Shadow of a Bull
Maia Wojciechowska (Juvenile Fiction)
When Manolo was nine he became aware of three important facts in his life. First: the older he became, the more he looked like his father. Second: he, Manolo Olivar, was a coward. Third: everyone in the town of Arcangel expected him to grow up to be a famous bullfighter, like his father.
To be a bullfighter was to be revered for a bullfighter was a hero, a magician, and a killer of death. In Arcangel, death came in the form of a bull and to conquer death brought glory to yourself, your family, and your country. Manolo was the son of Juan Olivar, the greatest bullfighter in Spain. Ever since his father’s death, everyone anxiously awaited the day when Manolo would take his father’s place and Spain would once again have a hero. But unlike his father, Manolo’s future was not prophesied for greatness and he worried that his heart would never allow him to live up to the expectations of his town or the legacy left by his father.
Maia Wojciechowska’s Shadow of a Bull (winner of the 1965 Newberry Award) is a book brimming with valuable lessons and important messages of self-worth, self-confidence, and self-importance. She encourages the reader to question the idea of heroes and those we choose to idolize—the celebrated sports figure or the wizened town physician—and she shows us the emotional and physical price of sacrificing your own future in order to carry on someone else’s. She writes of life versus death, bravery versus fear, and a dream versus destiny. It’s a lot to take in, but Wojciechowska lays out all of these issues as smoothly as a matador works his cape.
Shadow of a Bull is rich in its history and detail regarding the art of bullfighting. Readers will learn the training involved and will be introduced to several Spanish terms (pronunciation guide and definitions are included at the back of the book). It’s an effective primer for the sport that may test the patience of a few readers, but proves interesting nonetheless. Above all else, Wojciechowska doesn’t let us forget that the heart of this book is young Manolo, a boy wishing to bring honor to his family by fulfilling a future that is beyond his desire or control. He carries the hopes and dreams of an entire country on his very small shoulders and we feel the weight of this burden grow heavier as the day of his testing nears. It’s a beautifully told coming-of-age story of a boy trying to discover his place in the world.
Walter M. Schirra, Sr.—a fighter pilot during World War I and father of Wally Schirra, the only astronaut to fly in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs—once said, “You don’t raise heroes, you raise sons. And if you treat them like sons, they’ll turn out to be heroes, even if it’s just in your own eyes.” By being true to himself, Manolo found honor beyond the shadow of a bull and was able to become a hero in his own right.
* Book cover image attributed to www.abebooks.com
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