MatadoraI was hoping that I would enjoy this book—and I did.  It was well written and I liked the topic of a woman trying to find her calling in a sport that is traditionally and primarily dominated by men.  It is especially trying when said female insists on taking a stand during times of civil unrest and war.
The novel opens with twelve-year old Luna, living on a bull ranch in Spain, where she is an orphan but decides she will change her fate by becoming a female matador.  Essentially, the story just covers about five years of her life (from 1932 to 1937) but it takes place during a dangerous time.  The Garcias, who own the farm, see her passion for bullfighting and also her potential.  They take pains to train her and she ends up in Mexico, where she is able to finally prove herself.
Although her skill and fame earn her the name El Corazon, her desire to face a bull on foot is what she truly wants to attain, back home.  As it is against the law for a woman to fight on foot, she struggles to answer questions that begin to gnaw at her—making her doubt her deepest wishes.  She even starts to realize that she is attracted to women and hides her feelings of lust toward a Canadian redhead, named Grace.
Luna eventually finds out who her real father is (her mother died giving birth) and she does go back to Spain, defending her career against political groups of people (Grace being one of them) who think that bullfighting is cruelty to animals and that she is a murderer.
The book ends during a bittersweet moment and ultimately, it is quite sad and dreary but it still makes for a very good story and brings a lot of subjects to the surface.  There is even a glossary of bullfighting terms at the back of the novel, so you can understand the important words that revolve around a bullfighter’s life.
What did you think about Ruth’s tale?  Would you have preferred for it to end differently?

If you are a member of the library, we have this title currently in Hard copy only. This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalogue frequently for an update of formats.

You may also be interested in another book that we have by this author called Smoke.

To read reviews on Matadora, please click on the links below.
From The National Post.

From The Globe and Mail.

For information on Elizabeth Ruth, click here.

Discussion Questions

Here are two questions to start off a discussion:

-What is Luna’s greatest desire? What is her greatest fear?
-What causes Manuel to abandon his poetry for violence and bloodshed?

For the rest of the questions, please click on the link below, which is provided by the author’s website:

Interesting Tidbit
I was going to look up information about female matadors but the answers I was looking for were actually found in the author’s notes at the back of the novel.  She mentions the names of real women bullfighters and other small facts.  I did notice, however, that Dr. Norman Bethune makes a guest appearance in the story and I saw how Luna takes part in a little piece of real history (with the Spanish civil war). So, although Luna is not a historical figure, Norman Bethune and his blood transfusion clinic is all fact.  To read more about his efforts at that time, please click here.

This book reminded me of …
Only four titles played in my head when I read this novel.  Some were really just trivial things—for instance, in Proof of Heaven by Mary Curan Hackett, faith in God and then questioning God is very strong in both stories.  Luna’s relationship to animals (her connection to them) brought back scenes from Jan Philipp-Sendkar’s, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats.  In The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard, we see the love affair between two women being just as passionate as any heterosexual relationship, which is similar to Luna and Grace’s coupling.  Finally, with Timeri Murari’s The Taliban Cricket Club, we see again how a woman in a suppressed society must go against all odds to take part in a sport that is not considered feminine in her culture.

Favorite quote from book:
“A carnival of colour washed over them like holy water.  Sun bathed one side of the ring in pure amber light.  The other fell into shadow.  The sand was a flat gold circle, smooth as velvet, and above them, a cloudless blue sky.  The stands were packed all the way around, pale stone pillars and arches framing a flurry of motion as women in each section fanned themselves, handbills flew, and men argued and placed bets while their children ran the length of the stone bleachers.” (p. 60)

Most risky moment in the story:
When Luna faces a bull on foot for the first time in Mexico.  It is arranged so that no one really knows she is a woman in the ring, until it is too late. (p.187)

Next month’s title:
The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson

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2 Responses to Matadora

  1. burnsmar says:

    This is one I am going to pick up for sure. I didn’t know there were female bullfighters, and no one likes to see cruelty to animals, but the cultural history of bullfighting in Spain is compelling enough that I had to witness one in person when I was in Seville several years ago. It was like a play in several acts, a ritual that has fascinated writers and artists for decades. Remember Hemingway? Thanks for the tip, Melissa.

    • Melissa says:

      Yes, and the book is actually written in three parts, like the acts of bullfighting. It even explains how Luna as a bullfighter sees her view on it and that she, in fact, respects the bulls. Ironically, bulls in the ring are the most revered. Getting killed is supposed to be an honor of sorts (for the bull and the fighter, I guess). It was an intriguing look at the culture—I never read anything like it before.

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