It can be difficult to gauge the characters, with Lockwood shifting from wanting his unhappy wife to wanting Perla, and it is hard to tell Perla's feelings for Lockwood. Readers also are introduced to Orson, a man who likes to pay tribute to Casals by dressing in costume and mimicking her performances, and Nolan Keefe, the philandering tenor and ex-husband of Casals. But the most captivating character of them all is the diva herself.
Rabasa uses an interesting structure to tell Casals' story, beginning with her death, going back to her interviews with Lockwood, then mixing chapters from Lockwood's book, The Wonder Singer, with the interactions of Lockwood, Perla, Orson, and Nolan as the book is being written. My favorite parts of the book involved Casals' interviews with Lockwood and the chapters devoted solely to various parts of her life, from her abandonment at age 9 to her experiences during the Spanish Civil War and her affair with an exiled prince. Rabasa's prose is beautiful and poetic and his descriptions so vivid, especially when Casals is speaking.
"Any fears, Señora?"
"To be old and weak and generally burdensome. To look like Jell-O with my clothes off. And like an overdressed blimp with them on. To have a brain that forgets and eyes that blur and a voice that cracks."
"Aging is unavoidable."
"I should have died years ago. At forty-seven, to be exact. I sang in Madama Butterfly, so petite, so happy-happy and sad-sad, so delicate and vulnerable and pitiful. I looked like Cio-Cio-San's mother in a kimono the size of a circus tent. I died on stage. I died in the reviews. I should have died in my hotel room." (page 70 in the hardcover edition)
Around the basement, narrow air openings allowed a view of the pavement. All I could see through them were feet. Throughout '37 and '38, I used to sit in the safety of the basement and try to figure out what was happening by how people walked. They strolled under the sun. Ran from the rain. Toppled under the bombing. When I think of the war, I think of shoes. Men's shoes and women's shoes and children's shoes. Military boots goose-stepping to a sharp drumbeat. Glossy bourgeois ankle boots and wingtips in the English style. The shoes of dead feet and wounded feet and running feet.Casals is larger than life, and Rabasa's words bring her to life on the page. I could see why Lockwood was captivated by her, and as a writer, I could understand Lockwood's determination to finish the work they started together.
A child's foot inside a yellow sock, twitching outside its shoe which has slipped off when she'd tripped and fallen.
A bloody clump amid shreds of brown leather after several bursts from a Thompson repeater sprayed the street. The other foot was still inside a glossy cordovan. That was how I knew the foot belonged to Señor Cantarra, the pharmacist. He was very careful about his appearance. (page 154 in the hardcover edition)
The Wonder Singer is a song in itself, bringing readers from low notes to high notes and back again. It is a wonderfully complex character-driven story that shines in the hands of a talented writer. I definitely plan to read more of Rabasa's work in the future.
I hope you all will come back tomorrow for my interview with George Rabasa.
The Wonder Singer also was reviewed by:
Bookfoolery and Babble
If you've also reviewed it, let me know in the comments, and I'll add your link!
Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Wonder Singer from Unbridled Books for review purposes.