This book started off so promising--it was creepy in a science fictiony 1900 kind of way.
And then it got weird. Not science fiction weird. More like Carl Sagan narrating a tour of the universe as imagined by some guy in 1900. For chapters and chapters and chapters.
And then it goes back to part one, kind of. But now the terror is caused by something completely different.
All in just 186 pages.
WHY OH WHY is this book on the 1001 list?
The short stories in this collection--and some of them are very short, telling of just one incident--do an amazing job of evoking the landscape and climate of the region of Mexico described. It sounds like desert (more specifically, it sounds like the Colorado Desert in CA/AZ, which extends into Mexico). One of the stories, though, implies that the area is south of Mexico City. The landscape/climate is a character unto itself, and is so similar between the stories.
The main characters are poor, struggling, and doing what they need to do to get by. The stories do not specify if they are largely of Indian descent, though the intro says so. Perhaps Mexicans reading the original Spanish can tell, whether by names used, jobs held, or other clues that I miss as an American reading in English.
My edition of this book (which has the same ISBN as the edition I chose, but looks different and comes in at just under 250 pages) took me over 2 weeks to read. Over 2 weeks for fewer than 250 pages. Clearly, I did not love it. This book bogged down my reading, big time, and I have a huge stack of library books I might not get to because of it. Ah well, I can always request them again.
From everything I have read (the intro, the afterword by Llosa, and the goodreads description), this novel is a semi-autobiographical account of Arguedas' childhood. Brought up by Indians, when he re-entered Latino society, he found he did not fit in. But he didn't fit into Indian culture either, being Latino and not native.
I know I have to be missing some (read: many, or maybe all?) cultural clues in this book. I struggled to know who was Indian and who was not—at the seminary school, the boys have a huge hierarchy (very Lord of the Flies-esque, another book I did not love). I could not understand how this hierarchy was determined. Wealth? Looks? Smarts? Plain old popularity? To me, this book was about a boy who had been brought up on the road, traveling with his father from town to town and not getting to stay anywhere for as long as he would like. And his father then leaves him at this seminary. And yes, he does not fit in, but that is because he has never needed to or had the opportunity to live amongst the same people for long, and his father does not visit nor write. He is all alone, trying to make friends (and he does, though it is hard and he is an outcast). He simple does not know how to function in a stable society.
The descriptions of the natural world--birds, bugs, landscape--were my favorite parts. I googled many of the trees and birds to see what they really look like. It made me laugh when one of the birds turned out to be a South American mockingbird. And yes, the description sounded like one!
Interestingly, the 1001 books summary sees this book more how I read it. The clueless non-Latin-American interpretation, perhaps.
Also, much of the language in this book reminded me of Calvino's Invisible Cities (which I did enjoy). I read both in translation, which strikes me as--odd. Something about the cadence of the writing.
Very different from his novel Hunger, here Hamsun has written a sweeping story of one man's accomplishments as a homesteader in northern Norway near the border with Sweden.
Isak, a young and very strong man, with no fear of work, goes looking for a good place to settle. He walks and walks, looking for a place that has everything he needs: water, haying grounds, pasture, areas to farm, timber.
When he finally finds it, he settles in. There is a coastal town a full day's walk away (20 miles? 10 miles?). He puts out word that he needs a woman's help--and lo and behold, Inger comes. She too has no fear of work, and she has a harelip--teased for much of her life, she finds a good man in Isak.
They work, they have several children, Inger is imprisoned for 6 years. Others come and settle the area between their farm Sellanra and the town.
A fascinating story of rural northern Norway in the 2nd half of the 19th century.