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The Spanish Bowby Andromeda Romano-Lax
Synopses & Reviews
I was almost born Happy.
Literally, Feliz was the Spanish name my mother wanted for me. Not a family name, not a local name, just a hope, stated in the farthest-reaching language she knew — a language that once reached around the world, to the Netherlands, Africa, the Americas, the Philippines. Only music has reached farther and penetrated more deeply.
In a dusty, turn-of-the-century Catalan village, the bequest of a cello bow sets young Feliu Delargo on the unlikely path of becoming a musician. Anarchist Barcelona and the court of the embattled monarchy in Madrid teach him his first serious lessons in creativity, principle, and passion — and their consequences. When he meets up with the charming and eccentric piano prodigy Justo Al-Cerraz, their lifelong friendship and rivalry orchestrate a tumultuous course for them both. Over the span of half a century of creative struggle and international turmoil that sees them paying house calls on Picasso one year and being courted by dictators the next, they make glorious music together, and clash over virtually everything else: love, politics, and the purpose of art. When the tensions propelling a war-torn world toward catastrophe bring Aviva, an Italian violinist with a haunted past, into their lives, Feliu and Justo embark upon their final and most dangerous collaboration.
"'In her impressive debut, Romano-Lax creates the epic story of Feliu Delargo, an underprivileged child prodigy whose musical ability brings him into contact with world leaders, first-class artists and a life filled with loss and triumph. Their father killed in Cuba just before the Spanish-American War, Feliu, his three brothers and one sister manage a meager life in Campo Seco, a small Catalan town, while their strong-willed mother fends off suitors. At 14, Feliu and his mother travel to Barcelona, where a cello tutor agrees to take on Feliu as a student. Over the years, as Feliu establishes himself, he crosses path with Justo Al-Cerra, an egotistical, manipulative pianist, and their touring leads to an intertwining of lives that becomes more complicated when they encounter Aviva, a violinist with her own emotional damage. As the trio tour and Europe careens toward WWII, Romano-Lax weaves into the narrative historical figures from Spanish royalty to Franco and Hitler, giving Feliu the opportunity to ponder the roles of morality in art and art in politics. Though the story has much heart and depth, Feliu's proximity to so many watershed moments of the 20th century can make him feel more like an instructive icon than a person. But for sheer scope and ambition, this is a tough debut to beat. (Sept.)' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Although Andromeda Romano-Lax calls her first novel 'a collage,' it reminds me more of a haunted house where holograms of famous figures walk through walls and sit down beside amazed tourists. Her hero, Feliu Delargo, was born in a Catalan village in 1892 (his name would have been Feliz — Happy — if the local notary had not been a poor speller). In his life as a renowned cellist, he encounters Pablo... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Picasso, Edward Elgar, Manuel de Falla, Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht, Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler all doing things they did or could have done in real life. When he dies in Cuba 85 years later, he has lived through two world wars, the Spanish Civil War, the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, not to mention the Bay of Pigs and the war in Vietnam. That's an enormous amount of material — historical, geographical, political, moral and musical — to cram into 500-odd pages: a history of Europe for close to 100 years, an examination of the artist's moral responsibility to society, the impact of World War II on the Jews, and the trauma of a woman forced to surrender an illegitimate child to unknown parents. This wide canvas provides the backdrop to Feliu's struggles to become a world-famous cellist, beginning at 7 with only an unstrung cello bow, a posthumous gift from his father. Feliu moves from his village to study in Barcelona, where his mother is forced to sell her hair to pay the rent on his cello. He moves on to Madrid to study under a nearly blind count. He is trained to be a court musician: the queen mother, Maria Christina, gives him his first cello, and the queen, Victoria Eugenie, a sapphire from her bracelet to set in his treasured bow. At the court he learns a great deal about cello technique from the count and almost as much about sex from Isabel, his teacher's daughter. His passion for music was inspired at an early age by a recital played by Justo Al-Cerraz, a pianist with a flair for performing for the musically deprived. When Feliu meets Al-Cerraz 10 years later at the royal court, the relationship that drives the narrative is formed. Al-Cerraz had been a child prodigy, playing concerts around the world since the age of 3. By now he is an egocentric, popularity-hungry performer, full of flash and technical agility. In contrast, Feliu becomes a world-class musician but a withdrawn, insecure and emotionally unavailable man. The disparate couple form a partnership that leads them from one colorful encounter to another. Feliu becomes entirely focused on his instrument. For him 'home became that circle of space around my chair, its radius defined by the movement of my bowing arm.' He determines never to emulate his partner's style: 'I vowed to distance myself further from his flamboyance and the antics of so many musicians like him. My face would reveal nothing.' Despite his chilly reserve and inability to connect with others, Feliu has impeccable taste in music. The pages are full of the sound of the cello, and this is the first novel I've come across that sports its own Web site (romanolax.com/andromeda-musicofthebow), with gorgeous sound bites of the music that plays a major role in the story. The Bach unaccompanied cello suites are his signature pieces, and he sight-reads the opening movement of Elgar's Cello Concerto in E Minor for the composer himself. His musical genius is recognized — he plays in the White House and on the BBC and makes profitable recordings — but he always turns away from encounters that threaten to be emotional. Late in the novel the duo teams up with Aviva, an Italian violinist they meet on a transatlantic liner. She is a Jew and an unwed mother who had to give up her child. Feliu adores her from the beginning, but the plot is dragged down by the weight of its scope. Feliu cannot act. In crisis after crisis, he endlessly justifies his reluctance to declare his love until it is too late. He travels and plays but likes himself less and less. 'I could not seem to change course,' he realizes with sorrow. 'If anything, I became a caricature of myself, even to myself: cautious, stern, dogmatic, ascetic.' Aviva in her turn is anguished and elusive, always searching for the child she has never known. Repeatedly, they almost connect, but the turmoil of World War II eventually engulfs them both in tragedy. 'It seemed the only thing left to do was to stop playing altogether. ... Music itself struck me as evil,' decides Feliu, choosing what is for him the ultimate withdrawal. Perhaps that is why Feliu remains a curiously lifeless figure at the heart of the novel. Since it is through his eyes that the whole panorama is laid out, his distance robs 'The Spanish Bow' of that transforming contact that takes place when the reader crosses over into the land of the protagonist, embracing both the joys and the suffering he or she finds there. It seems churlish to ask more of a novel so packed with music, history and tragedy, but Romano-Lax is such a powerful storyteller that I yearned for her to force her way a little further into the soul of her hero." Reviewed by Brigitte Weeks, a former editor of The Washington Post Book World, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Romano-Lax makes an impressive and richly atmospheric debut." New York Times
"Time and setting, character and plot come together in this exceptionally appealing first novel about a master cellist and his complicated relationship with the country of his birth and the poisoned times in which he performs." Library Journal
"This riveting historical page-turner moves inexorably toward a heartrending crescendo." Booklist
"I was almost born Happy." So begins The Spanish Bow and the remarkable history of Feliu Delargo, who just misses being "Feliz" by a misunderstanding at his birth, which he barely survives.
The accidental bequest of a cello bow from his dead father sets Feliu on the course of becoming a musician, unlikely given his beginnings in a dusty village in Catalonia. When he is compelled to flee to anarchist Barcelona, his education in music, life, and politics begins. But it isnt until he arrives at the court of the embattled monarchy in Madrid that passion enters the composition with Aviva, a virtuoso violinist with a haunted past. As Feliu embarks on affairs, friendships, and rivalries, forces propelling the world toward a catastrophic crescendo sweep Feliu along in their wake.
The Spanish Bow is a haunting fugue of music, politics, and passion set against half a century of Spanish history, from the tail end of the nineteenth century up through the Spanish Civil War and World War II.
Debut fiction by a journalist and amateur cellist. In a dusty, turn-of-the-century Catalan village, the bequest of a cello bow sets young Feliu Delargo on the unlikely path of becoming a musician.
About the Author
Andromeda Romano-Lax has been a journalist, a travel writer, and a serious amateur cellist. The Spanish Bow is her first novel. She lives in Anchorage, Alaska, with her family.
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