We Need Diverse Ya Sale

Special Offers see all

Enter to WIN a $100 Credit

Subscribe to PowellsBooks.news
for a chance to win.
Privacy Policy

Visit our stores

    Recently Viewed clear list

    The Powell's Playlist | June 15, 2015

    Matthew Quick: IMG Portia Kane's '80s Metal Mix

    Two of Love May Fail's main characters, Portia Kane and Chuck Bass — now in their early 40s — still love the metal music that was... Continue »
    1. $18.19 Sale Hardcover add to wish list

      Love May Fail

      Matthew Quick 9780062285560

Qualifying orders ship free.
New Trade Paper
Ships in 1 to 3 days
Add to Wishlist
Available for In-store Pickup
in 7 to 12 days
Qty Store Section
1 Remote Warehouse Literature- A to Z
3 Remote Warehouse Literature- A to Z

More copies of this ISBN

The Spanish Bow


The Spanish Bow Cover

ISBN13: 9780156034098
ISBN10: 0156034093
All Product Details




~ 1 ~

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.

           I say “almost born Feliz,” because the name that attached itself to me instead, thanks to a sloppy bureaucrats bias toward Catalan saints names, was Feliu. Just one letter changed on my death—yes, death—certificate.

           My father was overseas that year, working as a customs officer in colonial Cuba. The afternoon my mothers labor pains started, my fathers elder sister changed into a better dress, for church. Mamá bent over a chair near the kitchen doorway, legs splayed, ankles turned inward, as the weight of my dropping body pulled her pelvis to the floor. While she begged Tía not to go, Mamás knuckles whitened against the chairs straw-plaited back.

           “I will light candles for you,” Tía said.

           “I dont need prayers. I need—” My mother moaned, angling her hips from side to side, trying to find a position where the pain eased. Cool water? A chamber pot? “. . . help,” was all she could say.

           “Ill send Enrique to get the midwife.” Tía pushed the ebony combs into her thick masses of gray-streaked hair. “No, Ill go myself, on the way. Wheres Percival?”

           My oldest brother had slipped outside minutes earlier, bound for the bridge and the dry wash beneath it, along which the local shepherds drove their flocks. He and his friends hid there frequently, playing cards amid orange peels and broken barrel staves that reeked of vinegar.

           Percival was old enough to remember the previous disasters in sharp detail, and he didnt want to witness another. Mamás last baby had died within minutes of birth. The one before had survived only a few days, while my mother herself hovered near death, racked with infection-induced fever. In Campo Seco, she was not the only unlucky one.

           My mother blamed the midwife who had moved to the village four years earlier, accompanied by her husband, a butcher.

           “They dont wash their hands,” Mamá panted. “Last time, I saw the forceps she used. Broken at the hinge. Flakes”—she squirmed and jammed the heel of her palm into her back—“flakes of rust.”

           “Ridiculous!” Tía drew the lace mantilla over her head. “You are worrying for nothing. You should pray, instead.”

           My two other siblings, Enrique and Luisa, remained stoic in the face of my mothers barnyard moans, the slick of straw-colored amniotic fluid on the floor, which five-year-old Luisa wiped away; the bloody smears on the wet towels, which seven-year-old Enrique wrung and dipped in a wide porcelain bowl. By the third dip, the blue flowers on the bowls painted bottom disappeared, obscured beneath a smoky layer of pink water.

           Thirty minutes after Tía departed, the midwife arrived. Mamá panted and strained from her marriage bed, pushing with all her strength while she struggled to keep her eyes open. She scrutinized the dirt crescents beneath the midwifes fingernails. She twisted her neck to follow every step the midwife took, to catch fleeting glimpses of the tools displayed on a square of calico covering the bedside table, and the coil of gray cotton string that brought to mind the butchers leaky, net-covered roasts. When the midwifes hands came near, Mamá tried to close her knees, to shield me from ill fortune. But the urge to push could not be stopped. I was coming.

           And then—just as suddenly—I stopped coming. What had once moved too quickly stopped moving at all. Mamás belly rippled and bulged a final time, then hardened into one long, unceasing contraction. Her jaw went slack. A blue vein bulged at her temple. Enrique, lingering in the open doorway, tried not to look between her legs, where the combination of taut, pearly flesh and wet hair made him think of washed-up jellyfish, collapsed against the weedy shore. The midwife caught him looking and snapped the sheet back into place, over Mamás legs and high, round abdomen. That gesture hid one disturbing view, but it only drew more attention to what remained visible: my mothers red face, beaded with sweat and contorted with pain.

           “Here,” Mamá would say later, in recounting the story of my birth, “is where you decided to rebel. Whenever someone pushes you too hard, you do the opposite.”

           Actually, I was stuck: feet twisted up toward my neck, rear facing the only exit. A living churro tied into a bow.

           The midwife grunted as her hands pushed, prodded, and massaged beneath the loosely tented sheet, a question darkening her face. Forgetting Enrique, she tore away the sheet and whimpered at the sight of a small purple scrotum appearing at the spot where a crowning head should have been. She watched that spot for ten minutes, twisting the cloth of her apron with red fingers. Then she panicked. Ignoring Enriques incredulous, upturned face and Luisas round eyes, she pushed past them both and down the stairs, missing the bottom step entirely.

           The midwife had left to fetch her husband, who was two blocks away, wiping his own stained hands. She could have sent my brother or called from the balcony to one of our neighbors fleet-footed children. But she wasnt a bright woman. And she knew that a third infant death in one family would invite costly gossip. Already, she could envision the sea of dark shawls that would greet her from this day forward—the back of every neighbor womans averted head and rounded shoulders, snubbing her if I died, and my mother with me.

           Left unassisted, my mother summoned her resolve and tried to breathe more deeply. She felt safer with the midwife gone, ready to accept whatever happened. She asked Luisa to retrieve a bottle from the cellar and to hold it to her lips, though nausea allowed her to drink only a little. She called Enrique to come and take the forceps, to dip and scrub them in a bowl of the hottest water, to be ready.

           “They dont open very well,” he said, struggling with the oval-shaped handles. They were fashioned from twisted iron and padded with small pieces of stitched dark leather that reminded Enrique of a sweat-stained horse saddle. “Are the pieces supposed to come apart?”

           “Forget it. Put them down. Use your hands.”

           He blanched.

           Mamá heard Luisa start to cry, and ordered her to sing—anything, a folk song, or “Vamos a la Mar,” a happy round theyd all chanted on picnic trips to the Mediterranean coast.

           “. . . to eat fish in a wooden dish . . .” Luisa sang, again and again, and then: “I see something! Its a foot!”

           Another push. A narrow back. With Enriques help, a shoulder. My mother lost consciousness. Ive been told I hung there for a while, the picture of blind indecision, with my head refusing to follow my pasty body. Until Enrique, decisive enough for us both, stepped forward and pushed a small hand into the dark, hooking a finger around my chin.

           Following my final, slippery emergence, he laid me on my mothers belly, still attached by the cord to the afterbirth inside her. There was no spank; no bawling cries. Mamá briefly surfaced into consciousness once again with instructions for Enrique on how to tie the cord with the gray string in two places, and how to cut the flattened purple cable in between.

           He moved me onto my mothers chest, but I didnt root. One of my legs hung more limply than the other, the hip joint disturbingly flaccid. No one cleared the white residue plugging my tiny nostrils. Mamás arms lay at her sides, too tired to embrace me. There was little point. My eyelids did not twitch. My rib cage did not swell.

           “Its cold,” Luisa said. “We should wrap it.”

           “Hes cold,” Enrique corrected.

           “A boy.” My mother sounded both pleased and resigned, her cheeks wet as she relived what had happened before and would happen again: the increasing pain as her adrenaline ebbed, the incapacitating fever, the deep plunge into confused sleep from which she might not return. “Tell the midwife it was not her fault. The notary will come to the door. There is a blank card with an envelope in the drawer, with the money. Write the name down for him, so there is no mistake: Feliz Aníbal Delargo Domenech.

           She gritted her teeth, waited for a spasm to subside. “Is it cold in here, Luisa?”

           “Its hot, Mamá.”

           “The notary will inform the priest”—she sucked in a mouthful of air, then bit down on her lower lip—“and the engraver.”

           “The engraver?” Luisa asked, but Mamá did not explain.

           “Enrique—you know how to spell Aníbal, like your great-uncle.”

           Enrique shook his head.

           “Like the conqueror from Carthage, the man with the elephants.”

           “I dont know how,” my brother protested, more alarmed by the request to write my name than hed been by the drama of pulling a reluctant baby from the womb.

           But the long list and the imagined tasks ahead—a letter to Papá, a visitation, a burial—had exhausted the last of Mamás stamina. She closed her eyes and swung her head from side to side, trying to catch an elusive breeze. She began, “A-N-I-B . . .” and then lost consciousness again.

Copyright © 2007 by Andromeda Romano-Lax

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/ contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

What Our Readers Are Saying

Add a comment for a chance to win!
Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

Susi, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by Susi)
I was late coming to this book, which came out over five years ago, but it immediately became my most-recommended book of the year. History, passion, music, ethics, the responsibility of art, all are here, with characters so vibrant it’s hard to believe they are an author’s invention. (There are also some appearances by historical personages.)

From the turn of the last century to the lead-up to World War II, we follow the life of Feliu, born a poor boy in Catalonia, who against unlikely odds, becomes a world class cellist, rubbing elbows (and more) with the rich and powerful. The richness of the characters and the setting, the evocation of the time period, the depth of humanity in all its glories and dinginess, contribute to making this a memorable read.

Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No

Product Details

Romano-Lax, Andromeda
Harvest Books
Historical - General
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
8 x 5.31 in 1.16 lb

Other books you might like

  1. Trespass Used Hardcover $4.95
  2. The Street of a Thousand Blossoms Used Trade Paper $3.50
  3. The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel
    Used Hardcover $3.50
  4. Tortilla Curtain Uk Edition Used Trade Paper $7.95
  5. An Arsonist's Guide to Writers'...
    Sale Trade Paper $1.50
  6. True History of the Kelly Gang Used Trade Paper $4.95

Related Subjects

Featured Titles » Literature
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

The Spanish Bow Sale Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$15.00 In Stock
Product details 560 pages Harvest Books - English 9780156034098 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Ambition, imagination, and luck are equal components of art and, this book seems to suggest, of political life. By choosing the bow, his father's accidental gift, Feliu opens a 'world of tastes and sensations' far more enduring than the toy of the moment, and Romano-Lax makes an impressive and richly atmospheric debut."
"Review" by , "The Spanish Bow wears its research on its sleeve....The novel also delves into music and art history, from courtly to bourgeois art and from late-romanticism to the avant-garde. Here we see the role of patrons, be they religious, royal or simply rich. Fine period details sketch the contrast between country and city, the backwardness of Madrid, Barcelona on the cusp of modernity and the backroom machinations of palace politics."
"Review" by , "Expertly woven throughout the book are cameo appearances by Pablo Picasso, Adolf Hitler, Francisco Franco, Bertolt Brecht, and others, but it is the fictional Feliu, Justo, and Aviva who will keep you mesmerized to the last page."
"Synopsis" by , The accidental bequest of a cello bow from his dead father sets Feliu on the unlikely course of becoming a musician. When he is compelled to flee to anarchist Barcelona, his education in music, life, and politics begins. But it isn't until he arrives in Madrid that passion enters the composition.
"Synopsis" by , A haunting fugue of music, politics, and passion set against half a century of Spanish history, through the Spanish Civil War and World War II.

In a dusty, turn-of-the-century Catalan village, young Feliu Delargo receives the unexpected gift of a cello bow, setting him on the unlikely course of becoming a musician. His extraordinary journey leads him to anarchist Barcelona and  the court of the embattled monarchy in Madrid, where he meets Aviva, a beautiful violinist with a haunted past. Meanwhile, forces gather that will propel the world to a catastrophic crescendo, testing the strength of Feliu's friendships, rivalries, and loves.

  • back to top


Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.