James A. Michener, the Pulitzer Prize–winning master of the historical saga, returns to his beloved Spain with this magical novel of Seville at Easter time, a season of splendid pageantry, thrilling bullfights, deep piety—and the possibility of miracles. An American sports journalist has come to the city to report on efforts by the rancher Don Cayetano Mota to revive his once-proud line of bulls. Not only does Mota pray to the Virgin Mary, but he takes on herculean acts of devotion during the solemn celebrations of Holy Week. With treacherous enemies waiting in the ring, Mota’s struggle taps deeply into life’s mysteries, shaking the newspaperman’s skepticism and opening his eyes to the wonder of faith. Featuring illustrations by the American bullfighter John Fulton, Miracle in Seville is Michener at his most dazzling.
Praise for Miracle in Seville
“Eloquent . . . a vintage demonstration of Michener storytelling . . . What emerges most strongly is the real admiration and awe that lovers of bullfighting feel for the toro bravo.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Compelling . . . told with an understanding of and appreciation for a culture where matadors are artists and miracles are possible.”—Chicago Tribune
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||7.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
James A. Michener was one of the world’s most popular writers, the author of more than forty books of fiction and nonfiction, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Tales of the South Pacific, the bestselling novels The Source, Hawaii, Alaska, Chesapeake, Centennial, Texas, Caribbean, and Caravans, and the memoir The World Is My Home. Michener served on the advisory council to NASA and the International Broadcast Board, which oversees the Voice of America. Among dozens of awards and honors, he received America’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1977, and an award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities in 1983 for his commitment to art in America. Michener died in 1997 at the age of ninety.
Date of Birth:February 3, 1907
Date of Death:October 16, 1997
Place of Death:Austin, Texas
Education:B.A. in English and history (summa cum laude), Swarthmore College, 1929; A.M., University of Northern Colorado, 1937.
Read an Excerpt
FOR TWO GOOD REASONS I did not cable New York a true account of what transpired during that spring feria in Seville twenty years ago. First of all, I could not decide if I had seen what I thought I saw. Did it really happen, or was it the product of a mind made overactive by the feverish festivities of Holy Week? Since I kept my writing headquarters in the gracious Alfonso Trece Hotel, I was not far from that famous cigarette factory where Carmen with the rose between her teeth bewitched the Spanish captain sent to guard her. I could distinctly hear her singing at dusk when I passed her factory, so I might also have witnessed other miracles. Even today I cannot be sure of what happened during that vital, spiritual and social three-week fair the people of Seville call their feria.
The second reason for my duplicity was more simple, but devastatingly effective in keeping me silent. If I had reported all of what I had seen to my magazine, my boss would have cabled back: ‘Lay off that Spanish wine,’ and the conscientious woman who handled my manuscripts, removing the gaucheries in my prose, would have wired: ‘Stop your medieval dreaming. Miracles don’t happen in the twentieth century.’ I could not afford such ridicule.
Now, reflecting calmly two decades later, I suspect that what I experienced was some shadowy glimpse of a truth we men do not like to acknowledge: that women possess an arcane power to influence men, making them see visions and influencing them to perform acts they would not normally commit. I’d struggled through a messy divorce and was already contemplating remarrying, so my thoughts were concentrated on the relationships between women and men. Was I translating my own confusion about women into universal truth regarding their potency? Certainly in Seville I witnessed a battle between two powerful women, and to me they remain as forceful as they were when they involved me in their combat.
I worked in those days for a lively magazine called World Sport, which owed its success to a belief that sports-hungry American men would buy a journal that kept them informed about what was happening in the sporting life of countries they’d never seen. One of my more successful stories had been a riveting account of the brave aborigines on Pentecost Island in the New Hebrides who climbed to the top of very tall trees, then leaped headfirst down to earth supported only by vines lashed about their waist and ankles. Make the vines too long, you dashed your brains out. Make them too short and you dangled in midair, an inept fool who would be ridiculed. Make them just right, and you walked away a champion among men.
Since I specialized in bizarre stories, it was my good luck to have seen much of the world’s playful nonsense, such as the performance of Argentine gauchos working wonders on the pampas with their bolo ropes, which they could twist perfectly around the rear legs of a galloping horse, or the daring fellows who canoed down the Yukon River during the turbulent spring floods.
My editor had given me the Seville assignment one morning in March: ‘Shenstone, we’ve decided to send you to Spain for a six-pager on a little-known aspect of bullfighting.’ When I objected that our magazine had carried numerous takes on that sport as it operated in Peru, Mexico, Portugal and, of course, Spain, the boss rebutted me: ‘Sure, Hemingway did that series for Life on the summer-long duel between Ordonez and his brother-in-law Dominguín, and Barnaby Conrad has been effective on the story of Manolete. But what we’ve never had in America is an honest case study of some typical rancher who raises the bulls that fight the matadors, and we think that the roly-poly in this picture from a Spanish magazine might be just the man we want.’
In the Madrid bullfight magazine he tossed to me I saw the full-moon face of Don Cayetano Mota, owner of the historic Mota Ranch for fighting bulls. He was, the story explained, sixty-eight years old, five feet five, and looked as round as an English toby mug in its three-cornered hat. His thick gray hair was rumpled, just like his suit, and I had the feeling that a man with a build and a face like that ought to be smiling, but he was frowning as if to say: With me, things are not going well.
I liked Don Cayetano from the moment I saw him scowling at me from the page, an impression that was reinforced when I read additional details about his career: Inherited from his grandfather the distinguished line of Mota fighting bulls whose fame had been well established by the middle of the last century. Exemplars of the breed constantly appeared in the history of bullfighting. One Mota was immortalized by the great Mazzantini, and vice versa. Mota bulls were prominent in those historic fights early in this century in which Juan Belmonte and Joselito contested for supremacy.
The article described how the quality of the line had declined so pitifully during the Civil War in Spain that major matadors had begun to spurn the bulls from this once-famous ranch. The decline continued during World War II to the extent that leading matadors of the postwar period, such as the immortal Manolete and the Mexican Arruza, tried to avoid fighting events in which the Motas were scheduled to appear; even superior artists could accomplish nothing with bulls that were inferior.
When Don Cayetano inherited the ranch in 1953 he had dedicated himself to restoring the Mota name to the glory it had known when Veragua, Concha y Sierra and Mota were the honorable triumvirate of breeders for the plazas of Spain. Unfortunately, Mota seemed to have been waging a campaign that was honorable but doomed—the author of the article wrote that Mota bulls are still more often a disgrace than a triumph. Don Cayetano could take what solace he could from a matchless wall in his ranch north of Seville adorned by the heads of four Mota bulls famous in history. The article was accompanied by a photograph showing the heads handsomely preserved by taxidermists who had polished the deadly horns with wax, and from the photo, which I would want to use in my story, I caught a sense of how majestic and lethal a Mota bull could be. But why were these four special? The text had anticipated my question:
When a bull has performed in some major ring with unparalleled bravery and the time comes for him to be killed, spectators will fill the plaza with a blizzard of waving white handkerchiefs, pleading with the judge to spare the life of this noble animal, which is then taken out of the ring to spend the remainder of his life in pasture. No other surviving ranch can boast of four indultados. May the time come again, and soon, Don Cayetano, when you will witness another indultado for one of your bulls!
Within a moment of seeing the photo of the four bulls, I knew how my story should be organized: I’ll use that word indultados, pardoned ones, for the motif. As the Mota bull is sometimes pardoned, so Don Cayetano can be pardoned for the low estate into which his famous ranch has fallen. And Spaniards will rejoice that he’s made a comeback, or tried to do so. I like this sentence in the caption: ‘When a noble bull is spared, and it happens maybe once in two decades, all Spaniards seem to rejoice, as if Spain itself has somehow been ennobled.’
I saw the fat little owner, scowling and with shoulders hunched forward as if preparing for battle, as an Everyman who, as the years close in on him, wants to leave behind him some worthy achievement. I would not sentimentalize him, but I would use a portrait of him standing below his four indultados to present a warrior fighting to restore his own life. Folding the magazine pages and stowing them in my gear, I asked the secretary in the New York office who handled our travel to get me a flight to Madrid.
I was fortunate that I arrived in Spain at a time when bullfighting, notorious for its violent swings from epochs of greatness to periods of shame, was in a relatively stable condition. If it could boast of no transcendent pairs like Belmonte and Joselito of the 1915–20 period or Manolete and Arruza of the 1940s, it did offer three young men worth seeing whenever they appeared in the ring, for you could be sure they would give an honest account of themselves. They were as honorable in their fields as Joe DiMaggio, Red Grange, Paavo Nurmi and Don Bradman had been in theirs, and in one significant aspect the matadors surpassed these other greats because when they performed with the bulls they laid their lives on the line. In this century two of the very greatest matadors, Joselito and Manolete, masters of their art in every respect, were gored to death in the ring as thousands watched.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A neat little story about bull fighting. Redolent of Hemingway.
Michener captures the mysticism that endures in the bullfighting culture of Spain. This short work draws the reader in and then enchants and entrances with its characterization and action. Michener is known for his epics and this story of his is often forgotten. It surely shouldn't be!