"The Flamenco Academy"
by Sarah Bird
From the author of the widely praised The Yokota Officers Club, a superbly alive novel about two young American women caught up in the fevered excitement of the flamenco revival sweeping the Southwest.
The place is Albuquerque. Cyndi Rae Hrncir, called Rae, seventeen and shy, is twice spellbound, first by high school bad girl Didi (“Dirty Deeds”) Steinberg, already embarked on a search for stardom, then by a devastatingly handsome young flamenco guitarist, Tomás Montenegro. Soon the girls are in college, where they abandon themselves to the disciplines and demands of the university’s flamenco academy and to the hypnotic storytelling of their teacher, Doña Carlota, Tomás’s great-aunt. While never losing the insistent beat of the dance, Doña Carlota mesmerizes her students with the complexly embroidered story of her childhood growing up among the cave-dwelling Gypsies of Andalusia. She initiates them into the traditions, the rhythms, and the steps of flamenco puro, with its central imperative: “Dame la verdad”—Give me the truth.
Locked in a volatile triangle and driven by obsession—Didi’s with stardom, Rae’s with Tomás, Tomás’s with his mysterious heritage—these three emerge as the brightest stars on the New World flamenco scene, while secrets and desires, longings and betrayals pulse just beneath the glittering surface of their compelling performances.
A sense of passion and danger has always surrounded flamenco. In The Flamenco Academy, Sarah Bird delivers a novel with a sense of history and character that matches the drama of the dance it so brilliantly celebrates. Alfred A. Knopf Publisher
“The Flamenco Academy opens so boldly . . . that you have to wonder how [Sarah] Bird can sustain such high drama. But it quickly becomes apparent that she’s mapped her novel’s treacherous terrain and planned accordingly, building characters sturdy enough to stand firmly, even when their emotions are spinning out of control.”
–The New York Times Book Review
“A deft exploration of love, desire and jealousy told against the backdrop of that most complex of dances, flamenco.”
A Note from Sarah Bird on how “The Flamenco Academy” came to be:
The one subject I always knew I wanted to write about was an obsessive love affair I had that began when I was 16 and fell in love at first sight with a deliriously handsome young man and remained so for the next seven years of our on-again, off-again romance. For years I tried to capture this experience on paper, but it always came out as a suburban melodrama until I put it in the world of flamenco.
Here’s the story of how I first discovered el arte:
When I was 20 and living with the object of my obsession, I walked in on him in bed with a friend. Realizing that I had to put at least an ocean between us or I would never break free, I went to Europe. So, dazed and heartbroken, I hitchhiked and Eurailed for a year and a half. During that time I found a job as a tour guide in a botanical garden owned by White Russian émigrés on Spain’s Costa Brava. One very late night, very early morning, in a tiny club outside of Barcelona, I saw an astonishing performance of what I would learn later was flamenco.
To kick off my research, I wrote an article for Oprah’s magazine that appeared in the November 2002 about being a fumble-footed, middle-aged matron trying to get my groove on at The University of New Mexico’s world-famous Flamenco Festival. Like my heroine, Rae, I fell in love with flamenco and learned that flamenco demands the same sort of transformation that any obsessive love affair does.
- Sarah Bird, June 2012
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