Despite the passage of 300 years, things do not seem to have changed much in the land of Don Quixote at least according to author Andromeda Romano-Lax. In her extraordinary, gripping debut novel, The Spanish Bow, impractical idealism appears once again to lose the eternal battle against the evil forces of the world. This time that idealism takes the form of the glorious cello music of Feliu Delargo, Romano-Lax's omniscient narrator (modeled loosely on Pablo Casals). Delargo is born in 1892 with a lame leg and a heavenly talent that only grows as he journeys haltingly from a Catalan country town to the artistic capitals of the world. Along the way, he encounters all the trappings of 20th-century power, from the feckless Spanish monarchy to the despotic regime of Francisco Franco. Tapping memories of his convoluted relationship with world-class pianist and composer Al-Cerraz, and a shyly undeveloped romance with Aviva, a lovely violinist with a shadowed past, Delargo tells the story of his rise to international fame. In the end, a sacrificial rejection of both music and renown is the only way he can protest the cruelties of the world.
All this sounds very serious, and, in effect, it is. Nevertheless, Romano-Lax, herself an amateur cellist and a journalist, includes some human twists that enliven the plot. Furthermore, she allows Delargo an ironic, sometimes even comic voice here, a personal Punch and Judy show; there, an almost foot-in-mouth vignette of a meeting with (real-life) composer Manuel de Falla. Indeed, encounters with actual world players, like Picasso, Adolf Hitler, Franco, Kurt Weill and others, constitute a special feature of this many-favored book. Another is the author's obvious love for Spain and its colorful cities, which are unforgettably detailed, as in this passage about Grenada, where Al-Cerraz and Delargo play a concert of Bach and Haydn . . . marble music in a city of carved wood and flowing water. In the end, The Spanish Bow suggests that fighting the manifest evil in the world can be even more damaging than tilting at windmills. And yet, and yet there always remains the message and nobility of opposition in itself.