Summary and book reviews of The Flamenco Academy by Sarah Bird

The Flamenco Academy

by Sarah Bird

The Flamenco Academy
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2006, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2007, 400 pages

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Book Summary

While at school, Rae befriends the high school bad girl and a young flamenco guitarist. When they reach college they abandon themselves to the disciplines and demands of the university’s flamenco academy.

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.

Chapter One

Flamenco has Ten Commandments. The first one is: Dame la verdad, Give me the truth. The second is: Do it en compas, in time. The third one is: Don't tell outsiders the rest of the commandments. I come here, to the edge of the continent, to honor the first commandment, to give myself the truth.

Waves, sparkling with phosphorescence in the darkness, crash on the shore just beyond my safe square of blanket. I cup my chilly hands around a mug of tea that smells of oranges and clove and search for that first streak of salmon to crack the far horizon. There might be one or two early risers, insomniacs, troubled sleepers, who will see the light of a new day before me. But not many. I am alone with my tea and my thoughts.

The waves roll in all the way from Asia and slam against the shore. Their roar comforts me. It almost drowns out the sound of heels, a dozen, two dozen, pounding on a wooden floor, turning a dance studio into a factory manufacturing ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. When the novel opens, Cyndi Rae and Didi are described as polar opposites who bond over the loss of their fathers. What else draws them together and drives their intense, longtime friendship? What do they get from each other?
  2. The two young women in the novel end up changing their names. What is significant about the names that they abandon, and the ones that they choose? How is Rae different from Cyndi Rae? How is Ofelia different from Didi?
  3. When Rae first meets Tomas she says: “He was brown and fully formed. His black hair, brows, the black lashes shadowing his cheeks had an etched certainty missing in the tentative pastel fuzziness of the boys I knew” (73). Why do you think she is so ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

What sets The Flamenco Academy above your average easy read is the irresistible drive and energy of the narrative, the rich settings and, of course, the history and intricacies of flamenco itself which, at one point, Didi describes as "obsessive-compulsive disorder set to a great beat"!   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (288 words).

Media Reviews

The Austin American Statesman

If you want a good, solid summer romp, Sarah Bird’s The Flamenco Academy ought to be way up there on your reading list.

The Austin Chronicle

In the monolithic culture of flamenco, Bird finds a remarkable landscape for transforming the inaccessible whims of an obsessive, lonely teenager into the epic saga of self-acceptance, loyalty and love to which no one is immune.

Santa Fe Reporter

Fascinating . . .A tale of friendship and betrayal with powerful glimpses into the legacy of flamenco, its mysteries and power . . . After reading The Flamenco Academy, it may be impossible to ever think of the art of flamenco in the same way.

Kirkus Reviews

Funny and beautifully structured...with lush moments of romance and a surprisingly sturdy backbone.

Publishers Weekly

A story brimming with romance and visceral details of flamenco, its music and its history.

Booklist - Elizabeth Dickie

The passion of the dance and Carlota's stories fill the center of the novel...hers is a voice that will resonate like a fine guitar

Reader Reviews

bks r life

Ole! Ole!
A member of my book club has studied flamenco dancing and suggested this book. It was a great choice. We had one of our best discussions ever. It ranged from the nature of friendship to the role of art to every "bad boy" boyfriend we've ever had. ...   Read More

SAM

Treacherous and Tedious
Disappointing doesn't begin to describe how trite this book is. Or how the main characters shouldn't be the main characters. Or how disrespectful the author is to the reader. Gosh, does one woman really betray another over a man? Wouldn't Dona ...   Read More

Palomara

Disappointing.
I was very excited when I started reading the book. The description of the dancing and the rhythm. Her words were so melodic and beautiful. Unfortunately, when I got to the Spanish dialogues... it was incredibly disappointing to see how little ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Flamenco, which can be divided into cante ('the song'), baile ('the dance') and guitarra ('guitar'), is the traditional song and dance of the Gypsies (flamencos) of Andalusia in southern Spain. It is believed to have developed over several centuries from Gypsy, Moorish, Andalusian, and other roots (probably including northern India, as the gypsies were nomads believed to have been from northern India).

The first documented arrival of the Roma people (often referred to as gypsies) in Spain was in 1447, at which time the Moors (a common Medieval term ...

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