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for people who care about the West

The power of music, the power of obsession

 

Flamenco, says a character in Sarah Bird's dramatic and well-written novel, The Flamenco Academy, is an "obsessive-compulsive disorder set to a great beat." The novel weaves the history of flamenco with the search for identity and the power of obsession. 

Albuquerque high-school seniors Rae and Didi make an unlikely duo. Rae, the narrator, is a math whiz, and flamboyant Didi is obsessed with becoming someone. They bond because both their fathers have cancer, and Rae is happy to live in Didi's shadow. 

But after Rae spends a life-altering night with Tomas, a tormented flamenco guitarist visiting Albuquerque, she becomes obsessed with transforming herself into his perfect woman. She and Didi enroll in flamenco classes at the University of New Mexico and are taught by the famous Dona Carlota Anaya de Montenegro, Tomas' great-aunt. Whenever class goes well, she rewards the students with tales of her Gypsy life in 1930s Spain. 

Although Rae and Didi are not gitano por cuatro costaos - "Gypsy on all four sides" - they excel at flamenco. Dona Carlota calls Rae La Metronoma for her precise footwork and Didi La Tempesta for her passionate dancing. When Tomas returns three years later to find a dancer for his guitar tour, Rae and Didi compete against each other for the position. Tomas chooses Rae, and they become lovers. However, when Didi and Tomas begin an affair, Rae is forced to analyze her life. 

Dame la verdad: Give me the truth. This is the essence of flamenco, and it turns out, the most difficult aspect of both art and life. Bird's characters are so enmeshed in personas and obsessions that they cannot face reality. It is only when Rae accepts the truth, not the fantasies she has created, that she can free herself from Didi and Tomas and build a future that simultaneously accepts and releases her from the past. 

The Flamenco Academy

Sarah Bird

416 pages, softcover:

$13.95.

Knopf, 2007.