- Author: David Fernández Sifres
- Reader: Patricia Figueroa
- Date: March 1, 2012
El faro de la mujer ausente is a novel targeted to a young adult audience. It’s the story of Hugo, an unadventurous 16-year-old from Spain who, after winning a contest, gets to spend a summer studying French in Bellemer, Normandy. There he is joined by four other contest winners from various Western European countries. Soon after his arrival in Bellemer, Hugo experiences a mysterious and terrifying encounter near a lighthouse that will haunt him for the rest of his life.
David Fernández Sifres presents a well-crafted tale that jumps from the main character's life as an adult, to his adolescence and even further back, to the cruel reality of World War II in a small seaside village. He cleverly weaves two story lines in one location – the coming of age of five young adults and the secrets generated by a small community during wartime. The emotional ravages caused by an armed struggle in a tight network of average citizens are as psychologically puzzling as the rite of passage of a normal adolescent. Through his characters the author studies the process of maturity of the adolescent mind and presents it as a crucial moment in the life of an individual. It is a period that can mark a person's life forever, particularly when troubles are left unsolved.
Death is an unavoidable concept and experience that the characters confront and try to cope with. The unnatural violent death of a mysterious woman from the past and the premature death of a good friend both yield feelings of fear, sadness and impotence. Fernández Sifres portrays moments of crisis with great sensitivity. Adolescence is a period of turmoil and grief proves to be an important passage into adulthood for some characters of the story. Young readers will relate to the universal nature of the activities, reactions and concerns of this multicultural group of adolescents. Hugo and his four friends communicate in a simple language but share some deeply meaningful new emotions. The characters express feelings that all readers will understand, regardless of age or background -- fear, love, self-doubt and anger. The text is narrated in the first person by Hugo and the author's descriptions and analogies are canny and creative. The sentence structure is simple and could easily be translated into English.
While one may classify El faro de la mujer ausente as a classic mystery novel for young adults, much like Enid Blyton's Mystery series, the story conveys a hidden antiwar message that is not typically present in this genre. Fernández Sifres skillfully borrows elements from romantic, detective and historical novels but ultimately centers on solving a well-kept, war-time secret and illustrating the psychological development of a set of individuals, who despite traditionally assigned stereotypes, prove to have much in common.
It is through the use of stereotypes that the author attends to break prejudice, ultimately confronting history and nationalism. One example is the constant quarrel between Franz, a German, and Henry, a British national. The two young men initially judge one another based on negative preconceptions of national character, only to find they are more similar than they anticipated.
The story insinuates more than it directly delivers but this adds a welcome layer of complexity to the plot. Likewise, antiwar sentiments are carefully transmitted in a subtext that a young audience can easily grasp.
Fernández Sifres is the recipient of multiple literary awards for poetry and short story writing. He describes Blyton and Carlos Ruiz Zafón as influencial in his work. El faro de la mujer ausente is his first young adult novel and won Spain's prestigious Alandar Prize for young adult literature in 2011.
Young readers will be engaged by Fernández Sifres's clean, suspenseful and emotional writing style. The book is best suited for readers in their mid- to late-teens.