Friday, September 21, 2007

"The Spanish Bow"

Andromeda Romano-Lax worked as a freelance journalist and travel writer before turning to fiction. Among her nonfiction works are travel and natural history guidebooks to Alaska and Mexico, as well as a travel narrative, Searching for Steinbeck's Sea of Cortez: A Makeshift Expedition Along Baja's Desert Coast.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her just-released debut novel, The Spanish Bow, and reported the following:
“I lifted the lid on the grand piano and pressed one of the white keys. To my astonishment, there was no sound. I tried a few more keys and then banged out a chord: nothing.

‘Broken,’ Alberto said as he entered the room, coughing. ‘And scavenged for parts. But for dinner parties, it seats six or more – with the lid closed, of course.’”

A soundless piano, a depressed teacher with a suspicious past, no sign of a cello: this is what my main character finds when he arrives at the home of his first cello tutor in anarchistic Barcelona. Not a very promising start for a young boy arriving in a new city, hoping to find music and light and life.

It occurs to me now that silence and people’s various responses to it is, in fact, a recurring motif in The Spanish Bow. The novel tells the story of three musicians struggling to develop their art – and to discover the purpose and power of art – at a time when Europe is descending into poverty, nationalism, and war.

Ultimately the cellist, Feliu, will take his cue from Alberto’s broken piano and become silent himself: unwilling to perform anymore, given the fact that music has proven unable to help the Spanish Republic, save loved ones, or make the world a perfect and just place.

But another character, the flamboyant pianist Justo Al-Cerraz, deals with decay and despair another way. When he encounters broken pianos in small, dusty Spanish villages (page 256) it only goads him into more stunning performances: “If keys were missing, it only increased the suspense as Al-Cerraz improvised around them, aping consternation, his black shock of hair more unruly with each passing hour.”

Which is not to suggest that Al-Cerraz – a womanizer, opportunist, and politically irresponsible collaborator – is the hero of this story. Or is he?
Read an excerpt from The Spanish Bow, and learn more about the book and author at Andromeda Romano-Lax's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue