The Spanish Bow

Written by Andromeda Romano-Lax


In the wake of 9/11, American journalist and travel writer Andromeda Romano-Lax asked herself: if I could write about or do only one more thing with my life what would it be? Longing to immerse herself in beauty and hope – the sound of which had always been the cello – she began work on a biography of Pablo Casals, the anti-fascist cellist. As the work developed, fictional protagonists claimed centre stage, in post-colonial Spain lurching towards civil war, 1930s Berlin, and Nazi-occupied France. The result is this remarkable novel.

In 1898, six-year-old Feliu Delgardo accompanies his mother to a railway station in rural Catalonia. She is expecting the remains of her husband, killed by insurgents in colonial Cuba. In the box that arrives, however, are belongings for Feliu and his siblings. Feliu chooses a cello bow. He is apprenticed in anarchist Barcelona, and then the royal court in Madrid where he is befriended by English-born Queen Ena. Partnership with piano prodigy Justo Al-Cerraz and Italian Jewish violinist Aviva, whom both men love, forces Feliu to confront questions the author was asking herself post-9/11: in difficult times, is art an indulgence or a necessity? Must I sacrifice my own happiness to what is going on around me?

The writing is vivid, lyrical, engaging, the fictional characters rooted in their time, perhaps best exemplified by the tragic, divergent lives of Feliu’s two elder brothers. A book to savour, pause over, read a second time.