Thanks to a GoodReads giveaway listed by Amazon Publishing, I had the chance to read Bird with the Heart of a Mountain by Barbara Mariconda.
Set in the 1930s in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, this is the story of a sixteen-year-old girl who loves flamenco. Drina lives with her mother’s gypsy people in Andalusia, but she is not accepted by them because her father, whose name Drina has never known, was Spanish. All that Drina can envision doing with her life is dancing, and she cannot understand why her mother tries to discourage her. When tragedy strikes, Drina puts her desire to dance on hold in order to take care of her mother, but the situation spirals so quickly out of control that Drina finds herself in an impossible situation – rejected by her mother’s clan and unable to find a place to call home while the country around her rages with a war she does not understand. Entirely by accident, Drina stumbles into a situation where she is united for the first time with her father. Suddenly, rather than feeling she has nowhere to go, Drina has several difficult choices to make. She can return to the gypsies, travel with her father to Barcelona to perform, pursue a grueling formal dance education in Sevilla, or go to her grandmother in Cadiz, where she will be loved and welcomed, but there will be no opportunity to dance.
Drina was a great protagonist. Mariconda does a great job walking the reader through Drina’s struggle with her identity. It’s really satisfying to watch her transform from the person who felt so much doubt and uncertainty in the beginning of the novel to a confidant woman who isn’t afraid to tell people that “I can no longer be half of who I am.”
This time period is not one that I’m very familiar with, but I thought Mariconda did a great job of giving readers enough background to understand what was happening without dragging us through a history lesson. You feel so much sympathy for the gypsies, who are nobody’s side in the war for the simple reason that nobody is on their side. They are attacked by Republicans and Nationalists, even though the majority of the gypsies don’t even understand who is fighting who or why. When Drina finds her father’s people, she sees that even among family, there can be division about which side is right and wrong. It’s unnerving to watch how quickly fear can turn friends, neighbors, and brothers against each other
I thought the most beautiful parts of the book were Mariconda’s descriptions of Drina dancing. I know absolutely nothing about flamenco, and I have no idea what any of the steps or movements would be called. The other characters talk about how Drina has the same “darkness” that her mother had, and the ability to bare her soul through her dancing. When Mariconda describes Drina’s movements, she also describes what inspires her, and that helps me to picture it more clearly. Here’s an example: “The music, raw and sharp. Rough, but smooth. I throw myself into it. Surrender. My heels hammer the floor like the roll of a machina. My head, I throw back. Arms become wings of a bird. I fly. Soar. The tocaor rakes his guitar. Slashes strings with furious fingers. I am here, but not here. There, the crack of castanets. I dance, sense my daj watching in the shadows… In my mind I see Marisol, then my father. My fingers curl and blossom like lilies. Chin up – Felipe. Down – Isabel. My body dips and swings with the Arroyos dangling from their balustrade… The threads of my heart, woven through the dance.”
I did feel like there were some loose ends left hanging when I finished the book. The primary reason that Drina runs away from her mother’s gypsy clan is to reclaim her mother’s baby. About a third of the way through the book, that plotline just drops away, and there is no resolution for it in the end. Also, Drina has two potential love interests in the book, and that situation is left unresolved. And I had to re-read the last few pages about three times before I understood what happened in the end of the book. I wonder if Mariconda is keeping a few things open-ended in order to write a sequel.
Overall, this was the best ARC I’ve won from GoodReads in the past few months.