A woman stands up at the back of the stage and approaches the audience as the guitars play on. Raising an arm above her head, she stamps her foot hard, sweeps her hand down sharply to the side and stares at us in defiance. The music stops and everyone falls silent.
Power emanates from her across the square. Breathing hard, legs rooted to the ground, chin raised, eyes bright, her face a vivid expression of pain. Everyone in the audience focuses on her as she stands motionless, leaning forward slightly, head thrust back, black hair falling loosely over her dark yellow dress. Stretching her arms down at her sides, she tenses her hands open, as though receiving or absorbing some invisible energy she needs to continue. For a moment I think she might never move, need never move even, so strong is the spell she has cast over us.
Such was the spell and mysticism about flamenco that Jason Webster, groomed for a sedate and predictable life in academia, derailed by a broken heart in his early twenties when his first love, a Florentine beauty, dumped him unceremoniously. Deciding to fulfil a secret dream, he left Oxford and headed off to Spain in search of Duende, the intense emotional state –part ecstasy, part desperation – that is the essence of flamenco.
For the first book of the Three’s a Crowd : History and culture of Spain by Jason Webster, I have chosen his first book, Duende. Duende is an account of his years spent in Spain, feeding his obsession. Studying flamenco guitar under the tyrannical Juan, whose entire flat in Alicante is red, he practices until his fingers bleed. He also plunges into a passionate affair with a flamenco dancer, Lola, an older woman married to a shotgun-wielding, blood-thirsty husband known as El Killer Vincente. Jason is forced to flee Alicante to save his life and, more importantly, Lola’s.
He turns up in Madrid, miserable and lovelorn, but it’s here that he has first taste of gritty flamenco lifestyle – the life on the edge that’s necessary to produce duende. Hooking up with a group of gitanos, Gypsies, before long he is living a cocaine-filled existence stealing cars by night with the police in hot pursuit, and sleeping it off by day. Then tragedy strikes, and Jason is forced to move on once again, heading south to Andalucia to continue his search.
Jason takes us in a journey of his search for duende, offering real insights into the passionate essence of Spain, exploring the customs, origins and history of flamenco. It is also an exhilarating, fast paced narrative written like the pace of a novel, and intimate account of the emotional awakening of a young man.
It was such a shame that this book was not borrowed from the library since June 2007, and none on the year 2005, until I booked it. I think books like these open our eyes to other cultures, and do great service to create awareness and understanding of the world we live in.
What I like most about it:
A travel experience imbued with heart palpitating actions. The honesty, the passion and obsession, all count as a good read.
What I like least about the book:
The account is so dramatic that I was not sure which bit was real which bit was made up.