Blood and Sand

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Kessinger Publishing, May 1, 2005 - Fiction - 368 pages
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1919. Ibanez, Spanish novelist and political activist, also wrote The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which made him world famous. From the lowest ranks of poverty to unprecedented heights of riches and popular acclaim-thus was the career of Juan Gallardo, Spanish bull fighter. In telling his story, Ibanez has achieved a novel even more dramatic and powerful than his legendary Four Horsemen. From his boyhood Juan longed to be a bull fighter and, as he climbs the ladder step by step, the reader lives with him in the very atmosphere of the arena. No detail of the picture is spared-one can see and almost hear the actual battle-the crowds-the many characters that stream through the pages. And Juan himself, with his vanities, his superstitions, his daring attacks, his wounds and recoveries, emerges as real, vital and colorful as the sport to which he and many others dedicated their lives. See other titles by this author available from Kessinger Publishing.

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I read this in Spanish, so can't really comment on this English version, but I dunno about the "love story" that a couple of other reviewers comment on ... to me, the book's human relationships as much as the bullfighting that they revolve around are more about exploitation and class relationships. That's what really draws us in: we're always looking at the protagonist, Juan Gallardo (or "Juaniyo", as he's called by family members), with a mixture of admiration, pity and disgust. He's brave but unrepentantly selfish; devout but unfaithful; and handsome but so ignorant that he doesn't even realize when his lover is mocking him ("verdad que no me entiendes, bestia de mi alma?"). Dona Sol exploits him in the same way that the crowds do: his career as both lover and bullfighter can only last as long as the entertainment he provides. He's not a hero so much as a victim, and that's what makes his story compelling and tragic. He doesn't really have a choice because of where he comes from and who he is. His colleague El Nacional is presented as a contrast to him: while unable to separate himself from the world of bullfighting, El Nacional is a family man who has rejected some of the values associated with that world and replaced them with strong (if confused and frequently comical) political beliefs.
Apart from Gallardo's story, I think the other big reason to read this book is that there are some terrific set-pieces of writing in it that describe scenes that are "espanolisimo", no other word for it. One of my favorites is the description of Semana Santa in Seville. Wow. These set pieces are far more vivid and memorable in many ways than the people in the novel: selfish, crude, insipid, limited or monumentally superficial like Dona Sol, whose adjective "interesante" is the highest form of praise for novelties ranging from outlaws and wife-beating to Paris and rajahs.

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