***REGION 9: South America I

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***REGION 9: South America I

joulukuu 25, 2010, 5:13 pm

If you have not read the information on the master thread regarding the intent of these regional threads, please do this first.

***9. South America I: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, Venezuela.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 11, 2011, 3:56 pm

Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa is one of my favorite authors, and I've read so many books by him that I won't post reviews of all of them, but for giving a flavor of Peru itself, I would most highly recommend the very difficult The Green House (for the jungle and the desert), the much easier to understand Death in the Andes for the Andes, and the difficult Conversation in the Cathedral (for Peruvian politics/dictatorship). My overall favorite of his is The War of the End of the World, which takes place in a remote region of Brazil. Conversation in the Cathedral is many readers' favorite.

joulukuu 29, 2010, 2:57 pm

Deep Rivers by José María Argüedas

I enjoy Indigenist novels and this is my favorite. Argüedas was an anthropologist as well as a novelist and this book was the closest to what I might consider a realistic Quechua (or mestizo, as was Argüedas as well as his protagonist) perspective. Ernesto, the young man on whom the story centers, goes through a teenage existential crisis of sorts, torn between the indigenous people he observes and admires and the national society that oppresses them. I saw a lot of Portrait of the Artist Joyce in this book, and thought that Joyce's book might have been aptly used as a vehicle for Argüedas to build his story of a young man on the Altiplano. This was one of my favorite books from the past year.

joulukuu 29, 2010, 4:04 pm

Sounds very interesting; thanks for the recommendation.

joulukuu 29, 2010, 10:28 pm


Iphenigia: The Diary of a Young Lady Who Wrote Because She Was Bored by Teresa dea Parra

When this book was first published, it 'hit patriarchal society like a bomb thrown by a revolutionary,' according to its forward. Maria Eugenia has lived most of her life with her father in liberated, Bohemian France. After his death, she must return to Venezuela, where she finds that her uncle has swindled her out of her inheritance, and she must live in seclusion with her grandmother and maiden aunt.

This beautifully written, insightful and amusing novel perfectly captures the voice and inner life of Maria Eugenia, from when she is a self-assured, but naive, teenager until several years later when she must decide whether to bow to the strictures of her grandmother's society. Here, at the beginning of the novel, is Maria Eugenia as she justifies to herself her schemes to escape, at least for short periods of time, the dreariness of her grandmother's house:

'I note that it is truly stupendous how rapidly and deeply this habit of lying has taken root in me....I believe that in life lying plays a rather flexible and conciliatory role worthy of consideration. In contrast, truth, that victorious and shining antipode of the lie, in spite of its great splendour, in spite of its great beauty...is sometimes rather indiscreet and usually falls upon the person who ennunciates it like a dynamite blast. Unquestionably it is also something of a wet blanket, and I consider it, on occasion, as the mother of pessimism and inaction. While the lie, the humble, denigrated lie, despite its universally wretched reputation, on the contrary often gives wings to the spirit...lifting the soul above the arid wasteland of reality..., and when we live in oppression then it smiles on us sweetly, presenting us with some shiney sparks of independence. Yes the lie stretches a protective wing over the oppressed, it discreetly reconciles despotism with liberty. And, if I were an artist, I would already have symbolized it...in the figure of a snowy white dove, wings stretched in flight as a sign of independence and displaying an olive branch in its beak.'

In short, she says of her duplicity: 'I was as satisfied as a general must be after having mapped out his battle plan.'

While the novel's theme of the social oppression of women could have been handled in a heavy-handed, humorless way, this is a delightful novel

tammikuu 2, 2011, 6:27 pm

The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

Read in 2010:

Vasquez is a Colombian author and this novel tells the story of a very interesting historical period in Colombian history. During World War Two, the United States was very concerned about Nazi activity in South America. The U.S. State Department sent to each friendly South American government a list of suspected Nazi sympathizers among their German emigre communities and asked that the funds of these individuals be frozen. Columbia was one of these countries, and as one would imagine in such an endeavor, these lists became open to mistakes and abuse. In the end, many Germans who in fact had left Germany for South America for the express purpose of escaping Nazism found themselves on this list. Several years of having assets frozen of course meant that businesses went under and individuals went bankrupt.

OK, that's the backround. The Informers is told in retrospect from the point of view of an adult son trying to get a handle on his father, a prominent teacher and jurist. When the protagonist writes a book about the war years, his father publishes a savagely negative review of the book. This sets off a process through which the narrator seeks to learn the source of his father's anger, and slowly he learns new truths about his father's past.

tammikuu 6, 2011, 9:34 am

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru)

Read in 2010:

This semi-autobiographical novel describes the mid-1950s love affair between the teen aged Llosa and his Aunt Julia, an attractive Bolivian divorcée who has come to Lima to stay with her sister and brother-in-law (the author's uncle), while she looks for a wealthy husband. "Marito" is an indifferent law student, who works as the news director at a radio station, and aspires to become a fiction writer. Llosa is initially put off by his sexy and worldly aunt, who treats him as the child he no longer wishes to be. Julia encourages him to accompany her to the cinema, when she is not accompanied by one of her numerous suitors, and the two eventually fall in love. They conduct a secret affair, knowing that their families would be mortified if they found out what was going on.

The chapters about Marito and Julia (who Llosa refers to as "Aunt Julia" throughout the book, as a constant reminder of the absurdity of the relationship) alternate with transcripts of radio serials written by Pedro Camacho, a Bolivian writer "on the very borderline between a man extremely short in stature and a dwarf," who is hired by the owners of the station where Llosa works, ab the two men become colleagues and friends. Camacho works feverishly, and spends practically all of his waking hours writing the serials and directing the broadcasts, which have become wildly popular in the capital. The stories are initially maudlin and shockingly descriptive, yet spell binding; however, at the height of their popularity, characters from prior serials re-enter in different guises, as the audience and media wonder: is this a new art form, or has Camacho gone mad?

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter was initially written in 1977, a period in which Llosa turned away from serious themes and "discovered humor", as he wrote this novel and Captain Pantoja and the Special Service during that time. The improbable love story, interspersed with the often hilarious radio serials and Llosa's futile efforts to become a successful writer, come together to form a very enjoyable and entertaining novel, one that is nearly as good as his more serious works.

tammikuu 7, 2011, 10:54 pm

Who Killed Palomino Molero? by Mario Vargas Llosa (completed 1/7/11)

Palomino Molero is a young airman in the Peruvian Air Force who is found brutally murdered near his base by a goatherd. The local Guardia Civil is notified, and Lieutenant Silva and Officer Lituma undertake an investigation. The pair soon find out that Palomino left the base several days before his murder, and suspect that his killers will be found there. The commanding officer, Colonel Mindreau, a haughty white officer, condescendingly tells the pair (who are cholos, like the murdered airman) that he has investigated the case and concluded that no one on the base knows anything about the crime. The lieutenant is far from convinced, however, particularly when the colonel becomes enraged and flustered after he is questioned further. The officers are hampered by their inability to interview anyone on the base by the colonel, until an anonymous tip points them in the right direction.

Who Killed Palomino Molero? is a mystery set in mid-20th century Peru, which lightly touches on class and racial differences, corruption, and power. It does not have the complexity or power of Vargas Llosa's better known novels, such as The Time of the Hero or The Conversation in the Cathedral, but it was still an enjoyable read.

helmikuu 23, 2011, 3:03 pm

The Secret History of Costaguana by Juan Gabriel Vásquez (completed 2/20/11)

The famous writer Joseph Conrad struggles to provide for his young family in early 20th century London, and is plagued with self-doubt about his ability to become a successful writer. The novel he is working on is set in South America, where he briefly captained a ship along the Colombian coast, but he finds himself unable to recall details about the country or its people, as he spent very little time there. He seeks the assistance of a well connected Colombian émigré, who puts Conrad in touch with José Altamirano, who has recently arrived in the capital. Altamirano shares the troubled and tragic story of his life and country with Conrad, hoping that the great novelist will tell the world what he has experienced.

The following year the first segment of Conrad's novel Nostromo is published in a weekly literary magazine, which is set in the fictionalized country of Costaguana. Altamirano is infuriated, as the story is not about him at all, and confronts Conrad: "You've eliminated me from my own life. You, Joseph Conrad, have robbed me." The Colombian then decides that only he can tell his story, which serves as a retort to Conrad's life and work.

Vásquez uses the life of Altamirano and his father, who was intimately involved in the initial disastrous attempt to build the Panama Canal, to create a fictionalized history of post-independence Colombia and Panama, one filled with opportunistic but deeply flawed characters whose plans brought misery and death upon thousands of its citizens and continue to haunt the country to the present day.

The Secret History of Costaguana was an instructional and interesting novel. However, I found it to be a somewhat difficult read, as it was filled with far too many peripheral characters and too much inconsequential detail, which diluted the power of Altamirano's narrative. I would recommend this for anyone interested in the history of 19th century Colombia and Panama, and for anyone who has read Nostromo (which I will do later this year).

helmikuu 24, 2011, 4:53 pm

" . . . However, I found it to be a somewhat difficult read, as it was filled with far too many peripheral characters and too much inconsequential detail, which diluted the power of Altamirano's narrative."

Sort of like Nostromo. I am a huge Joseph Conrad fan, but I found Nostromo to be the least satisfying of Conrad's "major works," by far, just for those reasons. I think that mostly, even those folks who do admire Nostromo do so for its insights into human nature rather than its historical/sociological components. I don't think very many people consider Nostromo to be any sort of realistic picture of Colombia or any other South American country. I could be wrong there, but that was the impression I got during my Conrad studies in grad school. What I'm getting at is that it seems kind of odd to me that Vásquez would bother with a refutation Nostromo. It seems more or less analogous to me of a Martian writing a book to refute the Martian Chronicles.

I certainly enjoyed your review, and I have no reason to doubt your impression that The Secret History of Costaguana is an interesting novel. I read Vasquez's "The Informers" last year and enjoyed it a lot. I'm just sort of bemused by the bee Vasquez has in his bonnet about Nostromo. Perhaps that's just a Yankee-centric perspective, though.

helmikuu 24, 2011, 7:09 pm

I also enjoyed The Informers, and ordered The Secret History of Costaguana from the UK after I read a glowing review of it by Alberto Manguel in The Guardian last year. Despite my lukewarm review I'm glad I read it, and I'll certainly look for more of Vásquez's works.

I don't know anything about Nostromo, and had never heard of this book prior to reading the review of The Secret History of Costaguana. It's on my Kindle now, and I'll definitely read it later this year.

helmikuu 27, 2011, 1:42 pm

The Lost Steps by Alejo Carpentier
Cuban author, but I am posting it because much of the story takes place in an unnamed country that is presumably Venezuela.
Published in 1953, my translated edition, published 2001

This is a fascinating, multilayered novel that I discovered when it was recommended for the Reading Globally theme read on Journeys. The outline of the story is simple: an educated and cultured musician, originally of European parentage but living in New York shortly after the second world war, has been reduced to working in advertising to support his wife, an actress whom he almost never sees because of their different schedules, and himself; he also has a mistress who is devoted to astrology and various poorly thought out bohemian ideas. Frustrated, dissatisfied with his life, he accidentally encounters someone from his past, a museum curator who decides to send him on an expedition to the South American jungle to find some primitive musical instruments. The core of the novel is the narrator's journey up a nameless river, through the jungles, to a hidden village; his somewhat unwilling return to New York, and then a failed attempt to return to the hidden village.

But that is only the outline. The real journey is one of time, time both in the sense of going back through history to earlier eras, because there are people in South America still living as people did centuries and millennia earlier, and in the musical sense. Music, myth, and a stunning, rich, almost hypnotic, use of of language dominate this book; I needed to look up a lot of words and terminology. Carpentier's depiction of the jungle is dramatic and beautiful, based partly on a trip he actually took up the Orinoco.

As the narrator goes up the river and back in time, he recovers a sense of who he really is, independent of the trappings of modern "civilization," and falls in love with a woman who is at once both primitive and modern. He even begins to compose again, and believes he wants to spend the rest of his life there. But first his former life intervenes, in the form of rescuers sent by his wife, and then later, when he returns to South America, he discovers that the people of the remote village always saw him as an outsider. The introduction to the edition I read, by Timothy Brennan, makes clear, as does Carpentier's writing itself, that Carpentier did not believe in romantic notions of the "noble savage" but rather that people must live as best they can in their own world and time period.

This book is one of those books that, when I finished reading it, I felt I should start again at the beginning, because I understood much more of what it was about at the end. I really enjoyed it.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 20, 2011, 9:55 am

Time of the Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa Peru, no translator listed, originally published in Spanish in 1962, my edition 1995

Vargas Llosa's first novel demonstrates many of the techniques and themes of his later novels, including multiple (often confusing) narrators, class, race, and sex, but for me it was a less thrilling read than his later works. Set in a military academy for cadets (one which Vargas Llosa himself attended), the novel is a scathing indictment of such academies and implicitly the military itself, leavened by satire. I found the first third or so of the book difficult to read as it details the sadistic and horrifying way the cadets treat each other and introduces many characters all at once. Then, once one of the cadets has been killed, the book becomes more readable, and explores betrayal, loyalty, honesty, and hypocrisy. The story of what happens in the academy is mixed with scenes of some of the cadets back in their homes, both before and after their time in the academy. As I neared the end of the novel, I found it hard to put down.

Incidentally, Vargas Llosa is said to have disliked the English title; the Spanish title translates literally as "The City and the Dogs" and is a much better title ("dogs" is the nickname of the first-year cadets).

maaliskuu 20, 2011, 9:22 am

Samba by Alma Guillermoprieto

Alma Guillermoprieto is a journalist specialising in Latin America (she's originally Mexican but now US-based). This book is an account of preparations for the Rio Carnival in 1988, by one of the 'samba schools' - loose organisations which compete with each other during the Carnival, each with a parade complete with elaborate floats, costumes, and a 'story samba' song encapsulating the theme, which can be surprisingly serious (in the 1988 carnival many of the schools chose to theme their parade around the 100th anniversary of the abolition of slavery).

Guillermoprieto was an avant-garde ballet dancer before she became a journalist (last year I really enjoyed her memoir of being a ballet instructor in revolutionary Cuba, Dancing With Cuba). She becomes a member of the samba school, learning to dance in the parade, and after some time moves to the favela where the school is based.

Her book would be a wonderful read even if it stuck only to the subject of the preparations for Carnival, because of her descriptive abilities:

Gradually a ripple set in, laid over the basic rhythm by smaller drums. Then the cuica: a subversive, humorous squeak, dirty and enticing, produced by rubbing a stick inserted into the middle of a drumskin. The cuica is like an itch, and the only way to scratch it is to dance. Already, people were wiggling in place to the beat, not yet dancing, building up the rhythm inside their bodies, waiting for some releasing command of the drums.

Or later:

She must have been about fourteen years old, but there was none of the sharp-edged busyness of the mosquito brigade's dancing in her movements, and none of the blatant sexual appeal coached into sambistas from toddlerhood. Delicately, she explored every interstice in the rhythm, dancing first to the light metal instruments, then to the drums, reshaping the music into movement and making all its different parts visible: the song line's rise and fall, the changes in rhythm, the backbeat of the mandolin.

But Carnival is much more than just a community event: it's mass entertainment, part of a major money-spinning industry. It's exclusive - I had assumed that Carnival paraded through the streets for all to enjoy, but in fact it takes place in a vast purpose-built Sambadrome, with the seats filled by the wealthiest Cariocas. And it's also an excellent window onto the relationships between classes and races in Brazil. "In Rio, when state of local officials want to show appreciation for black culture, they visit a samba school": but the only paid members of the samba school are the parade designers (carnavalescos), generally white, and the prestigious roles of singers on the floats are also generally handed out to the white and wealthy. The exhausting job of dancing in the parade, continuously while the floats are moving through the sambadrome, goes to the favelados who are perceived as the ones with the real 'samba spirit'.

I found this book absolutely fascinating and would love to read a 2011 update - I wonder whether Brazil's improving economy has had any impact on the lives of the favelados in the last twenty years.

maaliskuu 20, 2011, 9:42 am

Far Away And Long Ago by WH Hudson

This is a remarkably vivid and lyrical description of a boy growing up on the pampas in mid-nineteenth century Argentina: "just a little animal running about on its hind legs, amazingly interested in the world in which it found itself". Most of the book is his memories of nature's wonders and beauties, as well as tales of life on the pampas and his own hair-raising adventures (typhoid fever, learning to shoot at the age of ten, letting his elder brother practise knife-fighting on him). It's a pity thought that a man with such acute powers of observation and sensitivity to the natural world around him was jarringly of his time in his attitudes to people of other classes and races, so occasionally you are jerked out of the lyricism by something really quite offensive.

Sample: But the blossoms thickly covering every twig annoyed the parrots, as they could not find space enough to grasp a twig without grasping its flower as well; so what did the birds do in their impatience but begin stripping the blossoms off the branches on which they were perched with their sharp beaks, so rapidly that the flowers came down in a pink shower, and in this way in half a minute every bird made a twig bare where he could sit perched at ease.

kesäkuu 4, 2011, 6:34 pm

Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo PERU Published 2006, English translation 2009
Winner of this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

I found this book, a police procedural mystery/thriller striving for social, political, and religious significance, frustrating. It tells the story of a low-level, seemingly somewhat dim-witted, prosecutor who has been reassigned at his own request from Lima, where he has lived and worked for many years, to the highland Peruvian town of Ayachuco, where he was born, where he continues to talk to his long-dead mother, and where he is given the case of a particularly brutal murder. Could the Shining Path/Sendero Luminoso have returned just in time for the spectacular Holy Week celebration that brings thousands of tourists from the more sophisticated, whiter coastal regions to this largely indigenous area, bringing in money for the local business owners? Then he finds the police and military are determined to show that Sendero Luminoso is no more, despite evidence to the contrary. They have certainly killed many people; could they be behind this too? The prosecutor, initially interested only in the correct way to file reports, becomes surprisingly more determined to figure out what is really going on, as the murders and the danger mount. Unfortunately, I didn't find his efforts or the mystery that engaging, and the social/political/religious angles, and the historical significance of Ayachuco, which would have been more interesting, seemed (to me, anyway) tacked on and not fully integrated into the novel.

But, perhaps I didn't warm to it because I had read here on LT that the novel treads similar ground to Vargas Llosa's Death in the Andes. Well, yes and no. Both involve a character from the coastal/more sophisticated regions of Peru (a low-level police/military officer in one, a low-level prosecutor in the other) who encounters the local highlands population and mysterious goings-on, possibly related to the Shining Path. But there the comparison ends. Roncagliolo's efforts are simply no match for he complexity, imagination, fun, creepiness, and great writing of Vargas Llosa.

kesäkuu 18, 2011, 6:36 am

Eh, wandering_star, I thought Hudson's _Far Away and Long Ago_ was excellent, as is his _Purple Land_ (about Uruguay). But about your finding some of his attitudes (towards Italian immigrants, for example) offensive: yes, some of the attitudes he expresses in such a matter-of-fact way can be nearly shocking, but I think the problem is ours rather than Hudson's. In our time, unlike his, giving voice to such opinions as he does is frowned on in polite society. I'm not sure our time is better.

kesäkuu 18, 2011, 6:46 am

Well, rebeccanyc, I agree with you that the Roncagliolo book is a disappointment. You seem to read a lot from Peru. Have you never tried Julio Ramón Ribeyro? There's not a lot of his stuff in English, but for my money it's better than Vargas Llosa's.

kesäkuu 18, 2011, 9:55 am

Thanks for suggesting Riberyo, Luder. I've really only read a lot of Vargas Llosa for writing from Peru, so I will look for him. Vargas Llosa is one of my favorite writers, so that's a great recommendation!

heinäkuu 8, 2011, 1:22 pm

In Praise of the Stepmother by Mario Vargas Llosa, 1988
The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto by Mario Vargas Llosa, 1997


I'm a big fan of Mario Vargas Llosa but I found that I admired these two books, which are unlike any of his others that I've read, more than I liked them. The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto is a sequel to In Praise of the Stepmother, written nearly 10 years later, and I liked it better.

In Praise of the Stepmother begins the story of Don Rigoberto, a middle-aged and not very attractive man, his beautiful younger second wife Lucrecia, and his devilishly angelic son Alfonso, known as Fonchito. An insurance executive by day, Don Rigoberto is an art connoisseur and erotic explorer by night, as well as man obsessively devoted to the care of his own body, care described, in some cases, in more detail than I enjoyed. The story revolves around the seduction of Lucrecia by Fonchito, and its aftermath, interwoven with Rigoberto's and Lucrecia's erotic exploits which are modeled after paintings that are actually printed in the book. Through this story, shocking in some respects, Vargas Llosa explores the ideas of imagination and creativity, and their link to the erotic.

The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, which takes place after Rigoberto and Lucrecia have separated, is more complex, interweaving Rigoberto's erotic fantasies with the writings in his notebooks -- comments on art, theater, and music, as well as unsent letters that expound on his belief that individual creativity, even what we would call fetishism, is vastly superior to mass, popular culture -- and with a plot in which Fonchito, obsessed with the art and life of Egon Schiele, now schemes to bring Lucrecia and Rigoberto back together. This book too explores the many facets of creativity, individualism, imagination, and mystery. I was impressed, as always, by Vargas Llosa's writing, but I wish I enjoyed it more.

heinäkuu 11, 2011, 3:53 pm

>20 rebeccanyc:
Rebecca- which are your favorite Vargas Llosa books?

heinäkuu 11, 2011, 3:54 pm

sorry- i just read message #2 and now know which are your favorite Llosa books.

elokuu 2, 2011, 7:02 pm

Daytripper by Fabio Moon & Gabriel Bá (2011)
graphic novel

Brasilian twin brothers Moon & Ba have produced a very thought provoking work here, the premise: as we live life, are we paying attention?
We follow protagonist, Bras de Oliva Domingos, son of a famous Brasilian writer, as he experiences his own death over and over again at different points of his life. Each time one ponders how much of his life he has left unlived, all those lost opportunities, the unsaid words. Daytripper won the Eisner Award for Best Limited Series a couple of weeks ago.

Samples of their work can be found on their blog: http://fabioandgabriel.blogspot.com/

elokuu 3, 2011, 4:48 pm

The Lost City of Z. is a real page turner. A journalist becomes fascinated by the dissappearance of a great English explorer, Percy Fawcett, in 1925. Fawcett had set out to discover the ruins of a great ancient civilization he believed had existed and thrived in the great Amazon jungle. Once he dissappeared many followed to find him and they,too, were never heard from again.

Others believed that a civilized society could never develop in such an unforgiveable and unliveable environmewnt where tribes could not look beyond their daily survival needs - their only focus to find enough to eat and to defend themselves against poisonous snakes and annual floods.

this is an amazing tale, well-told.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 16, 2012, 11:09 am

PERU 2010, English translation 2012
The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa
Cross-posted from my Club Read and 75 Books threads

If I hadn't seen Mario Vargas Llosa's name on the cover of this book, I would not necessarily have known he was the author, even though I have read nearly all of his previous novels. A fictionalized biography of Roger Casement, The Dream of the Celt has few of the hallmarks of Vargas Llosa's writing that I have come to love. Instead of moving back and forth in time and from character to character, often within the same paragraph if not within the same sentence, the narrative is completely straightforward, although chapters dealing with Casement's final days as he waits to be hanged for treason are alternated with chapters covering his earlier life. Instead of creating vivid characters, even his imagined Casement feel flat. Instead of immersing the reader in the action (in a way that can often be confusing), Vargas Llosa provides dates and facts in a more obvious way than many history books. (Note: I haven't read his other fictionalized biography, of Gauguin, in The Way to Paradise.

Where this book does feel like Vargas Llosa is in the themes: the exploitation of indigenous people in Africa and the Peruvian Amazon by European companies (specifically rubber companies), the brutality of absolute power and the corruption it engenders, and the horrors of colonialism. It is thus easy to see why he would be interested in Casement, who was born in Ireland, served as a British consul in what was then the Belgian Congo and eventually, after he came to see the destruction, human and environmental, caused by the rubber industry, was charged with investigating and reporting on it for the British government, first in the Congo and later in the Peruvian Amazon. He was knighted for this work by the British. However, as he worked on these human rights investigations, he connected more and more with his Irishness and latent Catholicism (he was raised Protestant, but his mother had him secretly baptized as a Catholic) and to a view of Britain as a colonial power in Ireland. Thus, he came to know and work with many of the Irish leaders, in Ireland and in exile, who were working for Irish independence, and was one of the Irish leaders who collaborated with the Germans at the outbreak of World War I to encourage them to support an Irish rebellion against the British. (The enemy of my enemy is my friend?) He traveled to Germany and tried both to enlist Irish prisoners of war in an Irish brigade and to have the Germans ship guns and other weapons secretly to the Irish planning the Easter 1916 uprising. Believing in the end that the Germans would not support the uprising, he traveled to Britain on a German sub to try to stop it, but was captured and sentenced to death for treason. Friends and colleagues appealed for mercy, but much of this support melted away after the British discovered some diaries, alleged to be Casement's, which detailed homosexual encounters; over the years, there has been controversy about whether these were real, but I believe they are now believed to be, and Vargas LLosa does too.

This could have been a fascinating biography, and it could have been a fascinating novel, but as a hybrid of the two this book didn't really work for me. It had too many facts and details for a novel, and too much of Casement's imagined thoughts for a biography. Vargas Llosa is such a brilliant writer, and many of his novels are among my favorite reads, but he is better when he lets his imagination run and when he creates worlds that seem real than when, as in this book, he does extensive research (a page and a half of thanks at the end of the book) and seems to feel he has to show he read it all instead of integrating what he learned in a creative way. For me, the best section was the section on the Peruvian Amazon, which he knows better, and which therefore seemed more "real" than the Africa and Ireland sections; it makes me want to go back and read The Green House, a novel about the same region that I found both compelling and mystifying when I first read it.

kesäkuu 16, 2012, 11:06 pm

Great review of The Dream of the Celt, Rebecca, although I'm sorry to hear that it was a disappointing read. I'll still buy it this month and read it this summer.

kesäkuu 17, 2012, 10:22 am

I'll be interested in your thoughts, Darryl; as noted elsewhere, I think you and I are the two biggest MVL fans here on LT.

lokakuu 27, 2013, 11:17 am


Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa
Originally published 1977; English translation 1972
Cross-posted from my Club Read and 75 Books threads

Although I'm a big fan of Vargas Llosa, and although this book has been on my shelves for 30 years (I still wrote my name and the date in books back in June 1983), I never read it until now. And what a delightful book it is! Vargas Llosa intersperses semi-autobiographical chapters about the 18-year-old narrator's life and his budding romance with his 32-year-old divorced aunt by marriage with chapters that the reader eventually realizes are episodes in the radio serials written by a Bolivian scriptwriter recently hired by the radio station at which the narrator works.

In the Aunt Julia chapters, the narrator, whose name is Mario but is generally called Marito or Varguesita, wants above all to be a writer; nonetheless, he is somewhat lackadaisically going to law school to please his family, while working as news editor and writer at the radio station and hanging out with his friends. He lives in Lima with his grandparents, as his parents are in the US, and spends a great deal of time with members of his large extended family. And that is how he meets Julia, who has come from Bolivia to Lima to visit her sister, the wife of one of the narrator's uncles, to recover from her divorce and find a new husband. One of the delights of these sections are the narrator's sense of fun, as well as romance and responsibility, and some parts are almost laugh-out-loud funny, especially as this part of the plot builds to its conclusion. I also enjoyed the descriptions of how the radio serials are recorded, and the efforts of the sound effects man in particular. The characters Vargas Llosa creates are wonderful.

The chapters representing the work by the master, and eccentric, Bolivian scriptwriter, Pedro Camacho, are more puzzling. They start off as fairly standard soap opera fare -- romance with a whiff of incest, rape, etc. -- and gradually become weirder and weirder and darker and darker. At one point I was confused because a name seemed to be changed, and gradually (from the narrator's chapters), I learned that the radio listeners were confused by this too, as characters seem to be moving from one serial to another, changing lives, professions, and more, and dying in one serial to be resurrected in another. Through this, the reader sees Pedro Camacho's breakdown before the listeners and the radio station owners start discussing it.

Although both the narrator chapters and the serial chapters move along at a brisk pace, with well drawn characters and well developed plots, there is another aspect to this book, and that is the nature of writing. The narrator frequently discusses stories he is trying to write, and of course is fascinated by how Camacho works, so part of the story is the portrait of the aspiring writer as a young man. And this is probably semi-autobiographical as well. The last chapter, which I felt a little tacked on, reveals what happens when the older author, who has been living in Europe, visits Peru and runs into some of his old friends, some who have risen higher in the world, and some who have fallen. It ties up some loose ends, but I felt the novel could have ended before this.

All in all, this book was a lot of fun.

marraskuu 23, 2013, 10:02 am


Maíra by Darcy Ribeiro
Originally published 1978; English translation 1984.
Cross-posted from my Club Read and 75 Books threads.

This novel by a Brazilian anthropologist was a challenging read for me: at times fascinating and imaginative, at times frustrating and opaque. Ribeiro set himself the task of depicting fictionally the impact of western "civilization" on a remote tribe of Indians, the Mairun, deep in the forested regions of the Amazon. To do so, he mixes sections that tell of the Mairun origin myths and customs with stories told by people as varied as a Mairun who almost became a Roman Catholic priest, the Mairun guide of souls, other Mairuns, various missionaries, a half-Mairun river trader, an investigator, and others, and it was sometimes difficult to keep track of who was who.

The novel begins with the discovery of a dead white woman on the beach by the river, who has apparently died while giving birth to twins. Or was she murdered? By the end of the book, we have some idea of how she got there. She was a troubled young woman, Alma, who ended up on the same small plane as the Mairun man who had given up studying in Rome to be a priest and was returning home: Isías in his Western name, Avá in his Mairun name. As a Mairun, he is destined to become the next chieftain; the old one has just died (although apparently he didn't know this when he decided to leave Rome and return home). Alma ends up accompanying Isías/Avá by canoe down the river first to the monastery/convent where he originally studied as she had thought she would somehow help the nuns there, and then to his village. Needless to say, she is a curiosity there, but eventually she feels very at home; Isías/Avá has more difficulty fitting back in as he has become neither white nor Mairun.

This is the broadest outline of the plot, but the plot is just there to hang the ideas on. A lot of this book is about religion, both Mairun beliefs and Catholic and evangelical Protestant beliefs, and some of this, especially the Catholic material was hard for me to follow, especially since a lot of it was given in Latin and I didn't want to type it all in to Google Translate! The novel's sections are named largely with Christian concepts: Antiphony, Homily, Gospel, and Corpus. I feel I missed a lot of the Christian references and ideas.

On the other hand, the parts about the Mairun life and mythology were the richest and most compelling, and often beautifully written (and often quite earthy too), although occasionally I was very aware that an anthropologist was writing the book! (As far as I can tell, the Mairun are a made-up tribe, but I'm sure Ribeiro took ideas about customs, kinship, and origin myths from indigenous people he had studied.) I was quite taken with the guide of souls, the complex way the Mairun organize their intergroup relationships, and various individuals and their interactions.

Another aspect of the novel is how Isías/Avá attempts to reclaim his Mairun heritage but remains a prisoner in a way of all his years with the priests both in Brazil and in Rome. His struggle is a metaphor for one of the ways the indigenous cultures were destroyed; more overt methods make an appearance later on in the book.

This is a complex and complicated novel, and I don't feel it entirely works. But I am glad I read it, and I'm still thinking about it.

As a side note, I bought this book because I became interested in Aventura: The Vintage Library of Contemporary World literature, after reading Donoso's A House in the Country earlier this month (see list of titles on this post in my Club Read thread); I had never heard of it before. These books are beautifully designed and printed on very nice paper, but this book at least was marred by careless proofreading (e.g., "wit" for "with").

Muokkaaja: marraskuu 24, 2013, 12:21 pm


Backlands: The Canudos Campaign by Euclides da Cunha
Originally published 1902; English translation 2010.
Cross-posted from my Club Read and 75 Books threads.

I've wanted to read this book ever since I read The War at the End of the World because Vargas Llosa took the story told here, of the war between the followers of a charismatic religious leader in the backlands of northern Brazil and the army of the relatively young Brazilian republic, as the starting point of his novel. Da Cunha, a journalist who had been in the army himself, was what we now would call "embedded" with the army at the very end of the multi-campaign war; the rest of this lengthy and at times overblown book is the result of his detailed research although, in the fashion of the time (?), none of his sources are credited or footnoted.

For the book is not just about the war; nearly half of it paints a portrait of the backlands, or sertão, from a variety of perspectives: geological, meteorological, botanical, and human. And it is when da Cunha gets into the human makeup of the backlands that he gets into trouble with a modern reader, for da Cunha's "scientific" racism is vile. He ranks the races "evolutionarily" (guess which one is most evolved!) and describes in detail the various mixtures of black, white, and Indian blood, each of which has its own name. I suppose in some ways this "scientific" perspective was a step up from thinking of people of color as animals, and certainly it has to be taken in the context of the time, but it's pretty hard to read. Da Cunha also dabbles in psychology.

On the other hand, the geology and natural history of the region were fascinating: the backlands are incredibly rugged, remote, desolate, and alternately mountainous and desert-like. I did feel that his geological writing cried out for maps, and I've spent a lot of time searching the web, without success, for photos that do justice to the dramatic nature of the mountains da Cunha describes, as well as for photos of the plants. These sections did seem a little endless, especially without illustrations and maps.

The second part of the book covers the Brazilian army's four campaigns against Antonio Conselheiro (the counselor) who, through his preaching, attracted thousands of the poor and outcast (for various reasons) to the town of Canudos and built a religious community there. Da Cunha attempts to figure out Conselheiro's psychology, and he covers some of the reasons the powers-that-be in Brazil were so outraged by what might seem to be a localized cult, including that Brazil had only recently become a republic and had to be constantly on the lookout for monarchist rebellions. He calls the Canudos "rebellion" as "our Vendée," referring to the monarchist challenge to the French revolution. The material on the movements of the different units of the armies arrayed against Canudos also cries out for maps.

Militarily, the Brazilian army committed one mistake after another, including expecting regular army units to know what to do about guerrilla warfare, underestimating the impact of the terrain on their ability to proceed and to avoid their enemy, getting separated from their supply train, not having enough supplies, letting the enemy capture their weapons and ammunition, and on and on. Da Cunha develops a grudging respect for the jagunços, a term used to refer to the inhabitants of the backlands that can also mean "outlaw" or "cowboy," for their courage, determination, and persistence. He largely credits the eventual success of the Brazilian army, after three failed and one faltering attempt to take the town of Canudos, to an officer named de Bittencourt who finally got their supply trains in order and could regularly supply the troops at the front with food and ammunition. Eventually, the army was able to almost encircle Canudos, bomb the buildings with cannon fire which often set fire to them, and starve the remaining jagunços out, although they continued to fight fiercely until the very end. Except for some prisoners that the army had taken earlier, almost entirely women and children, everyone in Canudos died, often horribly. Atrocities were widespread. Conselheiro himself died of dysentery in the last days of the siege; his body was exhumed by the army and there are pictures of it available on the internet.

In his introduction to my edition, Ilan Stavans says that this book is a classic of Brazilian literature and gave Brazilians a sense of themselves as a people. It was something of a slog at times, but I'm glad I read it. It's given me renewed appreciation for what Vargas Llosa accomplished in The War at the End of the World, and may inspire me to reread it.

joulukuu 8, 2013, 12:07 pm


Deep Rivers by José Maria Arguedas
Originally published 1958; English translation 1978.
Cross-posted from my Club Read and 75 Books threads.

This was a haunting and at times painful book to read. It is the story of Ernesto, a white Peruvian boy who was relegated to he kitchen by the relatives he was sent to live with and thus was raised by the Indian servants and came to speak their language, Quechua, and love their culture, especially their relationship to the natural world. When he got a little older, his father, a not-so-successful itinerant lawyer, took him with him as he traveled around the Andes seeking work.

As the story opens, the father is taking his son to see his estranged brother, known as the Old Man, in the ancient city of Cuzco. The Spanish colonial walls built on top of the remains of Inca stone buildings set the symbolic stage for the rest of the book, for Ernesto is caught between the two cultures. Later, father and son go to the town of Abancay, where the father hopes to stay but ultimately leaves his son at a Catholic boarding school. It is there that most of the novel takes place.

Although the usual pranks and even some terrible cruelties take place at the school -- most horribly the opaquely described repeated rapes of a mentally unstable woman called "the Idiot" -- most of Ernesto's time there is spent inside his own unhappy and lonely head. The most moving and lyrical parts describe his connection to nature, not just animals and plants but the mountains and rocks and rivers, all of which in Quechua culture have much greater significance than in white culture, and are often even personified. Aruguedas, whose early life was similar to Ernesto's, frequently uses Quechua words and Quechua songs to illustrate Ernesto's deep love of the culture and its conflict with the powers that be. Ernesto is also drawn to the myths and spirits and music of the Indian culture and endows a top he receives as a gift with the powers of communication.

I found it a little difficult to keep track of who the various schoolboys were, but I think this was intentional, as they are really more symbols of different aspects of white and mestizo upbringings than fully developed characters. Although there is not much of a plot, a couple of things of significance happen, including an uprising by local woman because the distribution of salt has been halted; feeling himself connected more to these women than to the society inside his school, Ernesto runs after them, drawing the ire of the powerful but condescending priest, the Rector, who runs the school. (Later, however, in the wake of another trouble that strikes the area, the Rector will try to protect Ernesto.) Following the uprising, the troops come to town, and that gives Arguedas the opportunity to further contrast people from the coastal regions with those from the highlands, and to further show the conflicts between the descendants of the colonialists and the indigenous populations.

Mostly, as I said, this book is about Ernesto, and the tragedy of his alienation from both worlds which leads to his living so much in his own dreams and odd ideas.

"I wanted to see Salvinia, Alcira, and Antero. And then to become a falcon and soar over the towns where I had once been happy; to descend to the levels of the rooftops, following the streams that bring water to the settlements, hovering for a moment over the familiar trees and stones that mark the boundary of the tilled fields and, later, calling down from the depths of the sky." p. 161

Because Ernesto is the center of the book, and because he is so unhappy and feels so out of place, this was in places a difficult book to read. The ending of the book is ambiguous, and not a little shocking.

Arguedas, who was also raised by Indian servants in a home in which his white stepmother despised him, became an ethnologist and ultimately killed himself. My edition had an interesting afterword by fellow Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa.

joulukuu 26, 2013, 8:22 am


The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll by Álvaro Mutis
Originally published 1986-1993; English translations 1992, 1994.
Cross-posted from my Club Read and 75 Books threads.

I found myself reading more slowly as I neared the end of this magnificent book, a collection of seven novellas, because I was reluctant to leave the world of Maqroll the Gaviero (lookout) and his diverse and far-flung friends. In varying styles, including describing Maqroll as a friend who sends him dispatches from around the globe, Mutis presents the tale of an inveterate wanderer, usually by sea, who consistently gets involved in money-making schemes, often not exactly within the law, that come to naught, who is steadfastly loyal to his friends, and who is given to reading historical books and musing philosophically about the important issues of life.

As the novellas progress, the reader becomes more and more familiar with Maqroll and some of the key episodes of his life, although his origins are murky: he travels on a clearly forged Cyrpiot passport but it is unclear where he was born, and the text hints that he had an unhappy childhood and took to a life at sea (as the lookout who climbed the tallest mast) at an extremely early age. He is older when the novellas begin, and to some extent they jump back and forth in time, so the reader has to figure out which adventure or misadventure came first. And because he is older, there is an elegiac if not downright melancholy feel to his thoughts. This is a fascinating work partly because it combines the downright adventurous with an equal helping of philosophy.

So what of his adventures? They range from traveling up a South American river with somewhat sketchy guides to find some lumber mills, starting a brothel using women who pretend to be stewardesses, engaging in a scheme to substitute lower quality oriental rugs for valuable ancient ones, transporting some mysterious boxes for a highly suspicious person, gold mining, and more. One novella focuses on Maqroll's best friend, Abdul Bashur, another inveterate wanderer, who sprang from a Lebanese family of shipbuilders and ship owners, his family, and his search for the perfect ship, and others involve other unforgettable friends of Maqroll, including a variety of strong women who he has been deeply attached to.

Mutis vividly depicts the environment, whether it's the hot, humid, buggy tropics, the cold of Vancouver, or the activity of a Mediterranean port. Above all, the reader gets a feeling for the sea, for life on freighter and other ships, and for the vibrant seediness (and criminality) of port communities. Mutis was a poet (who apparently wrote about Maqroll in poems long before he got the idea of writing a novella about him), but he was also gainfully employed as a publicist for an oil company and then a US film company, so he presumably traveled to many of the places he "traveled" to as a character in some of these novellas.

Maqroll lived a very full life, full of trials, hardships, love, friendship, adventure, stagnancy, but it is his reflections on literature and life, usually dark, that are as compelling if not more so than his adventures. Does he find a little happiness at the end?

tammikuu 10, 2014, 4:50 pm


Showdown by Jorge Amado
Originally published 1984; English translation 1989.
Cross-posted from my Club Read thread.

Showdown tells the tale of the community of Tocaia Grande ("the big ambush," and the original Portuguese title), from the first settlers who arrived shortly after that big ambush to its eventual end; as the reader knows from the initial pages of the novel, a new town called Irisopolis rose at the same location. The story of Irisopolis -- one of "progress" -- "holds no interest," as Amado writes, while the story of Tocaia Grande is a tale of fascinating characters fending for themselves in what could be called Brazil's wild west at what appears to be the end of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th.

A fight between colonels eager to claim vast swaths of cacao-growing land for themselves leads to the "big ambush" in a lovely fertile valley. After the dead have been buried, cattle drovers realize that this valley provides a shortcut on their regular route. And soon after the drovers start passing though, commerce establishes itself: a man called the Turk who seems to come from Lebanon opens a small store and bar, a formerly enslaved black man who assaulted a white plantation owner opens a blacksmith shop, and numerous prostitutes, invariably called whores, arrive. (This is definitely a bawdy book, with lots of sex and lots of vulgar slang, but it completely fits the characters of the people.) The stories of these people, and how they came to seek a life in Tocaia Grande, are compelling and fascinating.

Not far away is the cacao plantation of the victorious colonel, who has high hopes for the future of his ne'er-do-well son who has succeeded in obtaining a law degree but prefers to spend his time pretending to take additional courses while carousing in Rio de Janeiro to coming home and setting up shop near the plantation (to legally ratify all the unscrupulous land deals). The man who was responsible for the big ambush has been made a captain (a rank bought for him by the colonel, in gratitude) and, while serving as the colonel's devoted bodyguard and right-hand man, takes an interest in the development of Tocaia Grande. Eventually, he encourages several families to settle there, families that have been expelled from the land they were farming because the landowner wanted to use it for cattle or cacao. These families do a little to change the character of Tocaia Grande, but it remains a self-governing town of outlaws and the outcast.

Although there is some plot to the novel, most of it is about the relationships of these vivid and lively characters and life in the village of Tocaia Grande, including serious troubles that befall them. It can be difficult at times to keep track of all the characters, but the sweep of the novel keeps everything moving. It is also, very lightly until the very end, a commentary on the history of Brazil, of the corruption of the large landowners and the political bosses, the decadence of the wealthy, and the exploitation of the poor and darker-skinned. Per Wikipedia, Amado was a member of the Brazilian communist party and lived part of his life in exile. I would say his politics inform the perspective of the novel, but I certainly didn't feel this was a political novel except in the very broadest sense. It is a wonderful story of vivid characters in a fascinating time and place, exciting, thought-provoking, and moving.

This book, like two other books by Amado, has sat unread on my shelves for 25 or so years. I'm sorry I didn't read it sooner, and I'll definitely be turning to those other novels soon.

helmikuu 5, 2014, 8:42 am


Tent of Miracles by Jorge Amado
Originally published 1969; English translation 1971; my edition 2003.
Cross-posted from my Club Read thread

This novel takes as its theme the strength of the racial mixture that is Brazil, more specifically Bahia, the region to which most of the enslaved Africans were taken -- or, as it was called at end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century when much of the action takes place, miscegenation. It has two, unequal, strands: the story of Pedro Archanjo, a self-educated anthropologist who wrote about the African roots, especially candomblé and racial mixing, of Bahian culture while remaining an important and beloved member of the community, and the story of the modern Bahians who, spurred on by the enthusiasm of a Nobel Prize-winning Columbia University professor for Archanjo's work, embark on the celebration of the centennial of his birth in 1968. The modern section is a broad satire while Archanjo's own story is lively and frequently moving, although unfortunately occasionally a tad too politically didactic. But perhaps that is attributable to the book being written in 1969.

Although Archanjo's story begins with his death (and funeral attended by all the poor people of the community), Amado quickly turns to his birth when the midwife, who arrived after the fact, recognizes him as Ojuobá, the Eyes of Xangô. And Archanjo goes on, through his life, to act as the eyes of the community, recognizing his obligations to the leaders of the ceremonies and participating in them, but also recording what is taking place. The novel is the story of the entire community, and Archango's relationships with a variety of unforgettable characters: with his closest friend Lidio, with whom he collaborates on a whole variety of projects; with a multiplicity of women, primarily Rosa and Doroteia; with his godson Tadeu who is assumed to be his real son; with an aging countess who has a zest for life and the snooty and racist family of Tadeu's fiancée; with the varied professors at the university where he works as a messenger for the medical school and encounters both virulent racists and supporters who help guide his work; and with many more. It is filled with candomblé ceremonies, drinking, bawdiness, and the struggle to survive and be productive. In a way, Archanjo is a symbol of the entire mulitracial, multicultural community and its ongoing struggle to be recognized as the strength of Bahia and Brazil.

I am glad I read the wonderful Showdown before I read this book; although it has its strong points, especially the wonderful characters, it was marred, as noted above, by a tendency towards preachiness and by the modern sections which, while entertaining, couldn't stand up to the story of Archanjo. I will definitely be reading more books by Amado.

maaliskuu 2, 2014, 6:31 pm


Home Is the Sailor by Jorge Amado
Originally published 1961; English translation 1964.

Not the best Amado I've read, this brief novel was still a fun and thought-provoking read. In the 1920s, Captain Vasco Moscosco de Aragão arrives in the seaside town of Periperi, quickly enlivening the daily routines of the mostly retired people who live there with his wild tales of his seafaring and romantic exploits. But is he really a captain?

In addition to the 1920s, this story takes place at two other times: the 1960s, when a would-be historian is trying to sort out the truth about the captain, and the turn of the century when the "captain" was a young man with a vastly different history. While the reader comes to have little doubt that the captain is a master at telling tall tales, the novel explores the stories we tell ourselves and others, varying views of what is necessary to be respected, how we overcome the sameness of daily life, the role of fantasy and what happens when a fantasy becomes real, and ideas of what is right and wrong -- as well as, being a work by Amado, a romantic view of prostitutes and brothels, a fair amount of carousing, and some political jibes.

I read this book quickly and enjoyed it, and I'll continue to read Amado, but I'm glad I read more complex and interesting works by him first.

maaliskuu 8, 2014, 12:56 pm


Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life by Alex Bellos

(first published 2002)

I know that RG normally looks to fiction, but I had to include this excellent book on football in Brazil. My review is here for those who are interested, but I'll just include this extract from an interview with the much-loved late national captain Sócrates, which seems to say so much about the modern country:

'Brazilian culture - this mix of races, this form of seeing the world and life - is possibly our greatest natural resource. Because it is a very happy culture, it is not discriminatory, it's free...it's a big disaster zone, really, but it is the essence of humanity. When humanity organised itself too much it lost its instincts, its pleasures. I think this is what we have which is best, and that's why I'm absolutely in love with Brazil.'

Despite all its problems?

'We're a new, young nation, man. You've already had centuries of history. The Old World has had fifty years of stability. We are just being born.'

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 10, 2014, 8:13 am


El hablador (The storyteller) by Mario Vargas Llosa (1987)

Vargas Llosa already takes up a pretty large share of this thread, but this particular novel hasn't been mentioned yet, even though it seems to be one of his most popular in terms of number of copies on LT. According to Wikipedia, it's required reading on many ethnology courses, so perhaps it's a book that a lot of people have tucked away on their shelves from their student days but haven't read recently.

Anyway, I picked it rather at random for the next stage of my campaign to consolidate my Spanish by immersion. Possibly not the best choice, as the effect relies partly on deliberately unfamiliar vocabulary, so I spent a lot of time looking words up to find out whether they were names of Amazonian plants and animals I was expected to know, or invented words used to reinforce the strangeness of Manchiguenga culture.

The book is essentially about the ways indigenous traditional cultures work and how they are affected by external change. It's not really a novel in the conventional sense, but more a frame on which to hang thoughts about the collision between "western" and "traditional" culture and experiments aimed at capturing — or rather imagining and representing — the form a narrative by a traditional storyteller might take. To do this, Vargas Llosa alternates chapters in the voice of the storyteller with chapters narrated in conventional style by a narrator who seems to be a slightly-fictionalised version of himself.

The political and ethical message of the book is more nuanced than I was expecting: although part of the book's aim is certainly to show us the elegance and harmony of the timeless and sustainable lifestyle of the Manchiguengas and the way this is threatened by any contact with the outside world, Vargas Llosa also wants us to see that it isn't as simple as that: human beings are not wild animals that we can lock up in a wilderness reserve as an ecological monument. There are benefits to living in modern society as well as drawbacks, and indigenous people shouldn't have to be exposed to the negative side only. For Vargas Llosa, the culture of his fictional indigenous tribe, the Manchiguengas, is not a static tradition, but it is one that has adapted with their conditions of living. Even if contact with the modern world brings big changes to their outward way of life, their culture seems to be robust enough to take this in its stride. Especially if they have a storyteller with the chutzpah to translate Kafka and the Jewish diaspora into the narrative idiom of the rainforest.

huhtikuu 4, 2014, 11:24 am


Captains of the Sands by Jorge Amado
Originally published 1937; English translation 1988.

Written when Amado was only 25, this book demonstrates his writing talent but borders slightly on the politically didactic and sentimental. The Captains of the Sands are a group of orphaned boys who, under the leadership of Pedro Bala, live in an abandoned and decaying warehouse on the sands of Bahia and survive by stealing. As is often mentioned, they are men in the bodies of children. Some of the novel deals with their criminal activities, some with their hardships, some with their yearning for the love of mothers and the guidance of fathers, and some with (this being Amado) sex. The reader gets to know Pedro and some of the other Captains of the Sands individually, including one who is crippled, one who is an artist and a reader, and one who dreams of becoming a priest, and this is one of the strengths of the novel. Several outsiders interact with the group, providing insight into the religious (both Catholic and candomblé) and the judicial systems. Racial issues also emerge.

Two-thirds of the way through the book, a girl comes to live with the Captains, and this results in various upsets among the group. At a certain point, Pedro is captured by the police and confined to the children's "reformatory" -- this section is chilling. At the end of the book, some of the Captains have grown older and left for other activities and Pedro, whose father was killed as a strike leader, feels a call to be politically active. I found these political parts a little obvious, but they were clearly heartfelt for Amado who, because of his own political leanings, had to flee Brazil for Mexico as he was finishing this novel, the last of six "Bahian" novels he wrote starting in his teens.

I am glad I read some of Amado's later, more complicated novels before reading this one, but I nonetheless found it a compelling book.

syyskuu 27, 2014, 8:13 am

The Violent Land by Jorge Amado
Originally published 1943: English translation 1943; my edition 2013

In this early work by Amado, the beginning days of cacao production in Brazil come vividly to life, with conflicting "colonels" who violently seek to control the forests that will be cut down and the plots already in cultivation, as well as a host of other characters who swarm to the region to profit from the boom, many, of course, who will at best be eternally in debt to the owners and at worst die from overwork or disease. In an introduction to an edition published in 1956 (the work originally came out in 1943, when Amado was 31), Amado wrote: "No other of my books is as dear to me as The Violent Land: in it lie my roots; it is of the blood from which I was created; it contains the gunfire that resounded during my early infancy." For the land of cacao production is indeed fertilized by blood.

The story starts with a variety of people traveling by boat to Ilhéos, the gateway to the new cacao region: a card-playing con man who declares himself a captain and a military engineer; one of the colonels returning to his property; a relatively high class prostitute, and a young man seeking his fortune and promising his disbelieving lover to return in a year. Each of them, and more, will play a role as the tale develops. But the bulk of the novel takes place in the forest itself, which springs to life, especially through the eyes of an elderly healer who lives deep in the forest and combines remedies from his African origins with those of the Brazilian Indians. But this is the very forest that the two colonels and their families are competing over; the one who obtains the rights to it, cuts it down, and plants cacao trees will be the richest and most powerful in the region. The two colonels, and their henchmen and killers, plots and counterplots, use and abuse of the local newspapers and political system, are the focus of the story, although other characters, including lawyers, play a role, as does a killer who sees spirits and abandons his job. Amado also digresses to the creation and development of towns and villages, and the way information spreads through them, correctly or incorrectly. Part of the story is seen through the eyes of a very unhappy woman who is brought to the area from the city by one of the colonels; part through the eyes of a woman who as the only child of one of the opposing colonels takes on a more aggressive role.

The introduction to my edition makes much of Amado's communism, and makes the book sound much more didactic than it is; the introduction writer has more of an ax to grind than Amado. Of course there is a point; it is clear that cacao production not only was "watered with blood" but also destroyed the forest environment. But Amado is such a wonderful story teller that the reader becomes absorbed in the portrait of the region, the interesting characters, and the excitement of the plot rather than feeling Amado is lecturing us. This is not my favorite of the books by Amado I've read (and I have several more on the TBR), but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

syyskuu 26, 2015, 11:32 am

The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta by Mario Vargas Llosa

This is a complex book, as much about storytelling as it is about the ostensible subject, the unsuccessful revolutionary Alejandro Mayta. Each chapter starts with a writer, who says he went to Catholic school with Mayta and has been interested in him ever since, interviewing someone who knew Mayta, but then switching, in typical Vargas Llosa style, back and forth without attribution between Mayta's life and the interviews. (The main action of the novel took place in the late 50s, the interviews 25 years later.) The writer assures everyone he talks to that he is making up the life of Mayta, that it will be fiction, and that he won't use their names. (Of course he does.)

It turns out that Mayta, as described by the writer, started caring about the poor early on and even limited his food so he could experience what they experienced. He later joined a very small offshoot of a very small communist party -- the Revolutionary Worker's Party (Trotskyist), or RWP(T) -- which only seems to have seven members. At a birthday party for a relative, he meets a lieutenant, Vallejos, who appears to be involved in a revolutionary plot in the Andes where he works running a jail in the town of Jauja. Mayta is entranced by the possibility of action, rather than talk, but fails to convince the other members of his party; in fact, they suggest that Vallejos might be an informer. And, it turns out, Mayta is gay, and that ultimately gets him kicked out of the RWP(T), although they state it is for more high-minded revolutionary reasons. Inevitably, Mayta goes to Jauja, the plot of course fails (but why?), and it is a mystery what happened to both Vallejos and Mayta until the very end of the novel. Through this plot, Vargas Llosa satirizes much "revolutionary" activity.

But this plot summary is infinitely more straightforward than the novel. Not only is it occasionally hard to figure out who is talking and what is happening, but part of the novel is about how the writer does his interviewing and what he makes up and what is real. At the end, the "truth" about Mayta is revealed. But is it true? The reader doesn't know.

I am a Vargas Llosa fan, but this wasn't one of my favorites of his.

Muokkaaja: lokakuu 5, 2015, 12:56 pm

Purgatory a Novel, by Tomas Eloy Martinez

While Jorge Luis Borges will always be considered the godhead of Argentine literature it is to Tomas Eloy Martinez that accolades should be showered for documenting the arc of mid-twentieth century Argentine history. Borges métier was short fiction, erudite and mystical, steeped in the earlier 1900’s documenting the push and pull of gaucho life with the European influence of Buenos Aires. Borges’ strong points were essays about books and his unique metaphysical visions despite (or perhaps heightened by) his own visual impairment. In his later novel, The Tango Singer, Tomas Eloy Martinez pays special homage to Borges; in this tale the main character is a graduate student searching for the exact location of Borges’ El Aleph.

Both Borges and Martinez died before they could be bestowed the awards they justly deserved: for Borges the Nobel Prize for Literature, for Martinez the International Man Booker Prize for which he was nominated in 2005.

With Purgatory a Novel, Martinez demonstrates clearly that via the novel he is the master illuminating recent Argentine history. Starting with The Peron Novel which portrays how the quite ordinary and obsequious Colonel transforms his position into a pervasive politics, and then with Santa Evita his choice of spouse catapulted both of them into the realm of religious adoration capturing the imagination and dedication of the common folk. Now with Purgatory a Novel Tomas Eloy Martinez takes on the dictatorship of the late 1970’s who brought a reign of terror to this country that still permeates its soul and fires up the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo frequent protests.

Purgatory is the story of Emilia, daughter of Dr. Dupuy, the chief propagandist of the dictatorship. In the wake of the dictatorship which is determined to squelch all dissidents through disappearances, she marries a fellow cartographer she has met at the Argentine Automobile Association. At a small dinner party hosted by her father and attended by the President (often referred to as the eel) to celebrate the betrothal to her soon to be husband, Simon, Emilia’s fiancé begs to differ with the current policies, questioning the morality of torture.

Shortly thereafter while on assignment to chart unknown backloads of the pampas, Emilia and Simon are detained by a ragged detail of soldiers who determine that Simon should be held for further interrogation. He is never seen again and Emilia sets forth on decades of longing and searching from Argentina to Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and finally ending up in New Jersey where she meets a fellow Argentine-a mildly disguised version of Tomas Eloy Martinez himself: a college professor of literature at a New Jersey University. It is through this meeting of the 2 exiles that her story is told through both flashbacks and real time.

The absurd cruelty of the regime is aptly depicted in a brief interview The Eel has with a Japanese journalist stating that “ ‘firstly we would have to verify that what you say existed was where you say it was. Reality can be very treacherous. Lots of people are desperate for attention and they disappear just so people won’t forget them…A desaparecido is a mystery, he has no substance, he is neither alive nor dead, he does not exist. He is a ‘disappeared’. And as he said he does not exist, he rolled his eyes to heaven. ‘Don’t use that word again,’ he went on, ‘you have no basis for it. It is forbidden to publish it. Let it be disappeared and be forgotten.’ ”

Of course that is what any regime of terror hopes for; that the powers will control the message and dictate what is considered to be the truth, what is real and what is to be acknowledged and remembered. But this dirty war ultimately failed, on the shores of the Malvinas it took its last gasp and it was the Mothers of the Plaza Major and the other victims - like Emilia and Tomas Eloy Martinez- that would not allow the disappeared to be forgotten. As in a prior novel, The Ministry of Special Cases, by Nathan Englander, the absurd terror that permeated Argentina in the late 70’s is exposed for all to remember. Like Martinez, Englander describes and captures the bureaucratic maze of obstacles, an artifice constructed by the late dictatorship of Jorge Videla (the eel in Purgatory) to obstruct from the view of its citizenry the true evil of his evil regime, manifested by the abduction of the infants of dissidents who are then adopted by childless Colonels and Captains of the Army’s elite corp.

Like the unchartered roads Emilia and Simon set out to find in Patagonia, the search for our lost loves, Eloy Martinez writes, is also uncharted. Once gone they only exist in memories and imaginations. The parallel and reference to “the politics of memory” that existed behind the Iron Curtain as portrayed by Milan Kundera in his The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and also administered by the perpetrators of Jorge Videla’s Dirty Wars is undeniable. Imagining what was and never was is uniquely described by Eloy Martinez in one powerful passage in which the imagined Simon describes an event that occurred while he was working as an attendant in an old age home:

“The writer with the slate who used to pace the corridors of the old folks’ home also told me a dream. It wasn’t a dream exactly; it was the memory of a recurring dream. A huge black dog was jumping on him and licking him. Inside the dog were all the things that had never existed and even those that no one even imagined could exist. ‘What does not exist is constantly seeking a father’, said the dog, ‘someone to give it consciousness.’ ‘A god?’ asked the writer. ‘No, it is searching for any father,’ answered the dog. ‘The things that do not exist are much more numerous than those that manage to exist. That which will never exist is infinite. The seeds that do not find soil and water and do not become plants, the lives that go unborn, the characters that remain unwritten.’ ‘The rocks that have crumbled to dust?’ ‘No those rocks once were. I am speaking only of what might have been but never was,’ said the dog. ‘The brother that never was because you existed in his place. If you had been conceived seconds before or seconds after, you would not be who you are, you would not know that your existence vanished into nowhere without you even realizing. That which will never be known that it might have been. This is why novels are written: to make amends in this world for the perpetual absence of what never existed.’ The dog vanished into the air and the writer woke up.’ “

Near the end of Purgatory a Novel, the narrator, the Argentine professor states:

“the more I delve into Emilia’s life, the more I realize that from beginning to end it is an unbroken chain of losses, disappearances and senseless searches. She spent years chasing after nothing, after people who no longer existed, remembering things that had never happened. But aren’t we all like that? Don’t we all abuse history to leave some trace there of what we once were, a miserable smudge, a tiny flame when we know that even the darkest mark is a bird that will leave on a breath of wind? One human being is more or less the same as another; perhaps we are all already dead without realizing it, or not yet born and do not know it…we come into the world without knowing it, the result of a series of accidents, and we leave it to go who knows where, nowhere probably.”

We can only hope that prior to his recent death Eloy had time to expand his trilogy of novels (spanning the 1940’s to 1970’s) and that someday soon we will have a quartet; the fourth installment detailing the more recent economic and political crisis of 2001 when the bank doors shut, the vaults were sealed tight, the currency, the peso devalued overnight, forcing hundreds of thousands portenos onto the avenidas of Buenos Aires, banging on their pots and pans for justice and transparency. The Kirchners, Nestor and Cristina, came to power with a neo-Peronism, a nationalistic approach blaming outsiders, the IMF, the World Bank, the Brits and the elites of Buenos Aires. Today the Kirchenrites are still at it, attacking their critics: academics, capitalists and the media; they have become minor shadows of their historic precedents, Juan Peron and all other governments that have tried to “control the message”.

Tomas Elroy Martinez has documented through his novels the mid-twentieth century history of Argentina. From The Peron Novel which starts in the 1930’s to Santa Evita and now Purgatory a Novel which roots itself in the dictatorship of the late 1970’s. Martinez, through story and characterization lets the reader in on what the Argentine peoples have lived through. We can only hope that that there is another book he left in his desk drawer that will explicate for us the economic crisis of the late 90’s and the resurgent Kirchnerites who perpetrate a quasi Peronism and political split between the rural nativist and the more universal European outlook of Buenos Aires. Ironically we find ourselves back at the beginning with the same themes that Borges, himself, mined over and over.

The Argentine drama evolves and it has lost one of its best literary chroniclers. Without Tomas Eloy Martinez, who will portray this most recent chapter?

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 28, 2016, 9:39 am


The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

There's something about literature from South America that just catches me and this was no exception. A murderous event affects two male acquaintances - one tragically and one irreparably. This book revolves around the surviving man's quest to reclaim himself, albeit a different version of, by filling in the gaps of the life history of his companion on the street the day that shots are fired. It's less a rebuilding and more an excavation - digging into the past of the man he knew so little of, Antonio unearths parts of himself but also he unearths the chequered history of a nation blighted by conflict and deeply affected by the drugs trade. Eventually, among the ruins of Escobar's mansion, shared experience highlights the ruins of the lives that lie equally abandoned. The combination of the reader's need to fill in the blanks of what happened one tragic day on the streets of Bogota and the evocative description of a complex country with a difficult history, make for a compelling read.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 29, 2016, 5:01 pm

I'm filing this under Peru, as this is the author's nationality and as most of the action takes place in Peru.

I'm currently reading The dream of the celt, by Mario Vargas Llosa.
This is a novel but the main character is a historical person, Roger Casement.
Roger travelled at the beginning of the 20th century to Congo and then to Peru, in the region on the Amazon where rubber was collected. In both cases Roger was he horrified witness of the exactions committed by the European immigrants, not the least of them being that they held many natives in unofficial but very tangible slavery.

This book is not an easy read because the topic is heartbreaking.
This resonates with another book I read earlier this year : La défaite des mères by Yves Pinguilly and Adrienne Yabouza. This book quickly brings up how Congo came to be under the Belgium's and King Leopold II's rule, and the abuse that has been committed.
This was a topic I was completely ignorant about, and these two books make me want to learn more on the subject.

joulukuu 2, 2016, 3:41 pm


Memoirs of a Militia Sergeant by Manuel Antonio de Almeida translated from the Portuguese by Ronald W Sousa
- first published as Memórias de um sargento de milicias in serial form in Correio Mercantil from 1852-1853 under the pseudonym Um Brasiliero

"It was back in the time of the king." Despite the array of possibilities for speculation this opening line promises, there was little in the way of delivery. Memoirs of a Militia Sergeant is not written as memoirs, but rather in narrative form. However, it doesn't read like a novel, rather it shares more in form and content with a picaresque tale such as The Swindler, which Almeida may well have read.

Basically, this is a series of episodic events which do move forward in time, but without an accompanying progression in plot. There is Leonardo-Pataca and his son Leonardo, abandoned by his parents at the age of seven and left in the care of the barber across the street, his godfather. Despite the barber's best efforts to educate young Leonardo, and despite his fondest wishes that Leonardo become a priest, the child's closest link to religion was in his reign as a holy terror. As he grew older, he became the scourge of the neighbourhood.

All this takes place in the city of Rio de Janeiro, in about 1815-1820. Naturally Leonardo's egregious behaviour fits him admirably for the militia, which was actually the Guarda Real de Policia. This body had the right to determine for itself on a fairly ad hoc basis what was criminal and what was not, and what punishment should be applied. Thugs of all kinds thrived in the organization. Almeida has at its head Major Vidigal, its real life head, notorious for his cruelty, vindictiveness and stealth.

Just as I had problems with The Swindler, so I had difficulty engaging with Memoirs of a Militia Sergeant. There is humour here, and Almeida is a keen satirist, but there was little continuity and the individual episodes became repetitive. This is considered by some to be the first Brazilian novel, and as such is interesting in a developmental way. It does give wonderful descriptions of everyday life among the workers and the marginalized, something writers like Jorge Amado, Graciliano Ramos and others have continued.

Almeida himself was a satirical writer, translator and a doctor. It is difficult to know where he would have taken his writing, as he drowned at the age of thirty, but there are suggestions he was considering a career in politics. I do wonder if I would have appreciated this book more reading it under different circumstances, so I will revisit it in the future.

toukokuu 6, 2019, 1:53 pm


The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez, translated by Anne McLean


Shortlist, 2019 Man Booker International Prize

My rating:

There are two ways to view or contemplate what we call history: one is the accidental vision, for which history is the fateful product of an infinite chain of irrational acts, unpredictable contingencies, and random events (life as unremitting chaos that we human beings try desperately to organize); and the other is the conspiratorial vision, a scenario of shadows and invisible hands and eyes that spy and voices that whisper in corners, a theater in which everything happens for a reason, where accidents don’t exist and much less coincidences, and where the causes of events are silenced for reasons nobody knows.

What you call history is no more than the winning story, Vásquez. Someone made that story win, and not any of the others, and that’s why we believe it today.

There are truths that don’t happen in those places, truths that nobody writes down because they’re invisible. There are millions of things that happen in special places, and I repeat: they are places that are not within the reach of historians or journalists. They are not invented places, Vásquez, they are not fictions, they are very real: as real as anything told in the newspapers. But they don’t survive. They stay there, without anybody to tell them. And that’s unfair. It’s unfair and it’s sad.

This historical novel by the award winning Colombian author begins with the arrest of Carlos Carballo, a shadowy man caught breaking into a glass case containing the suit worn by Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, the leader of the Colombian Liberal Party, when he was assassinated in the capital of Bogotá on April 9, 1948. Gaitán was the leader of the country's socialist movement, a leading candidate to become the president of Colombia in the upcoming election, and a charismatic politician who was beloved by his poor and working class countrymen, although he was reviled by conservatives, especially those who supported Francisco Franco's fascist government in Spain, and by the Catholic Church. He was shot in broad daylight by a young Nazi sympathzer, who, like Lee Harvey Oswald, was officially determined to be the sole assassin, despite evidence suggesting that others may have been involved in a plot to murder him. Gaitán later died of his wounds, and his death led to massive riots in the capital with the deaths of as many as 5,000 people in a 10 hour period, which became known as El Bogotazo, and La Violencia, the subsequent decade long civil war between the Liberal and Conservative Parties that claimed the lives of an estimated 200,000 Colombians, which continues to affect the country to this day.

Carballo was introduced to the novel's narrator, a young writer named Juan Gabriel Vásquez, who recently moved back to Bogotá from Barcelona with his pregnant wife, by a mutual friend. Carballo has devoted his adult life to uncovering the source behind the murder of Gaitán and General Rafael Uribe Uribe, another popular and influential Colombian socialist politician, who was reportedly killed by two craftsmen in Bogotá in 1914 that were suspected, though never definitively proven, of being sponsored by high ranking conservative politicians and religious officials. Carballo doggedly pursues the young Vásquez in an effort to get him to write a book about the unsuccessful independent investigation into Uribe's murder by a young lawyer, Marco Tulio Andoza, and to draw a link between that crime and the assassination of Gaitán. Vásquez and their mutual friend view Carballo as a half cocked conspiracy theorist, whose motives for his tireless pursuit of these apparently solved murder cases are unclear to them. Eventually Vásquez is coerced into taking Carballo's bait, and he learns more about the two assassinations, while he secretly learns more about Carballo's past and his reasons for being so interested in them.

Most of the novel is spent in descriptions of the two victims, their place in the country's 20th century history, the murderers, and those who favored, if not supported and benefitted from, their deeds. A revelation by Carballo at the end of the novel provides a sense of closure, and we learn why he was so devoted to uncovering the truth behind the murder of Gaitán.

The Shape of the Ruins is written in a similar fashion as the recent novel The Impostor by Javier Cercas, in which Cercas serves as the narrator and writes about a controversial figure in post-World War II Spain. Vásquez's scope is more broad, as much of his country's history in the past century can be linked to these two murders, and a more detailed explanation is required to inform the reader about his less well known homeland. This novel dragged in spots, at least for me, and it could arguably have been a bit shorter, but overall it was a superb book that was highly educational and entertaining, and it's my favorite of the four novels I've read by Vásquez so far. The Shape of the Ruins is an excellent choice for this year's Man Booker International Prize longlist, and is highly recommended to anyone interested in the literature and history of South America.

toukokuu 7, 2019, 10:20 am


The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán, translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes


Shortlist, 2019 Man Booker International Prize

My rating:

This darkly comic story about three children of ex-militants who opposed the regime of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is set in the capital of Santiago, a city in a valley surrounded by volcanoes that is encased in ash, a fitting metaphor for the political and social fallout during the last days of the regime and the years that followed. The novel opens in December 1989 during a party hosted by Consuelo, one of the former militants who has changed her identity and her name to remain hidden in public view, and her husband, as their friends gather to watch the coverage of the election that would remove Pinochet from power and restore Chile to a democracy that ended with the assassination of Salvador Allende in 1973. Iquela is the teenage daughter of Consuelo, and she is tasked with welcoming Paloma, the moody and defiant daughter of Consuelo's exiled militant in arms, who has come from Germany with her parents to witness this momentous event. The girls bond over cigarettes and alcohol, and Iquela is fascinated by Paloma's European style and self confidence.

The story then fast forwards to modern day Santiago—which is still covered in ash. Paloma's mother has just died in Germany, and Paloma arrives in Santiago in advance of her mother's coffin, as she intends to bury her in her homeland. Paloma arrives safely, but the plane carrying her mother is diverted to Argentina, due to a heavy ash cloud that covers the capital and prevents flights from landing. The two women enlist the help of Felipe, Iquela's disturbed adopted brother and the son of ex-militants who were disappeared during the Pinochet regime, in a half baked and surreal road trip to claim Paloma's mother and bring her back to Santiago.

The three main characters are meant to represent the post-Pinochet generation, who were only children when he was deposed in 1990 but continue to be affected by his regime, and the sacrifices that their parents made during that time for them. Consuelo repeatedly tells her daughter, "I did this all for you", and Iquela is trapped by a daily sense of duty to her mother, and is seemingly more of a post-adolescent who has not yet matured into an independent adult 25 years after Pinochet's downfall. The story is told in alternating chapters, in which Iquela and Felipe are narrators, while Paloma is cast as a secondary character despite being the center of this account.

The Remainder is a very enjoyable and impressive début novel, which is another worthy selection for this year's Man Booker International Prize shortlist.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 25, 2019, 2:24 pm

I recently finished Death in the Andes by Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, which I very much enjoyed. The novel is an often hallucinatory story about a well intentioned Peruvian Army corporal trying to unravel the mystery of three disappearances in a remote Andean village. Quite likely, I missed some of the depth of what is reported to be an allegory about the state of Peru itself (circa 1993 when the book was first published). But I was easily able to settle into and appreciate the shifting narrative framework Llosa employed.

huhtikuu 11, 2020, 12:58 pm

I've just read Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Though there's no country named in the book, Marquez is, of course, Columbian, so I'm posting here. It took me just about a day of "shelter in place" reading to enjoy this short, charming novel. It had been a while since I read any Marquez and was happy to return to his world, if only for the day. The story takes place in coastal city of an unnamed South American country during colonial days. The beautiful, young Sierva Maria, the only daughter of a dissolute nobleman, is bitten by a rabid dog on her 12th birthday. Are the subsequent manifestations of her wild, unruly spirit manifestations of the disease or of demonic possession? Marquez skillfully weaves themes of the passions of love, the ills and absurdities of a repressive culture, especially when it comes to powerless young women, and the inevitable dissolution of a bankrupt colonial system ruled from a distance of thousands of miles into 147 pages of floating, lyrical fable.

joulukuu 9, 2020, 8:10 am

Whole of a Morning Sky by Grace Nichols is set in British Guiana in the early 1960s at the point when the country was transitioning into independent Guyana. The story centres on the family of a rural school headmaster who retires and moves his wife and three children to the capital city, Georgetown, and their view of the social and political upheavals of decolonisation, an elected Marxist government, the British behaving badly, and CIA plots. Alternate chapters focus on straightforward narrative, and the child's-eye view of Gem the family's 10 year old daughter. The prose is well-written, with each word a meaningful choice, as you'd expect from an author otherwise better known as a poet. The tone is poignantly honest, from personal and family relations, to the confusions and conflicts of wider society. The novel is written in standard English with individual dialogue adjusted according to the speaker without patronising either the Creole-speaking characters or the average anglophone reader. It's not only my opinion that this is a brilliant book, as high quality publishers Virago have kept this in print since 1986.

On the Duke of Edinburgh's visit: "He knew that it wasn't so much the Duke as the thirst for spectacle and drama that had brought people out in the thousands."

Motto: "housework never done and I for one didn't come down to this earth to finish it."

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 13, 2020, 2:15 pm

For those interested, Settings and I are doing a 1-2 year long buddy read of Brazilian author Clarice Lispector's Complete stories starting in January 2021. Anyone is welcome to drop by to comment on a story on our thread at 2021 Category Challenge.

joulukuu 13, 2020, 11:23 pm

>49 spiralsheep: I just read her I is a Long Memoried Woman and it is excellent as well...I'll have to find a copy of Whole of the Morning Sky as I'd love to read her prose.

joulukuu 14, 2020, 5:20 am

>51 jveezer: I've read all the books Grace Nichols has published for adults, mostly poetry, and they're all good.

lokakuu 21, 2022, 5:38 pm

A quick trip to Ecuador with a debut novelist (even if the book is too short to be a novel in my book).

This World Does Not Belong to Us by Natalia García Freire, translated from the Spanish by Victor Meadowcroft
World Editions, Paperback, 32k words
Original publication: 2019 in Spanish as Nuestra piel Muerta; 2022 in English (this translation by "Oneworld Publications" in UK (beating this edition by less than a month)
Read: October 20, 2022 - October 20, 2022 - 3 and a half stars.

A man comes back to his childhood home and confronts his own demons while talking to his dead father. That's probably the easiest way to explain what this novella (or short novel if you prefer) is all about and despite being absolutely correct, it is not adequate. So let's try a different way.

Years ago Lucas was sold in slavery. But no, this is not where the story really starts. Once upon a time Lucas was the only son of a wealthy father, growing up in a big house with 3 nursemaids and a mother who loved gardening and nature. Except that not everything was as it seemed and both the mother and the father appeared to somewhat volatile - and one day the mother was carted to the loony bin and the father, who was probably the crazier of the two - if not the only crazy one, managed to lose everything, including his own life. But before that happened, 2 strangers somehow convinced the father to move in with the family - and proceeded to wreck the previously happy family.

The novella is written as a monologue - Lucas talking to his dead father - and that makes all these early memories somewhat suspect - we are hearing the voice of a man who went through a lot of hardship, talking about his boyhood memories. So was everything as awful as described? Maybe. But it does not matter - it is the past Lucas remembers - and in his head, for his decisions, it is the only past that matters. The text switches between the past and the present in almost alternating chapters (especially later in the novella, the switching breaks up a bit) and it takes awhile to put all the elements in their correct order - the death of the father which at the start appears to be the catalyst for the return and all that follows ends up being very different from what one assumes after the first chapters.

But the novella is not only about cruelty and humans being humans. Lucas inherited the love for everything living so his life is full of insects and plant life and the author spends a lot of time on these elements (if you are afraid of creepy crawlies, you probably should not read this). The edition I read (the one published in USA by World Editions) has multiple insects drawn on the covers and inside of the text as well, adding to all the creepiness. Add Lucas's obsession with decay (some of it probably clouding and changing his memories as well) and it can be an upsetting read.

Neither the time, nor the place is explicitly mentioned in the text. There are enough clues to set the story in Latin America though and someone better acquainted with the local differences may even see some clues pointing to the author's native Ecuador (which I assume is the setting). Based on the actions of different people and the lack of certain elements, I'd assume it is set somewhere at the start of the 20th century and I suspect I am not far off.

Despite all that wild life and nature, it is a story about humanity and of belonging. I am not sure it really succeeded in that - even our narrator remains incomplete. But on the other hand, as it is essentially a letter (unwritten but still a letter) to a dead man, the style and the missing parts make sense. I will not call it an enjoyable read but it was a decent one anyway and if the writer writes another book (that was her debut) and it is translated, I will probably pick it up.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 12, 2022, 6:14 am

I am not a fan of Mario Vargas Llosa, so I haven’t read much Peruvian literature. I read a collection of Julio Ramon Ribeyro’s short stories (entitled Marginal Voices) a few years ago because I was intrigued by the country and wanted to learn more. Ribeyro was best known for his short stories and he received the Premio Juan Rulfo de literatura latinoamericana y del Caribe (now known as the FIL Literary Award in Romance Languages) the year he died, 1994. Most of what he wrote focused on urban stories, urban contexts. Chronicle of San Gabriel is an exception: it tells of a boy from Lima who is sent to live on a remote hacienda in the mountains. It is simultaneously a coming of age story and a story about life in a rural farming community. It is perhaps of more interest for its depiction of life and customs in rural Peru than for its plot, though the book is worth reading.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 12, 2022, 7:01 am

Viestin kirjoittaja on poistanut viestin.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 12, 2022, 7:02 am

Viestin kirjoittaja on poistanut viestin.

joulukuu 26, 2022, 3:58 pm

Brazil: Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon by Jorge Amado (BR, 1958)

Don't be fooled by the cover. This book has a lot more to offer. After reading this book, I remember what is so special about South-American literature. This book has this typical feel of seriousness, wrapped in humour and irony. Basically, this is the story of the development of the small harbour-town Ilhéus in the Bahia-region in Brazil and its inhabitants in the 1920s. The book is packed with colourful characters who aren't very rounded, but who are unforgettable anyway. Amado knows how to portray people and their small traits that make them human: the jealousy, the friendship, the hypocrisy, the anger, the lust,... it's all there.

Underneath the thin layer of civilisation, there is still a less refined layer of brute force, machismo and violence in which the men do as they please and the women are expected to do whatever the man decides. It's not a coincidence that the four parts of the book are dedicated to four women who each choose their own way of dealing with the situation. Gabriela is one of them but her story is more prominent than the others.
This book was written in 1958, but it still has a modern feel. Highly recommended.

maaliskuu 24, 2:24 pm

Hello everyone!

I read One Hundred Years of Solitude (1yos) a few months ago but recently found this board.

I'm comfortable saying, at this point in time, it's my favorite book. I had tried to read it when I was younger but didn't have the temperament for it. Pushed it back in queue and built up the reading muscles – now I can say I beyond enjoyed it. It has a good low level and high level look at life; if you feel big this book will make you feel small, and vice versa. Neruda even called it the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since Don Quixote of Cervantes”. The conglomeration of stories that intertwined over years and historic / personal events is beautiful.

I've heard it compared to Love in the Time of Cholera (ltc) as the opposite side of the same coin – ltc is about how love conquers all, but 1yos says that time destroys all. Interesting to hear that comparison and now I'm quite excited to read ltc.

I watched this movie afterwards as a follow up and really enjoyed it. Gave some great context into Marquez and helped to flesh him out.

Anyone else in this board read 1yos or ltc recently?

Please, enjoy the weekend all. Cheers

maaliskuu 24, 3:12 pm

>58 troyschwab: I haven't read One Hundred Years of Solitude recently, but I have read it, in college, maybe, and I remember loving it entirely.

maaliskuu 24, 3:54 pm

>59 rocketjk:
College is when I had tried with poor temperament! Your review of Of Love and Other Demons from 2020 spurs me on to read him more. I recently got a copy of Leaf Storm and Other Stories from a local bookshop. The spine split, and upon returning they kindly glued it for me. I think I may want to broaden my South American lit before returning to Marquez.. Lispector is near the top of my list as well as (less relevant to this board, country-wise) Bolano and Borges.

huhtikuu 2, 9:22 am

I've read 100 Years of Solitude a couple of times, though not recently, and loved it too. Second favorite is Memories of My Melancholy Whores (what a great title!). I hated Love in the Time of Cholera, though I didn't write a review and now I don't remember why.

huhtikuu 2, 2:44 pm

>61 labfs39: I also read Love in the Time of Cholera and did not care for it. I just found it downright creepy! The protagonist of the story sleeps with every woman in sight and keeps records. (622 to be exact!) Finally, he breaks it off with a 14 year old who commits suicide. I could not find anything redeeming in the book--so bleak!