The Silver Teacup is a collection of fourteen short stories that take place in Cadiz, Spain, the oldest city in the western hemisphere. Villalba—himself a native of Cadiz—transports the reader to narrow streets, little plazas, and seaside promenades in this port city “where ancestral dreams dwell underneath gigantic dragon trees and the echo of history raises to the surface with each footstep upon its ground.” History, both contemporary and ancient, provides the background for these stories.
One, The Poppy Flower, revisits the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Another, The Man in a Blue Tunic, goes back to ancient Cadiz, when only Rome surpassed its grandeur. A third— The Archangel’s Torn Wing— occurs at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War when Cadiz falls into the fascists’ hands. The rest of the stories are a box of surprises. One returns to Muslim times when a Christian youngster falls in love with the vizier’s daughter. Another beams the reader back to the early nineteenth century—when Cadiz, which had been a major outpost in the discovery of America, became the most important center of commerce between the old and the new continent. It was in this little town where General George Meade, the man who saved the Union, was born. The story intermingles his hometown’s landscapes with Gettysburg’s heroic war scenes as the General assesses his life before facing his Maker. Other tales recount the moving relationship between a lonely old man and his adopted stray dog, or the fate of a bequeathed ruby ring that changed the life of its new owner.
Francisco Aragon—director of Letras Latinas at the University of Notre Dame—writes in the introduction to this book, “I couldn’t help but think of Tales from the Alhambra as I navigated these ‘Tales from Cadiz.’ Both use history to accentuate their stories, but neither is meant to be read as history. Like Irving, Villalba deploys good old-fashioned storytelling. And I use that term (‘old fashioned’) in a good sense: writing that relishes and delights in painting pictures with words—with contagious engagement, narrative skill.”