By Richard Fink Whitaker
Editorial Mazatlán (2014)
Review by Jack Little.
Published in issue 40 of The Ofi Press
Brave Blood is the latest offering from the small press Editorial Mazatlán and offers a comprehensive exploration of bull fighting in Mexico. Richard Finks Whitaker, based on his three decades of behind the scenes access to this cultural phenomenon while living in Guadalajara, shares his encyclopedic knowledge on the topic with the reader by compiling more than 800 of the most fundamental Spanish terms related to the bullfight; sometimes with a short translation and also others, with brief essays incorporating personal reflections and historical context for that word.
Unlike conventional dictionaries, the book is organised by theme, with separate chapters following the timeline of what a spectator would see on a trip to the bullfight. The chapters include the place (la plaza de toros), the man (el torero), the bull (el toro), the fight (la fiesta brava), the action or verbs of the bullfight and the experience. This makes the book easy to search and allows the reader to look for specific words or areas of interest.
Personally, this book led me to do a lot of research on the history of bullfighting and to attend a bullfight at the Plaza de México, the largest bull ring in the world with space for almost 50,000 spectators. The experience was appalling yet "Brave Blood" gave me some background knowledge to know what was happening, what the sounds of the trumpets meant that sang around the arena. Also, I was able to understand, in some way, why so many people still watch this emotional, tragic and intense spectacle.
Whitaker writes in the introduction, “This is not the book that I wanted to write: it is the one that I wanted to buy. I wanted it at age 15 in Spain when I purchased my very first ticket for a bullfight … What I wanted all those decades ago … was a book that could tell me just what was happening.” This beautifully produced, and eloquently written book is indeed an essential reference for those interested in the bullfight, its history and the experience.