When Montse and Santiago meet in Barcelona in 1975, they have little idea their relationship will take them to another continent altogether. Two teenagers from different social classes, their summer romance is almost over before it started when Montse spots her young lover with a former girlfriend. Montse decides she never wants to see Santiago again, despite the fact that she is pregnant. In his despair, he decides to spend his military service as far away as he can possibly go—in the Western Sahara, which was, at the time, a Spanish colony. Not long after, word comes back to Montse that he has died there in one of the many armed conflicts after the death of Franco. It is here that the story of See How Much I Love You by Luis Leante really begins.
The Western Sahara had been the site of a little-known conflict between Morocco and a Sahawari independence movement ever since Spain pulled out of North Africa in the mid 1970s. When Santiago first arrived for duty, he became one of the few Spaniards to befriend the Sahawari troops. He was drawn to their culture and their families and was soon trusted enough to escort a colleague’s extended family over hundreds of desert miles. Thirty years later, Montse, a divorced doctor still living in Barcelona, sees a photograph of Santiago carried by one of her Sahawari patients. Realizing he is not dead, she sets out to find him, combing through the refugee camps of the Western Sahara that prove to be as dangerous to her as they were to Santiago so many years before.
See How Much I Love You was inspired by a humanitarian trip Leante took to the Western Sahara. He clearly knows a lot about the situation and there is no doubt that his heart is in the right place. But the novel suffers from the constant shifts in time and the curious plot twist that are not helped by an awkward translation. Flawed or not, though, the novel does important work, shedding light on a little known political situation of much suffering and little hope.