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Duende: A Journey In Search Of Flamenco [Paperback]

Jason Webster
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Jan 2004

Having pursued a conventional enough path through school and university, Jason Webster was all set to enter the world of academe as a profession. But when his aloof Florentine girlfriend of some years dumped him unceremoniously, he found himself at a crossroads. Abandoning the world of libraries and the future he had always imagined for himself, he headed off instead for Spain in search of duende, the intense emotional state - part ecstasy, part desperation - so intrinsic to flamenco.

Duende is an account of his years spent in Spain feeding his obsessive interest in flamenco: he subjects himself to the tyranny of his guitar teacher, practising for hours on end until his fingers bleed; he becomes involved in a passionate affair with Lola, a flamenco dancer (and older woman) married to the gun-toting Vicente, only to flee Alicante in fear of his life; in Madrid, he falls in with Gypsies and meets the imperious Jesús. Joining their dislocated, cocaine-fuelled world, stealing cars by night and sleeping away the days in tawdry rooms, he finds himself spiralling self-destructively downwards. It is only when he arrives in Granada bruised and battered, after two years total immersion in the flamenco lifestyle that he is able to put his obsession into context.

In the tradition of Laurie Lee's classic As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Duende charts a young man's emotional coming of age and offers real insight into the passionate essence of flamenco.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan; New Ed edition (1 Jan 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0552999970
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552999977
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 13,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jason Webster is a highly acclaimed Anglo-American author and authority on Spain whose work ranges from biography to travel, crime fiction and history.

His books have sold in over a dozen countries, including the US, the UK, Germany, Japan and China, and have been nominated both for the Guardian First Book Award and the Crime Writers' Association New Blood Dagger Award. He has been favourably compared with writers such as Bruce Chatwin (The Daily Mail), Gerald Brenan (El País) and Ernest Hemingway (Sunday Telegraph).

Webster has written extensively for newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Independent, Sunday Times, The Observer, Conde Nast Traveller and The New Statesman and has presented and appeared in several television and radio documentaries on Spain.

Webster was born near San Francisco and brought up in the UK, Germany and Italy. After finishing a degree in Arabic and Islamic History at the University of Oxford, he worked as an editor at the BBC World Service for several years before becoming a full-time writer and moving to Spain. He is married to the flamenco dancer Salud and they have two sons. They currently divide their time between Valencia and the UK.

Product Description


"The autobiography-as-travelogue that is also a rite of passage is a form which worked brilliantly for Laurie Lee and Bruce Chatwin - both novelists as well as seekers after the truth-behind-the-truth. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new star of the genre: Jason Webster" (Daily Mail)

"His descriptions of troubled modern day Spain are mesmerising, but the greater curiosity is in seeing just how much trouble the confused innocent can create for himself before finding out whom he might really be" (Daily Express)

"Wonderfully told, with enough detail about flamenco to educate the curious, and enough drama and characters to fill a novel, Webster may not have turned out to be a guitar maestro, but his journey is recounted like a master" (Wanderlust)

"Duende is an intensely personal portrait of a country in the throes of modernisation, whose spirit still defies definition" (Observer)

"One of the best books ever written about Spain" (Literary Review)

Book Description

Part travelogue, part picaresque adventures of a young man, DUENDE takes the reader to the emotional heart of Spain.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Actually, it's a great book 5 July 2005
By A Customer
It's rare to come across a book that captures the excitement and loneliness of travel and living in a foreign culture as well as this. Not only is it well written, with pace and pathos, but it also depicts a contradictory Spain in social transition, and those who remain firmly on its margins. The book depicts the passionate desperation to fit in with the essence of those who, on the face of it, one only has a passing similarity to. Yes it's partly about adolescence and being young - but that's part of the point. However, despite being about real themes this book is light, readable and often funny.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Passion of Flamenco 21 Nov 2007
This is an excellent book that all lovers of Spain should read. I consider myself reasonably fluent in Spanish but I can only wonder at the way Jason Webster totally immersed himself in Spain and the world of flamenco - earning the respect of the group to which he attached himself.

He describes beautifully the strange underworld of the true gipsy flamenco artists, searching always for "duende" - the thrill that a particularly well played or sung piece will produce in the audience. Stealing cars, sex, drugs, death and flamenco - all portrayed with a huge lust for life that can only make us wonder. Enjoy.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unputdownable 2 Dec 2006
By Paul Magnussen TOP 500 REVIEWER
I see the Review Guidelines forbid to me to make remarks directed at other reviewers, so I won't.

What I will do is tell you that I have been the Flamenco correspondent for Classical Guitar magazine for a decade, and for Guitar International for a decade before that; and everything Jason Webster says about Flamenco here seems to me absolutely accurate, with the piffling exception of a couple of misremembered names. (I think the Pedros Habichuela and Pinto should both be Pepes, but that could just be my ignorance).

I agree that if your object is to find out about Flamenco, then this is not the book to read; the classic in that regard is Donn Pohren's The Art of Flamenco.

I also agree that the present book is less about Flamenco than it is about the author, but I don't regard that as an obstacle. What is certain is that he is a born story-teller; and if his narrative ends up portraying him as rather self-centred, at least he has the grace to realise it and the honesty to admit it.

Jason Webster is not the first to have found life in the anglophone world empty, and to have sought its meaning in Flamenco. He is, however, the first (as far as I'm aware) to write such an account after the Spanish way of life changed so drastically (following the death of Franco).

If your budget will run to it, read Gerald Howson's The Flamencos of Cádiz Bay first, and then this. Both are unputdownable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Travel Literature 27 Aug 2008
I'd agree with some of the other reviewers that if you're looking for a real book on flamenco, "Duende" isn't the one for you. The author does refer to some of the pioneers and big names of flamenco and to certain flamenco-related concepts, subjects and styles, but the book is more a piece of travel literature; more about Jason Webster immersing himself in Spanish culture and some of the experiences and people he meets and mixes with whilst living in Spain, learning to play flamenco guitar.

In the book Webber relates how he starts out playing guitar, plays in his first concert and shortly after is forced to flee Madrid when a husband and 'friend' of his discovers the affair Webster has been having with his flamenco dancer wife. There he strikes up a friendship with some gypsies, with whom, besides playing guitar, he becomes involved in drug usage and car theft (only one account of this is given), and prevents a drug dealer from possibly being stabbed to death by one of them. Whether car theft can be considered part of the flamenco lifestyle is, I'd say, questionable. Then he parts company with the gypsies and it's off to Granada, where he makes friends with an elderly English lady and attends a gypsy wedding celebration which almosts goes horribly wrong.

I enjoyed the book immensely and have bought the following two books by Webster, which I also found very good. If you're looking for a book strictly about flamenco, you might be disappointed with this one, but "Duende" in itself is still an excellent read.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In search of Duende 26 Sep 2004
This book was given to me as a gift by someone who knew I had a keen interest in flamenco. From the opening two sentences of the prologue, I knew I would be captivated. Jason Webster, by his very passion for his subject, has managed to achieve something I had always thought impossible. He has written a book which goes as far as it is possible to go in describing what duende is.
If you are already a lover of flamenco I would urge you to read this book - it will underline all that you already know and will give you an insight into the closed world of the Gypsy flamencos which is a rare, delightful, and priceless opportunity. If you are new to flamenco or are just curious about it, Jason's descriptions of its power, beauty, and ability to transport human beings like nothing else on earth will almost certainly spur you into finding out more. And if you couldn't care less about flamenco the book is still so well written that you will be, nevertheless, riveted.
From a personal point of view, the descriptions of his initial experience of duende, albeit without knowing that's what it was, and his subsequent struggle to define it and to seek to recognise it brought back memories of my own long journey of discovery. That he is able to write about it with such style and sense of humour is an unexpected and invaluable bonus. I applaud you, Jason.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars excelente
I read this book in one day. I love Spain, I love playing and listening to guitar music and I loved reading this book.
Published 3 months ago by Ramblin Russ
3.0 out of 5 stars A good read (but read it before Sacred Sierra)
The trials and tribulations of a foreigner doing his utmost to become a guitarist and be accepted by a flamenco group of musicians: his idea of the Spanish essence. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Anne Barton de Mayor
3.0 out of 5 stars The search continues
The most striking aspect of Jason Webster’s Duende is the unavoidable feeling of sadness it evokes. Webster sets out to discover duende, the essence of flamenco, in an attempt to... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Steve Keen
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rare Gem
I have given this 5 stars as I couldn't put this down and didn't want it to finish. It's not often you find a book with such a fantastic story, strong characters and attention to... Read more
Published 5 months ago by TerrieDrum
3.0 out of 5 stars A decent and easy read.
As a professional guitarist my interest was piqued after reading a newspaper review and I bought and read this book on publication. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Mr. Simon G. Bagnall
1.0 out of 5 stars Humourless and Pompous.
I play a bit of guitar. I like Flamenco. This was dull. A speedreading chore. Some of the history was ok and I know more about Flamenco than I did before but I wish I hadn't... Read more
Published 7 months ago by M P Hall
1.0 out of 5 stars Delusional, self-indulgent drivel
I bought this book after the author was referred to in a news article I was reading about a flamenco flash-mob at a bank in Spain. Read more
Published 8 months ago by K.Holland
5.0 out of 5 stars If you're interested in flamenco this is a great book
Not only is it a really absorbing story, but you also learn a fair bit along the way - it's a sort of introductory guide to the world of flamenco. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Booklady
4.0 out of 5 stars An easy read but interesting
I liked this book. It is not top quality literature but it is well written by a scholar of the Arabic & Spanish languages. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Voiciclive
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing book!
An amazing book! This is an autobiographical account of a young man's endeavor to discover the heart and soul of Spanish Gypsy culture and the music that defines it. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Gebre Menfes Kidus
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