Posted by: koolwine | June 24, 2011

Spain: The Fencing Master

Against the backdrop of Spanish Revolution, a fencing master worries that one of his students may be a murderer.

Country Focus: Spain (España in Spanish)

The Fencing Master
By Arturo Pérez-Reverte (Spanish)
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa
Originally published as El maestro de esgrima in 1988.
My edition: Harcourt, 1998.  244 pgs.

Acclaim: National Bestseller

Genre: Historical Fiction

Time period: 1868

Summary:  Old-fashioned and non-partisan,  fencing master Jaime Astarloa shuns politics and the modern world, particularly firearms.   His few enjoyments consist of sparring with a womanizing marquis, tuning out his friends’ animated political arguments at the local café, and the search for “a masterstroke, the perfect, unstoppable thrust.”

Then an alluring young woman, Adela de Otero, shatters his routine.  She asks him to teach her his “two-hundred-escudo thrust”, rumored to be impossible to parry.  Astarloa begs off, citing the impropriety of teaching a woman.  She persists and he, impressed by her knowledge of fencing sequences (and her beauty), reluctantly agrees.

Maybe Astarloa should have asked de Otero what she planned to do with her newly acquired skill.   He soon finds himself way over his politically uninformed head, mixed up in murder and secret correspondence that threatens the Queen.


The pistol is not a weapon, it is an impertinence.  If two men are to kill each other, they should do so face-to-face, not from a distance, like vile highwaymen.  Unlike other weapons, the sword has its own ethics and, if you press me, I would almost say it has its own mysticism too.  Yes, fencing is a mysticism for gentlemen.


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