The inscription from Antonio Machado jumps out from the page in the back of Child of Duende—“I cannot sing, nor do I want to/ to that Jesus on the cross,/ but rather to He who walked on the sea!” In the same spirit of casting off mourning and instead, diving into the rich magic of the world, Michelle Adam wrote her first novel. It is the story of a child in Málaga, Spain named Duende who is slowly awakening to the mysteries of the universe—through the passion of dance, journeys with nature spirits and the wisdom of those around her. As a foil to Duende, we also meet Ingrid, a hardened journalist who is called back to Málaga, where she grew up, to report on a story about grape vines weeping blood.
“Both are me,” Adam explained, and that revelation makes perfect sense—Adam is a journalist who spent her childhood in Spain. And she's also a flamenco dancer, but after years of tirelessly pursuing her passion for dance, she was left with a hip injury that prohibited her from continuing. It was at that time that she began to write Child of Duende. As she began the novel, she didn't even conceive of it as a piece of fiction, but instead, described the experience of writing it as something passing through her. “I don't feel like I wrote [it] … it wrote through me,” she explained. It was also a way for Adam to translate her fervor for flamenco to another channel. For the time that she was immobile due to the injury, she described writing as “my way of being alive.”
In Adam’s book, duende—a Spanish word that not only is our lead character’s name, but also means “nature spirit”—are based on the way these mythical sprites were presented in the work of Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. In fact, during the course of our conversation, Adam quoted Lorca's description of duende to me as “the spirit of the Earth [that] … one must awaken in the remotest mansions of the blood.” It's a definition that braids itself well into Adam's mystical experience of writing and her goal of, as she expressed it, writing “our soul's story, not our physical story, the one we've lived … It's much more true than any fiction story you'd write.”
It seems that creating Child of Duende was a learning experience for Adam, and in turn, she hopes that it will be illuminating for those who read it. Adam described the distant days of her own childhood in Spain, saying “I always felt like I had this spirit that didn't know how to be in this body on this Earth … [The character of] Duende is the magical being that I am and we all are, that I always felt inside. Until I could bring her into the world, a part of me felt like I was living a false life.” And what resulted from bringing this other self into the world—Child of Duende—is a magical realist tale that unfolds with all the wonder that Adam feels for each of our souls’ stories.
Join Adam as she tells the story of Child of Duende, accompanied with Spanish tapas, music, drinks and celebration at the Corrales Library on Thursday, Sept. 22, at 6:30pm.