I read this purely because it's written by Lloyd Jones and since Mr Pip was fantastic, I thought I'd try something else written by him. I think I'll get the only negative comment about this out of the way first and say that I don't think this is as good as Mr Pip. But that said, the subject matter is so different it is difficult to make a comparison, and this was written before Mr Pip.
The story is told in two distinct narratives, that of Rosa talking about her family history and Lionel, talking about his relationship with Rosa in the present day. Rosa is a restaurant owner and Lionel is a kitchen hand in the same restaurant. However, when we first meet Rosa she is a small child visiting the grave of a woman named Louise with her grandfather, Paul Schmidt. At this point we don't know anything about who this woman is, or why she is so important to Schmidt's life until much later in the story, when the history of these two people is narrated by Rosa to Lionel.
In the present, a now adult Rosa runs a restaurant named La Chacra, and has a passion for Tango dancing. One evening she invites Lionel to dance with her, which he fails at disastrously, so she arranges dance lessons for him, and gradually he develops a passion for dance. Of course, this goes hand in hand with his developing passion for Rosa. During their developing relationship, she tells him about the relationship between Louise and Paul Schmidt.
Schmidt and Louise met during the First World War, when Louise was hiding two boys who did not want to fight in a cave by the sea. Whilst walking through the town, she witnesses a crowd turning on Schmidt simply because he has a German name, and rescues him and runs him off to the same cave. Realising she now can't leave the cave without giving away the whereabouts of all three men, she stays in the cave, reluctantly. For entertainment, Schmidt starts to teach them the Tango, and during the time spent in the cave, Louise and Schmidt fall in love, again with the passion for dance mirroring their passion for each other.
When they all eventually leave the cave, they go their separate ways and both marry and get on with their lives. however, they never forget each other, and eventually, Louise travels across continents to be with Schmidt.
All this is told to Lionel as their relationship is developing along similar lines. Both Louise and Lionel fall in love with someone through dance, both give up their families to be with their lovers, and both end up living life on the outside as the realisation hits them that they are the third person in the relationships. Lionel himself narrates the action in the present day, as he deals with his feelings for Rosa, and his refusal to leave her to go and assist his parents when they really need him. The relationships between the two couples parallel each other across the generations and this is what makes the story interesting. As readers we get an insight into each of the relationships from the perspective of the other one.
I enjoyed this story. It was a bit slow to start, but once I got into it, it was worth reading. It did help that it was told from different perspectives though because I really like books that do that, and being told from different time periods just added to that. The characters were really well portrayed, and truly believable. Not a brilliant book, but definitely worth reading.