JOSE TOMAS-UN TORERO DE LEYENDA
Sometime in July I received a package that I was not expecting. I opened it with some curiosity since I did not have any idea of what the contents were, and I was surprised to find the book JOSE TOMAS-UN TORERO DE LEYENDA by Carlos Abella. Yet my surprise was even greater when, upon opening the book, I read these words handwritten by the author: “To Mario Carrión, matador de toros, Sevillano by birth and North American by adoption. Un abrazo, Carlos Abella 3-5-8”
The publication of José Tomás‘ biography in May 2008 could not have been more opportune, since the taurine public, in spite of the existing saturation of news about this maestro, was eager to know even more about the professional and private life of this successful, charismatic and enigmatic matador. So, motivated to learn more about this phenomenal torero, I could not suppress my curiosity and, after reading Abella’s nice words about me, I continued to read without stopping until I reached page 358, where the book ends.
JOSE TOMAS-UN TORERO DE LEYENDA contains extensive information about the professional life of the matador from Galapagar. It narrates his career in the bullrings from the very first time he performed in a festival in Spain in the small town of Colmenarejo near Madrid, on June 25, 1989, until the corrida that he fought in Bogota, Colombia, on February 10, 2008, before starting his European campaign in April. All the types of data and statistics related to the performances of José Tomás also appear in the text. Therefore any reader, after reading this biography, could be sure that the author has dealt with and analyzed everything important concerning the professional life of this outstanding torero. On the other hand, the book reveals very little about anything having to do with the personal and private life of José Tomás, such as his thoughts and plans about his toreo, his feelings, desires, goals, habits, hobbies or interpersonal or family relations.
The lack of inclusion in the text of any personal comments expressed by the matador about his career, his toreo or his personal matters should not be a surprise after reading the introduction of the book, where the author claims that he had not sat down personally with José Tomás to interview him in depth. Furthermore, Abella subtly implies that the matador has contributed very little first hand information for his biography. He illustrates this point by mentioning that a few years ago when he wrote biographies of retired matadors Luis Miguel Dominguín and Paco Camino, he had several long chats with each one of them, in which both matadors talked about their professional and personal lives, and freely expressed their feelings. Abella adds that Dominguín and Camino were so open that he used discretion in his writing in order to avoid divulging some of the most intimate details that they had revealed to him. I quote what Abella says in his introduction:
A few months ago, after handling the corrected draft of my book DE MANOLETE A JOSE TOMAS, my editor at Alianza Editorial proposed that I write a biography of José Tomás. Of course, I immediately answered affirmatively, but I also immediately realized how difficult it would be to get in contact with José Tomás and to have access to his words, his thoughts, his presence, which would facilitate the narration of his professional life. Of course, I was not planning to get into other aspects of his life as is often is done for financial benefits when writing a biography of a public figure,
Since the author was correct in foreseeing the difficulties he would encounter in obtaining access to the subject of his work, he later in the introduction explains the method that he used for doing the research for his book. He wrote:
When I decided to write the biography of José Tomás, I opted for talking with people who had had dealings with him, with whom he had shared different steps of his professional life, and I counted on the help of different persons whose names appear listed in the acknowledgments section. Once I was well informed, it was necessary to access the torero himself. But by March 10, 2008 contact the matador had not been possible with the intensity and continuity that I would have desired. When I started the book, José Tomás was flying to Mexico…And when he returned, well into the month of February, there was no opportunity for us to meet.
In order to compensate for the lack of direct communication with the matador, Abella gathered information from persons who are or had been in regular contact with José Tomás, such as his father, his professional tailor, Carlos Julio López Jiménez, his two first managers, Antonio Corbacho and Santiago López. Nevertheless, the data provided by those contacts was related mainly to taurine matters, and it revealed very little about the personality and psychological makeup of the torero, and much less about his private life.
If a biography shows very little of the personality of the subject, what does the reader stand to gain by reading it? In this case, he learns every minute detail of the career of José Tomás, from when he took his first step in the arena until he fought his last corrida in America before he started his 2008 campaign in Barcelona. Also, the reader is exposed to the thorough analyses, based on exhaustive investigations, and the judgment that Abella makes of the classical tauromaquia of this exceptional torero.
The book contains a prologue (pages 9-13), twelve chapters, which form the main body of the work (pages 13-286), an annex with statistics (pages 287-352), a brief epilogue (pages. 253-256) and a bibliography (pages 357-358).
In the Prologue the author states his goals and the method he has used to reach them. Later in the first chapter he introduces José Tomás as a legendary torero and analyzes his bullfighting style. Abella favorably compares José Tomás personal manner of interpreting bullfighting with the styles of other star matadors with whom he competes in the rings. The author especially emphasizes the differences between José Tomás and Ponce who, regarding Abella, is a less profound torero. The author is very frank and open in stating his preference by claiming that:
This a book is favorable to José Tomás because I believe that he is an outstanding human being, because is a personality relevant in the Spanish life, and because he is one of the more important toreros of all time.
The following twelve chapters chronologically narrate and present the detailed career of José Tomás starting with his first public performance up until his fight in Bogota, before beginning his 2008 campaign in Spain, as the title of each chapter denotes: From Galapagar to México, The Mexican Aventure, Back in Spain, In Mexico Again, The Confirmation of His Alternativa, Another Bloody Summer, Enrique Martín Arranz, The War with Television, José Tomás Becomes Disillusioned and Retires, The Local Exile of José Tomás, The Triumphant Return, and In Mexico Once Again.
Abella introduces a specific topic at the beginning of each chapter. Then, he discusses the special circumstances related to that moment and he states his opinions about the topic. The author supports his points of view with a variety of complete or partial quotes from the writings of other authors or critics who, in general terms concur with his opinions. He unifies those quotes by interjecting paragraphs expanding or clarifying the matter being discussed. In this regard Abella’s skill for investigating and accumulating material that agrees with his criteria is admirable, as well as the manner in which he places this material in a logical and chronological order. At the same time, the inclusion of so many long quotes that fill a considerable amount of space in the book could also be criticized, since it would have been preferable that the author would have provided similar information directly by means of his excellent, clear and authoritative prose.
As I stated above, the great majority of authors being quoted highly praise José Tomás. Nevertheless, there are some exceptions, the most obvious being the several quotes of the writings of the controversial critic José Antonio del Moral. This journalist is well known for mercilessly and frequently criticizing the torero from Galapagar. Abella repeatedly uses Del Moral’s negative opinions of José Tomás contrasting them with the many laudatory write-ups appearing in the text, to illustrate, regarding Abella, the baseless negative criticisms that José Tomás receives from a certain sector of the press.
In the text, in addition to the narration of the accomplishments of José Tomás in the bullrings, other topics are discussed that add spice to the material. Those topics give some insight to the personality of the torero. Among others they deal with the reason José Tomás as a novillero decided to fight in Mexico and the clashes he had there with his mentor, Antonio Corbacho, which resulted in the termination of their friendly relationship; why the torero decided to take the alternativa in Mexico instead of in Spain; the manipulations of Victoriano Valencia, the then-manager of “El Juli”, to keep José Tomás off of some important cartels; the conflict with his two first managers Antonio Corbacho and Santiago López; the problems José Tomás had with some impresarios for his boycotting any corrida being televised when he was managed by the controversial Enrique Arranz; comments about the conflictive competition with Ponce, or about the deteriorating and cold relationships that the matador had with his relatives the bull breeders Victorino Martín and his son.
For those interested in the quantitative data of the career of José Tomás they can find a lot more information in the section Anexo estadístico than is usually found in the traditional ‘escalafones’ published in the press and posted on the taurine Webpages at the end of each taurine season. Here, in addition to that information, the number of performances the torero had at each European or Latin American bullring during his entire career is listed, as well as the number of times he performed with other retired or active matadors; the brand of the ranch of each of the 789 bulls he fought in Europe; the number of gorings he suffered and where they occurred; plus many other special measurable details. For example, one finds that “Joselito” is the matador with whom José Tomás has shared most cartels, in 90 corridas, followed by Ponce with 65; and that José Tomás performed 19 times in the bullring of Barcelona, more times than in any other bullring, and 17 in the Plaza Las Ventas in Madrid, while in Seville he only fought in 9 occasions, 5 en Pamplona and 4 in Bilbao.
At the conclusion of the reading of any book, the best thing one can say is that one has learned something new, and that in the process the reading has been pleasurable. Well, upon closing the biography JOSE TOMAS. UN TORERO DE LEYENDA by Carlos Abella, and although I would like to have learned more about the personality of the intriguing torero, I can say with certainty that those two premises were adequately met.
I recommend this book to any aficionado interested in José Tomás, since within its pages he will find material to discuss, and express opinions with more authority and knowledge in pro or against the matador from Galapagar... who is now the subject of most taurine chats.
(Note: Two of the extensive quotes in JOSE TOMAS. UN TORERO DE LEYENDA were taken from two articles written by Mexican critic Gastón Ramírez, which were published in my Webpage MI MUNDO DEL TOREO-MY BULLFIGHTING WORLD)
Pictures by Muriel Feiner