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Book Review of: The Spanish Bow

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Review of The Spanish Bow, by Andromeda Romano-Lax (Hardcover, 2007)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

Sometimes, fiction is so well researched and so well written that you have to remind yourself it's fiction. That's the case with The Spanish Bow. I started reading the book, and then when I hit the end of the fifth chapter realized more time had gone by than I had planned on. I had to get back to work!

Reluctantly, I put it down. But then a thought struck me. Why was someone named Andromeda writing an autobiography of a person named Feliu DeLargo? Puzzled, I turned to the inside jacket cover only to remind myself of what I had already known. It was, indeed, fiction.

The story begins with the birth of Feliu, who entered the world backwards and was initially mistaken for stillborn. That troubled birth foreshadows other events that would unfold in his native Spain and beyond.

One reason this story seemed so real is the characters are well developed. For example, each character has a unique way of speaking. When an author does dialogue well, you can tell who is talking just by reading what was said. It wasn't long before I was able to follow the dialoguethat way.

The characters also have their individual quirks, their personal demons, their own agendas, and their own world views. As befitting good fiction, these had areas of overlap and of conflict. If Romano-Lax didn't develop a detailed profile or back story on each of the characters, I would be surprised.

Watching these characters interact in a messy, true to life way made the story real and engaging. That realness, and the complete departure from the formulaic writing that characterizes most of today's fiction releases, made it easy for me to ignore this book's size. The story takes up 541 pages, and every one of them just whizzes by. In fact, I started this book Monday at lunch and finished it on Thursday at lunch. With the typical book half that size, I normally take longer.

Why so many pages? It's an epic tale, which means it takes place across a stretch of time. In this case, about 50 years. The story takes us from the Spanish-American War through the Great War and on through the political, economic, and social upheaval that eventually broke out into WWII.

During the time leading up to WWII, Feliu and his longtime friend (and antagonist) Justo Al-Cerra form a trio with Aviva, who is a young woman searching for the baby she was forced to give up for adoption. Her search is the basis for a double-twist ending, which was surprising but entirely plausible. The relationship between Feliu and Justo is complex, and it matures as the story progresses. For much of the story, Feliu resists being manipulated by Justo. The chess game between them is intriguing.

Feliu, who struggled with his self perception of being weak, decided to take a political stand as he was approaching middle age. The result was disastrous, and it created a lengthy rift between him and Justo. That rift would not heal until many years later. After it does, the chess game of manipulation and resistance picks up again, but with more intensity and complexity than ever because Aviva is a third player and Feliu has grown in the interim.

The story, like its characters, has its moments of humor and its moments of sorrow. And sometimes, as in life, the moments mix together. This sophisticated "scene painting" is rare in first novels, because it's hard to do well. Andromeda-Lax seems to have a knack for it.

One way to sink a book is to fill it with factual errors. This is one reason you read about authors who visit the settings they write about, interview subject matter experts such as doctors or police,

Romano-Lax gets the details right when bringing the reader into contact with one historical figure or occurrence after another. The historical accuracy adds greatly to the value of the book and the enjoyment a discerning reader can derive from it.

So, where does the Spanish Bow come in? The main characters, Feliu and Justo, were born in Spain. Feliu's father bequeathed  gifts to his children, and one of those was a cello bow. Feliu's mother allowed the children, beginning with Feliu, to choose which one item they wanted. Feliu chose the bow, and that choice formed the basis for all that would follow. What follows is a page-turning epic you'll find hard to put down until you've finished reading it.




About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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