The Spanish Bow
About the book:
“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 isn’t 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.
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.
Questions and Topics for Discussion:
Click here to download the discussion guide for The Spanish Bow.
1. What role does Feliu’s handicap play in his life? How might the course of his life and career have been different if he were not handicapped?
2. Discuss how Feliu is influenced by the women in his life, from his mother to Isabel to Queen Ena to Aviva. What does he learn from each? Compare their influence to that of his various male teachers and mentors.
3. Feliu learns from performing for Queen Ena that “one must not ask for acceptance. One must assume it, and value actions over words” (page 195). Does he continue to ask for acceptance after this realization? From whom else does Feliu desire acceptance or approval? How does he value actions over words later in his life?
4. Why does Feliu never tell Aviva that he loves her? Why is he unable to see that, as Al-Cerraz says, she would have accepted a marriage proposal?
5. Early in Feliu’s life, his teacher Alberto asks him, “What point does it serve? What is music for?” (page 85) Why did Alberto’s involvement in an anarchist bombing cause him to stop playing his instrument and to question the purpose of music? How does Feliu answer Alberto’s question over the course of his life? Can music—or any art—exist solely for its own sake?
6. On page 153, the Count says that he can imagine “one day when there won’t be a King at all, when a painter or a writer or a cellist will be as powerful as a King.” Do you think artists have become more powerful over the past century? Have the constraints of royal patronage been replaced by other constraints? Are today’s celebrity artists more or less revered than musicians like Al-Cerraz and Feliu were when they toured small towns one hundred years ago?
7. There are many references to Don Quixote throughout The Spanish Bow. How does this quintessentially Spanish work about a deluded, idealistic knight resonate with the themes and characters of Romano-Lax’s novel? Is Feliu like Quixote? Does standing on principle, as Feliu does throughout his life, necessitate quixotic self-deception? Does the modern world’s emphasis on the individual make us all more quixotic?
8. At what point does Feliu become a “moral purist,” as Al-Cerraz describes him on page 527? Does he develop this moral sense over the course of his life, or do you think the seeds of it are present in his childhood? Who or what develops it in him?
9. What is the symbolic importance of Brecht and Weill’s Der Jasager (The Yea-Sayer)? Which of the novel’s characters could you compare with the boy in the opera who sacrifices himself for tradition and the good of a larger group? Is Feliu a yea-sayer? Is Aviva?
10. In what ways are Feliu and Aviva alike, and in what ways are they different from each other? Does Feliu have his own quest, similar to Aviva’s search for her child?
11. How does Al-Cerraz change over the course of the novel? How did your opinion of the character evolve as you read? What is the arc of his relationship with Feliu? What does the novel imply about the strengths and benefits of his mostly apolitical, self-centered stance towards the world? Is he more or less brave than Feliu?
12. In her author’s note, Romano-Lax describes The Spanish Bow as “a collage” of fact and fiction (page 550). What are the advantages and challenges of this collage-style approach to history? What is historical fiction able to achieve that history or biography cannot?
13. Al-Cerraz’s final works, his Spanish Suites, make up a different kind of collage. Feliu describes them as “inspired by Impressionism, by the idea of capturing the real Spain in these small, disconnected pieces” (page 544). Compare and contrast the description of the Spanish Suites with other works of art in the novel—for example, Bach’s Six Unaccompanied Suites for Cello, Brecht and Weill’s didactic political opera, Picasso’s Guernica. Discuss the different artistic innovations we encounter in the novel, and how they are related (or not related) to one another.
14. On page 420, Feliu describes the questions being asked by artists in the new Second Republic: “Does art belong to the elite? Does art belong to the masses? Should intellectuals be involved in politics?” Does art belong to the masses today? Are artists and intellectuals successful at affecting politics in this novel? Are today’s artists more or less politically involved and effective than artists of Feliu’s era?