Archive for December, 2012

“Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.” Voltaire

For a brief time on Tuesday night the cosy side-room of the Barrels Alehouse – a real ale pub on the banks of the River Tweed – rang with the exotic rhythms of Tango. Kapka Kassabova, the author of our December book choice, ‘Twelve Minutes of Love: A Tango Story’, had come to our meeting. Perched at one end of the room like a delicate-boned migratory bird, she played Tango music on her lap-top and spoke, with great honesty and charm, about her journey to the heart of this tangled, troubled form of dance. There were fourteen of us in attendance, plus Olivia Chapman from New Writing North, and most of us had questions for Kapka, so the ninety minutes flew by. Our thanks go to Kapka and Olivia, for travelling to Berwick to see us, and to Kapka for staying to sign books afterwards.

The Amazon description provides an excellent summary of the content and flavour of Kapka’s book:
‘Kapka Kassabova first set foot in a tango studio ten years ago and, from that moment, she was hooked. With the beat of tango driving her on and the music filling her head, she’s danced across the world, from Auckland to Edinburgh, from Berlin to Buenos Aires, putting in hours of practice for fleeting moments of dance-floor ecstasy, suffering blisters and heart-break along the way. Here, in sparkling, spring-heeled prose, Kapka takes us inside the esoteric world of tango to tell the story of the dance, from its Afro roots to its sequined stars and back. Twelve Minutes of Love is a timeless tale of exile and longing, death and desire, love and belonging.’

Judging by the questions and comments on the night, the majority of our group enjoyed the book. Subsequently, two members sent in very contrasting critiques for the blog.

Barbara writes:
‘I found the subject matter fascinating, as before I read this I had no idea that tango was such a cult and that so many were obsessed by it. I found Kapka Kassabova’s structure and writing style highly creative in dealing with such an abstract subject. I was reminded of Yeats’ poem Among Schoolchildren and the famous line ‘How can we know the dancer from the dance?’ It was an absolute pleasure to hear Kapka talk about the way she came to write the book and her views on memoir writing in general. Her comments on the differences between writing fiction and nonfiction seemed particularly perceptive. If I had one slight reservation about the work, it was that the sections about the relationships lacked a little passion – and it was interesting to hear Kapka explain how her editor had persuaded her to rewrite these parts in a less emotional way, and that she felt it was a better work for it. I will definitely be looking out for more writing by this author.’

Martin writes:
‘Kapka describes Tango with reference to the Mandala, a pattern with nothing or everything at its core. Unfortunately, so is her book and I found almost nothing. It was difficult to start, I had at least 3 attempts. I ususally devour books at one sitting, I had to drive myself back to this again and again. Kapka’s obsession with Tango promised something meaningful or at least interesting at the core but I never found it. I suspect that part of the reason was the difficulty in translating an intense physical and emotional experience into words and even though I am A Strictly Come Dancing enthusiast, Kapka did not reach me in the way Vincent and Flavia do when I watch them Tango. All that was left was a list of people she encountered. Most barely expanded beyond a name check and the rest in vignettes which gave me no insight to their characters. The revealed history of Tango from its African roots was the most interesting part of the book and I am always jealous of people with a facility for language.’

As for me, I loved the emotive, evocative style of Kapka’s writing and, like Barbara, appreciated the way the book was structured to reflect the Milonga (an evening of Tango dancing). I felt that I was being taken on the same journey of discovery as Kapka, which meant that I found the first quarter of the book – with new faces appearing on nearly every page, and new Tango terms and techniques to understand – a challenging read. I’m glad I persisted. I found myself sharing Kapka’s delight when earlier acquaintances resurfaced in the most unlikely places – and I became increasingly invested in her journey. I suspect that many people head out in search of their nearest Milonga after finishing this book but – although I was fascinated by the origins, traditions and variations of the dance – I was more interested in the way that Tango symbolised – well – life, the universe and everything! Kapka’s quest was about more than becoming the best dancer she could be – and her superbly written account of her ‘final’ tango left me both uplifted and tearful.
Ann Coburn


About the book group

The Berwick Book Group meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the First Class Passenger Lounge on the platform of Berwick Train Station at 6.30pm.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit

December 2012
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