A Million Drops tells the stories of three generations whose lives have been shaped by history. In the first generation, there is Elías Gil, a committed young Communist from Spain who traveled to the Soviet Union to study. When he and three fellow scholarship students he befriended on the train to Moscow are forced to confess to crimes against the state and sentenced to Siberia, he meets and falls in love with Irina and her daughter Anna. He also meets Igor Stern an implacable enemy whose life and his twist and turn around each other for over thirty years.
The next generation includes Anna, whom Elías tried to save, but failed, trading her for his life to Igor Stern. There’s also Elías’ children, Gonzalo and Laura. The story opens with two men murdering Laura’s son. She soon commits suicide and is suspected of torturing and murdering the man who killed her son. Gonzalo resolves to understand what happened, certain that she did not commit these acts.
The youngest generation includes Anna’s daughter Tania and Gonzalo’s son Joaquin. Gonzalo is falling for Tania and Joaquin is in a dangerous relationship with a grifter.
Laura was investigating a Russian mafia called the Matryoshka, like the nesting dolls. And like the nesting dolls, every layer of this mystery that is uncovered leads back again and again to Siberia and Gil’s desperate escape with Irina and Anna.
A Million Drops opens with the murder of a child. That should have warned me off from the beginning but I wrongly assumed the worst was over. The story if filled with horrors, torture, deprivation, and murder. Jumping back and forth from Gonzalo in the present and Elías in the past, we are given a world tour of depravity and cruelty. In case we were running short, there is Siaka whose was sold by his father to an Angolan warlord and forced to fight and was repeatedly raped. He might be one of the forces of good in this book, though he witnessed the murder of Laura’s son. If there is a theme, it is that everyone is compromised, everyone has a price, and everyone is corruptible from the ubiquitous Alcázar, the police officer to Elías to Gonzalo. Oh, and let’s not forget a wife-beating thug determined to wreak revenge on his wife and on Gonzalo, her lawyer, just in case taking on the Russian mob were not enough peril.
I did not like this book for many reasons. I wish I had quit reading it, but by the time I realized how awful it really was, I was so far in I wanted to see how it resolved. That was a mistake. The resolution is as disappointing as the story, a model of anticlimactic wrapping it up and the final scene with Gil was gratuitous and stupid, the author saying “No, you can’t have nice things.”
There’s too much coincidence, too much of people meeting each other again and again and again and again whether in Siberia, France, or Spain. There’s far too heavy foreshadowing so that by the time the “secret” is dropped, it’s long past known and no surprise. If you have not figured out what happened to Elías in 1967 long before Gonzalo finds out, you weren’t paying attention. Every revelation was boring because it was already obvious from the foreshadowing. The only real surprise in the book is that final scene with Gonzalo, with a character and storyline the book would have been stronger without.
This book is needlessly long, overwritten and overplotted. It had such an interesting hook in focusing on the Spanish leftists who trained in the USSR, fled to France as refugeees and who came to be known as war heroes and how the strains of that war flow on into the next generation, but it went too far into exploring how corrupt and depraved people can become in extremis, it left us with nothing.
I received an e-galley of A Million Drops from the publisher through Edelweiss.