El Zarco, the Bandit

The 1957 Folio Society edition of Ignacio Manuel Altamirano's 'El Zarco, the Bandit'.

Back at Broadleaf Books last Friday, a bright orange spine caught my eye, and when I pulled the book from the shelf, the cover design further intrigued me. I’d never heard of Ignacio Manuel Altamirano but felt I couldn’t go too far wrong with a slim volume called El Zarco, the Bandit, so I bought it. I read the book with pleasure: a stirring tale of the brave blacksmith Nicolas, who, besotted by the beautiful but haughty Manuela, despairs to see her elope instead with the titular dastard El Zarco. Drama ensues.

My enjoyment of the story was enhanced by the look and feel of a beautifully-designed book. It’s a relatively early (1957) Folio Society edition, in a translation by Mary Allt, featuring some perfectly well-judged woodcut illustrations by Zelma Blakely, who was also responsible for the eye-catching cover image. I’ve had mixed success with the Folio Society’s productions over the years, and don’t always feel their handiwork truly enhances the texts in question; or, at least, their efforts just as often hit wide of the mark (with respect to my own tastes) as they land on target.

Back when the Society still followed the old ‘Book Club’ business model, I signed up as a member (ca. 1994), but only for a single year. There were just too few titles in their catalogue at the time that appealed to me to secure a repeat subscription. I’ll admit to having been irked more than is reasonable to see them lavish care & attention on books that I deem underserving of such treatment. I was about to lament how they’d never brought out an edition of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, a great favourite of mine that I think has been ill-served in its lacklustre UK paperback editions, but it seems they have very recently published one. I was sure to place an order before coming back to finish this paragraph!