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Gory Story

"Death and the Sun, subtitled A Matador's Season in the Heart of Spain," is an ambitious account of Francisco Rivera Ordonez's attempt to rise once more to the top of his chosen - and perhaps preordained - profession. Ordonez is a member of a bullfighting family chronicled by no less an aficionado than Ernest Hemingway himself, and as a young matador he enjoyed exceptional success. His marriage to - and then separation from — a Spanish pop star further assured Ordonez's celebrity and notoriety, making him a terrific subject for Edward Lewine's book. Like Ordonez himself, the art of bullfighting cannot be separated from history, but the spectacle is also bright and present in much of Spain today.

At one point while Lewine is dining with one of the members of Ordonez's entourage, he's given to understand that the access he's been granted to one of the country's most popular and successful stars is exceptional. It's a fact Lewine comes to appreciate shortly thereafter, when he's told that he'll no longer be welcome to travel with Ordonez because somebody in the crew has decided that Lewine is bad luck. Sure enough, shortly after he leaves Ordonez, the matador begins wowing crowds with some of his most impressive and artistic performances, "cutting ears" as never before. Happily for Lewine, he can still witness Ordonez's triumphant afternoons from the gallery, and on one of the best days he sees Fran (as he is invited to call the matador) find "a way to grasp the whole mess of it and make it his, to take the misery and make it beautiful, which is what great bullfighting is always about."

Readers may not accept that there can be anything "beautiful" about bullfighting, an activity that Edward Lewine acknowledges is not a sport at all, since there is never any doubt about the outcome: whatever else goes on in the ring, at the end of the performance, the bull dies. But the author demonstrates an appreciation for the art and craft of this difficult and deadly endeavor, and he writes well enough so that nobody who appreciates a good story competently told will be disappointed. Lewine acknowledges that many bullfights are sloppy, most of them are disappointing, and a lot of them are gruesome. But those circumstances don't discourage him, and Fran's most brilliant performances don't dazzle him. He finds in his subject an opportunity to explore not only the ambition, determination, and talent of a solitary man alone in a bullring, but the fascinating soul of a country more varied than most in its people, its customs, and its cultural influences.

This program aired on August 12, 2005. The audio for this program is not available.

Bill Littlefield Twitter Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.

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