Mary Gordon has been writing compelling books about faith, love and family for four decades. In There Your Heart Lies, her eighth novel, she examines the ways political idealism and religious fanaticism shape the choices of a privileged but naive Catholic woman in the mid-20th century.
At 19, Marian Taylor breaks with her wealthy New York family after the death of her beloved younger brother and sails to Spain to join the forces fighting Franco. Assisting in hospitals, she meets a Spanish doctor, gets pregnant, marries him and just as quickly loses him to sepsis. Forced to live with his parents in rural Spain and surrender her baby to her domineering mother-in-law, Marian becomes completely dependent on a family and a culture as rigid as the one she left behind. Only a friendship with Isabel, the village doctor, offers Marian sanctuary, as well as means to a possible escape back to the United States after a decade of misery.
But Marian has long kept this part of her life secret. Now in her 90s and living comfortably in Rhode Island, it is only when she is diagnosed with cancer that she begins to open up about these experiences with her live-in granddaughter, Amelia. The intensity of Marian’s experience prompts Amelia to make a journey to Spain to reconcile her grandmother’s past with her own uncertain prospects.
Gordon’s novels often feature personal dramas set against a backdrop of political or religious change, and here she touches on the violence of soldiers, clerics and citizens on both sides of the Spanish Civil War, as well as the kind of inflexible religious household in which Marian was raised. But There Your Heart Lies also depicts pleasure in the loving bonds between generations and in acts of generosity and selflessness between friends.
Marian is a classic Gordon heroine—sheltered but passionate and loyal to a fault. In contrast, Amelia’s search for self cannot compete with the drama and urgency of Marian’s time in Spain. This is a historically satisfying novel and, when Marian is center stage, an emotionally satisfying one as well.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Mary Gordon for There Your Heart Lies.