["Shadow of a Bull"] is disarmingly simple; yet nuances of feeling continually break through, and their subtlety astonishes the adult reader who supposes that a book for children is necessarily … childish.
"Shadow of a Bull" is the story of Manolo Olivar, age 9 when the tale opens, and 11 when it concludes. He is the son of the man who had been the greatest bullfighter in Spain. (p. 103)
But Manolo lacks the fire of afición, the true love of the archaic contest—the ritual confrontation of a brave man with a brave bull, "the victory of man over death" which the Spanish call la fiesta brava. A sensitive, brooding, introspective boy, he knows this; but he is the son of his father, and that is a great burden as well as an exalted privilege….
A new illumination comes when he assists an old doctor in treating the wounds of a gored torero—and knows that healing is his true vocation.
Nevertheless, he engages in a novice fight. He is brilliant with the cape—but he is not born to the art and fails finally, cannot go through with the faena, the finale leading to the kill. But he has vindicated his honor, and now he can become a healer of wounds, and in that sense, a killer of death.
As accomplished and colorful as this prize-winning book is, it still poses interesting questions concerning the nature of children's literature. It can be argued that the ending is false and bathetic, Pollyanna plus American middle-class values. "My son, the doctor" does not translate easily into Andalusian Spanish. Manolo would far more likely become a peasant, or a hanger-on at bars where aficionados gather to while away the nights with epic tales of stupendous deeds of valor.
But if scrupulous emotional truth is asking too much of a book for children, this will have to do—a touching story told with finesse and delicacy, arresting in its cape-work, even dazzling, but in the end—at the faena, where it matters most—questionable. (p. 104)
A review of "Shadow of a Bull," in Newsweek (copyright 1965, by Newsweek, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. LXV, No. 11, March 15, 1965, pp. 102, 104.