War, waged in the late 1930s, was one of the most destructive in European history, pitting families against one another. The fascist regimes supported the Nationalists, who ultimately won the war, while the Soviet Union, and American and European artists and writers, including Ernest Hemingway, backed the Second Spanish Republic.
Prior to the war, Martí Cardo and Montserrat (Montse) Balaguer fell in love in the Catalonian town of Igualada, 70 kilometers from Barcelona. Montse, an accomplished artist, was the daughter of a wealthy banking family. Martí, the youngest son of a peasant farming family, trained to be a baker under the watchful eye of his godfather. Their romance, which blossomed with notes passed secretly through a wall, was opposed by her parents. Also at odds with their budding love affair was Felix Castell, the ruthless, violent son of a vineyard owner and the town’s politically well-connected mayor. The arrogant young man ignored Montse’s rejections, and as a Republican Army officer in the chaos of the war, Felix used his power to try to kill Martí and possess his wife.
Love in War is a story of integrity and faith, courage and devotion amid the most trying of times, on a national and personal level.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY. There’s a SUBSCRIBE function on the right hand side of the page. 

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel THAT WAS THEN is a contemporary thriller. Mary’s other novels, THE ADMIRAL’S WIFE, PARIS IN RUINS, TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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