The Harpist of Madrid
The main character in Gordon Thomas’ richly detailed and thought-provoking book, Juan Hidalgo, is a talented musician, a harpist at the court of King Philip IV in 17th-century Madrid. As that setting will instantly suggest, Juan is soon entangled with the Spanish Inquisition but largely unaware of how close he himself sometimes comes to their scrutiny (he says he will never be a heretic, but he’s not sure about God, or the Virgin Birth, or all those miracles). His main passion is music, and the many evocations of his musical work and experiences are the strongest strand running through the book. As Juan begins to work on operas, we learn the day-to-day mechanics of creating an art form in the midst of reinventing itself. Juan’s work is backgrounded not just by the Inquisition but also by love, family problems, and tragedy, all of it told by Thomas in a scrupulous if sometimes flat prose (at one point when a character dies, Juan actually responds by pointing out, “It is as tragedy”). Olympia has crafted The Harpist of Madrid into a beautiful paperback that fits wonderfully in the hand, and Thomas has crafted a solid, engaging story to warrant it.