- Author: Ana Alcolea
- Reader: Angelica Cofre
- Date: 3/5/2012X
Summary: Valeria, a fifteen year old girl of Chinese origin lives with her mother Mercedes in Zaragoza, Spain. Mercedes is a busy single parent, who works as a therapist in a hospital. Valeria was adopted when she was two, and has no memory of her birthmother. She suffers from hydrophobia which her mother tries to cure her from by enrolling her in swimming classes from an early age. Other than this Valeria seems to be a well adapted and loved child.
Mercedes likes to arrange for unusual vacations and surprise Valeria. As a gift for the 15th birthday she gives Valeria a trip to an abandoned lighthouse of the coast of Norway. The action moves quickly to Norway, to the lighthouse, where we are introduced to its caretakers, Lars Nielsen and his 17 year old son William, who descend from a lineage of lighthouse keeper. They live in a house in the coast across from the lighthouse. Lars father and grandfather were the last lighthouse keepers to live in it.
William’s mother died after a long illness a year ago and they seem to lead a solitary life. Mercedes and Valeria’s stay gives them an opportunity to be more social. They eat dinners together and Valeria and William develop an attraction for each other.
In her dreams Valeria meets an old man, who introduces himself as Erland Nielsen, Williams’s grandfather. He had been a sailor and traveled to China before he settled down in Kjeungskjaer as its lighthouse keeper. He also acknowledges he is a ghost. There are eight chapters in the book dedicated to Valeria’s dreams and the development of a second plot that runs parallel to her and her mother’s stay at the lighthouse.
In these dreams Erland Nielsen narrates the story of a Russian aristocrat, Lieutenant Nicolai Dubrowski taken prisoner by the German Army in 1941. Dubrowski, together with other 195 prisoners were taken to Norway to build an airport which would help the Nazis with the occupation of Great Britain. In successive nights Erland will tellthe story of Dubrowski and his involvement with him when he substituted his uncle as a photographer in a Nazi project. Dubrowksi manages to pass a message to Erland in which he asks for help in communicating with the Russian army. Erland, together with his father and the local doctor build a radio. The Russian army sends a message and a rescuing plan is put in place. They succeed in hiding Lieutenant Dubrowski and he escapes. Dr. Carlsen is found out and executed. Erland and his father hide the radio so that it is not incriminating evidence.
Valeria and Lars who are romantically involved at this point find the radio, following the directions Erland gives Valeria in a dream. The title of the novel The Darkest Night corresponds with that of the radio message Dr. Carlsen sent to the Russians. Valeria understands that her aversion to water started when her birthmother drowned while trying to escape from China. The end of the novel coincides with the end Valeria’s and Mercedes vacation and their return home.
Structure: There are two main plotlines which take place in different space/time. One of them is Valeria’s and her mother’s vacation trip to Norway and their relationship with William and Lars Erland. This narration here is straightforward, clear, with well built dialogues that make the relationships between the different characters plausible.
The second plot which in my opinion is the strongest is the story of Lieutenant Dobrowski. This story is delivered to us through the literary device of Valeria’s dreams. There are eight of them, and the plot moves with the delivery of the information that is given to her and us readers, through them. How he came to be rescued, what the role of the local population was, who cooperated with the Nazis and who helped the Resistance.
We are presented with a variety of themes: adoption, phobias, the coming of age of a young girl, adolescent love, the role of a community in the face of a major injustice, collective memory, but with out a clear hierarchy of importance between them. As a result of this the impact of some of its storylines is somewhat diminished.
The major problem with this novel in my opinion does not lie in the blending of facts and fiction, reality and dreams. Nor does in lie in that the two main plotlines happen in different historical times, sometimes intersecting. Such a literary construe has been successfully used by authors like Carlos Ruiz Zafon (El principe de la Niebla). The problem seems to me to be that the interplay between both plotlines is not always smooth. Rather than using the first voice narrator consistently, the narrative switches
periodically from it to an omniscient third person narrator that informs us through the heading of each chapter where we are in the story. As a result of this the narrative is not only interrupted constantly, but the opportunity of revealing the characters interiority with depth is wasted, be it Valeria, Mercedes, William or Lars. The point of view also seems diffuse. Is it Valeria’s, her mother’s or Erland?
Despite some of the flaws in the structure of this novel which I have mentioned, it deals with topics which are universal enough as to be of interest in the US to a young adult audience. Valeria’s coming of age journey, a journey to a geographical place as well as to a place inside her will appeal to readers of this age group. Orphans, adopted children who travel to the past in order to understand themselves better, is a popular subject in literature (Harry Potter, Hugo Cabret). The elements of adventure, discovery, resistance, which are present through the World War II story would appeal to young readers interested in books such as Children of Freedom by Marc Levy and The Resistance in Europe by Kurt Zentner. Though not a particularly original idea, the exoticism of the location makes it different from other novels of this genre. The writing itself, despite some use of Spanish colloquialisms (vale) would be suitable for translation.
La Noche más oscura was the recipient of the VIII Premio Anaya de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil. Other novels by Ana Alcolea are El medallon perdido, El retrato de Carlota, Donde aprenden a volar las gaviotas and El bosque de los árboles muertos all of them published by Anaya and suitable for young adults.