The Spanish Bow
By: Andromeda Romano-Lax
I initially found this book while I was wandering around the bookstore; there was a table with books that had a music theme to them. Ever since I had read The Shadow of the Wind, I’ve been drawn to books that a) were about books and b) stories that were set in Spain. The premise of this novel was interesting: it was set in Spain throughout the late 19th century and into the 20th century following the life of cellist Feliu Delargo as he grows up to become a cellist. Although I had bought the novel a few months ago, I put it on hold because I knew that if I read it during my study period, I would never get around to studying. I’m glad I made the decision 😉
The book is divided to six parts, each part denoting a particular period of his life between the time he was born in 1892 (I believe; book’s too far from me to double check) right up to 1977. The parts that were especially interesting for me were the parts before the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s in part because I didn’t know much about that time period. I think Romano-Lax did a good job researching into the period and about the music/classical world; as I was reading this novel, it made me think about the stark changes between then and now, how nowadays it’s more about pop music than about classical/instrumental music. And you read do feel like you are in Spain; I loved the contrast between Barcelona and Madrid, the different lifestyles that were going on in both cities in the backdrop of history.
The characters were interesting and I like how Romano-Lax had Feliu narrate the novel. The individuals that Feliu come across over the course of his life were colourful, each with their own quirks and vices. The character of Justo Al-Cerraz was especially interesting of the cast of characters, with his eccentricities and his friendship with Feliu. It was also pretty cool how Romano-Lax managed to weave in real historical figures like Picasso, Queen Victoria Eugenia and King Alfonso into the mix. The only thing I found odd was that Feliu mentioned in the early 1930s that the royal family was exiled, but we never get any sense of what he felt about it (given that he was once a friend of the monarch, especially the queen). Or maybe I might’ve just missed it, I don’t know.
I also thought that the pacing of the novel worked; it didn’t go too fast nor too slow for my liking. The only part of the book that where I felt the story suffered a bit of a stagnant flow was the part explaining Aviva’s backstory. It was interesting and necessary for the backstory of the character but at the same time I felt the book was more of Feliu’s story and her story took up a good few pages rather than interspersing it in parts into the storyline.
Which brings me to the next part: the love triangle between Aviva, Justo and Feliu. Firstly, I must say that the book description is a bit off; it mentioned the love triangle as though it was a central part of the novel but really, it doesn’t come in until I believe the 4th part of the novel. And it’s funny because I completely forgot that there was a love triangle in the story. In any case, the love triangle was interesting in that it provokes certain emotions from Feliu that we haven’t seen in previous parts/eras but otherwise, I didn’t think much about it. Aviva as a character was all right, but for some reason she didn’t provoke the same interest or conveyed enough complexity compared to Feliu and Justo. Maybe it’s because she was introduced so late into the novel, I’m not entirely sure.
But other than that, I thought this was an excellent novel, it really kept my interest throughout. Underneath the history and the character interaction and the drama was essentially a sort of presentation of music, and how it’s utilized in our lives, in our surroundings, how it can affect us. It conveyed a boy’s struggle and desire to fulfill his dream of playing, how his love and passion for playing became central in all his waking moments, to the point that it consumed him and his life and, in some ways, disappointed him. By the time I flipped to the last page of the novel, I also realized that the novel was like a love letter to Spain; as I’ve mentioned earlier, there’s quite a bit of traveling between Madrid and Barcelona, but also up north and down south. Feliu mentions different dialects and different groups of people living in Spain and how essentially diverse the country is. It was interesting to see such a dialogue in the novel; it’s not in-your-face or anything, but given my background in studying national identity this past year, I couldn’t help but notice the touch.
So overall, it was an enjoyable book. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who’s into music, historical fiction and/or stories that take place in Spain 🙂