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review 2018-04-26 12:17
A book for those who are not afraid to ask uncomfortable questions and are willing to challenge the status quo.
Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History, Fiction, Photography - Sebastiaan Faber

Thanks to Edelweiss and to the publishers (Vanderbilt University Press) for providing me a copy of the book that I freely chose to review.

I was drawn to this book because although I was born and grew up in Spain, I have spent the last 25 years of my life in the UK, and between the time invested in education and work, I know I have missed some of the big debates about the past that have taken place in the country. From personal experience, I know that living abroad gives you a different perspective, usually wider, on a country’s history and society, and I was interested to learn the opinions of a foreign Hispanist on the controversial topic of the book.

This book was illuminating for me. I’ve discovered that I need to catch up and read books, watch documentaries, and explore the memory movement in Spain. I know some details thanks to my mother’s family, but it is a drop in the ocean compared to the many initiatives and projects that have been implemented. I learned about laws (helpful and, mostly, unhelpful), about controversy and debates, about the origin of well-known photographs and documents (including the fact that photographers shared cameras and subjects during the Spanish Civil War, and no matter what their intent, those photographs also had, even at the time, a commercial value), about the uneasy relationship between Culture, cultural objects, and History. Is fiction less valuable when it comes to documenting the reception and the collective memory of a historical event? Or more?

Although I am not an expert in History, I have read some History books over the years and one of the things I found more refreshing about this volume, which collects a variety of essays on topics that fit in well together, is the fact that rather than offering an authoritative version of events or pontificating about the right or wrong way of looking at a particular period in history, it asks questions. On relevancy: how can an academic book written in English discussing events and recent debates about Spanish history and politics reach a wider audience? Are academics simply talking to themselves without ever reaching the general public (unless given an “official” status)? On the approach and the position historians should take when researching and writing their findings: Can historical essays and books ever be “neutral”? And should they be “neutral”? Isn’t it better to be open about one’s point of view and allegiances? (As the author observes, WWII historians are clearly positioned when writing about the war, but in Spain, this is frowned upon). On comparative studies and the risks of conflating similar events in different countries and eras, thereby missing the most interesting and fruitful aspects for analysis: Is it legitimate to apply international models (like those developed through the Holocaust studies) to the Spanish Civil War and the Francoist repression?  On the position of the intellectuals and how politics and affiliations affect even those who try hardest to be rigorous. How can those intellectuals who were heavily invested in the Transition open up to other opinions and not consider them a personal criticism? On the memory movement, the hurdles faced by those trying to find out more about relatives or friends, and about the resistance of historians to see any value in memory narratives. Is forgetting the past the best option, or do the unhealed wounds and traumas that have been festering, no matter how long for, always find a way to resurface? About the boom in historical fiction novels about the Civil War and what they tell us about society and popular opinion. Although the author’s opinions are clearly stated, the questions hang there and readers can take them up and find their own answers.

As I said, I cannot claim to any expertise on the topic, and I suspect experts will have much to take issue with in this book, but for me, it helps provide the tools to answer some of the questions that inform the author’s work and that are the same that a large part of the Spanish population are asking. Quoting from the book:

How have history, fiction, and photography shaped Spanish memory? How has democratic Spain dealt with the legacy of the Civil War, the Franco dictatorship, and the Transition? And how have academics, writers, filmmakers, photographers, and journalists in Spain and elsewhere engaged with a collective process that is central to the country’s future as a unified, functioning democracy?

In view of recent events, these questions are more pressing and relevant than ever, and I hope this book reaches as wide an audience as possible. I recommend it to anybody who is open to fresh perspectives on the subject and is up for a challenging — but ultimately rewarding— read.

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review 2017-11-28 23:07
Moving Beyond Words
Moving Beyond Words: Essays on Age, Rage, Sex, Power, Money, Muscles: Breaking the Boundaries of Gender - Gloria Steinem

Given the extensive history of Gloria Steinem and feminism and how renowned her work is, you kinda have to go in knowing that it's going to be fantastic. Even if I had my doubts, they were assauged by my first foray into Steinem's work when I read Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions about two years ago. She mentions in the introduction to the book that she had originally intended for this book to be similar, simply publishing articles collected, rather than what it turned into. This is a collection of essays that go beyond what she had originally published for each of these subjects, though they do get into the original content as well. It's broken down into five parts that cover different concepts. Part 1: Phyllis Freud - this may be new favorite thing ever. I loved her reversal of Freud's writing. I always knew that his thoughts on the actions and thoughts of those of my gender were nuts, but I love how succinctly the gender bend works to show just how nuts he was. I especially appreciate the way she laid bare all the politics in his theories. Mostly, though, it was just a barrel of fun to read it all reversed and bent. Part 2: The Strongest Woman in the World - I knew that I had grown up a beneficiary of the work of women like Beverly Francis, but I had never known her name or really the beginning of the idea that women could be physically strong. We still suffer set backs all the time when some refuse to acknowledge this, but women like Bev Francis and things like Title IV keep working their magic and normalize women and strength. For the record though, anyone who thinks that it is somehow more physically demanding to life heavy things than to create and birth a child is either stupid or willfully ignorant. As women like this make obvious, women have always had the ability for physical strength, priming and a refusal to see it have kept us from realizing it for far too long. While I'm still only weights-curious, I have known a few women who lift and they are amazing to behold. Aside from the work of power-lifting and bodybuilding, Francis is also a good role model for dealing with the twists and turns of making something new acceptable for women. That she has become friends with fellow competitors just adds to it. Part 3: Sex, Lies, and Advertising - I have long hated magazines for many of these very reasons, even the ones I didn't know were a problem that magazine writers and editors had. I hated the  advertisements and the way they never seemed to talk about anything that wasn't products. I never did pick up Ms. Magazine, but I had long since given up on the whole thing well before I was old enough to understand what Ms. would be talking about anyway. This whole thing makes so much sense out of everything. It also helps that I read The Feminine Mystique and got the reference to Friedan's chapters on women's magazines. Any reader would understand the point without it, but it helped really drive it home. Part 4: The Masculinization of Wealth - yeah, I think there's a part of us all that know us but don't quite want to face it in print. I think we could all benefit from a de-masculinization of wealth though. If for no better reason than that these guys should have to earn what they have or lost it to someone more capable, whatever their gender. Part 5: Revaluing Economics - I've also come up against this thought process before too. The first time was when writing my first blog. You gotta put your money where your mouth is and that's much harder to do than you think it is when you start out. Still, it's a worthy endeavor. Part 6: Doing Sixty - I can't wait..... I mean, I totally can, but I'm looking forward to a time in my life when I feel like I can get a little more radical. I do feel it, though, getting easier every day. I'm only 35 now and I can't wait to see what I turn into by then. If Steinem is any indication, it's gonna be a fun decade. All together, it's an amazing work of non-fiction that needs to be read widely by all women, even if you don't think of yourself as a feminist. While I understand the allure of avoiding the word, I also think that being a housewife doesn't preclude you from supporting the endeavors of other women when their products are worthy of your cash. I know plenty of housewives who are feminists and breadwinning women who say they aren't, but as long as they support each other, I don't give a damn how they describe themselves. All the women I know could benefit from reading at least one of these parts. I know I certainly have.

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review 2017-08-18 12:13
Colin Dexter still at his peak!
Death Is Now My Neighbour (Inspector Morse, #12) - Colin Dexter

Book 12/13 and the penultimate novel in the series of murder mysteries confronted by Chief Inspector Morse of Thames Valley Police. And after the sombre tone of “The Daughters of Cain”, a more emollient and less emburdened Morse takes to the fray, centred on the race to succeed Sir Clixby Bream, retiring Master of Lonsdale College, Oxford.


There is something immediately intriguing about peering behind the dense curtain surrounding such elites and for the reader it is unsurprising to learn that superficial impressions will prove as important as academic substance. Indeed, for the only two candidates (Julian Storrs and Denis Cornford) the stakes could scarcely be higher, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for elevation and preferment expected to culminate in a knighthood. But, for such a prize, ambition and even ruthlessness may be required, to burnish reputations, curry favour with the electorate and suppress unhelpful information.
Both contenders also have the dedicated support of a wife, but a crude ‘SWOT’ analysis might conclude that the ‘strengths’ and ‘opportunities’ conferred by their respective partners are at least balanced by the attendant ‘weaknesses’ and ‘threats’. Certainly the vulnerability to be exploited from past mistakes/experiences looms large in this tale, extending even to Morse. However, notwithstanding the opprobrium directed at ‘blackmailers’, as abusers of power, there is also a dearth of sympathy for the disempowered ‘victim’, or the manipulated.


What endears Morse to the reader is his candid, but paradoxical unwillingness to defer to authority figures and yet clinging to his own superior status. Only DS Lewis, intermittently coveted as a friend, is thus protected, in spite of outbursts of insubordination and frank observations, intolerable from any other quarter. In this book, Morse also continues to experience deteriorating health and the two detectives are inexorably drawn closer together and in the ultimate, touching confirmation of Lewis’ favoured status, the enigmatic Morse shares his Christian name (via correspondence, of course).


Along the way there is the customary flawed hypothesizing, analysis, building and rejigging of the facts, before the final puzzle is expertly revealed. My favourite analogy of Morse’s thought process was of a train passing through a station, too fast to read the nameplate, but as the carriage slows the location may hove into view.
Again, Dexter has deftly juxtaposed the traditional façade of high academic establishment with base human behaviour. That the privileged miscreant can be humbled before the law is reassuring, even satisfying. Still, even Morse has limitations to his moral authority and contemptible characters slip through the net, but at least he makes a positive difference.


Notwithstanding the CWA daggers liberally awarded throughout this series of books, I think this may yet be my most enjoyable read. Perhaps, not the most complex or devious puzzle, but more for the development of the main characters and the masterful set up for the final book. Bring it on!

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review 2017-07-01 22:15
[REVIEW] The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
The Story of the Lost Child: The fourth and final Neapolitan novel. - Elena Ferrante,Ann Goldstein
"I loved Lila. I wanted her to last. But I wanted it to be I who made her last. I thought it was my task. I was convinced that she herself, as a girl, had assigned it to me." (98%)



Actual review
Honestly, I don't even know what to think. This final book in the series was the one that to me, contained the wealth of Elena Ferrante's wisdom, and it is also the book that was quite difficult to plow through. Sometimes Ms. Ferrante fills us with so many details that I find inconsequential that it slows down the story nearly to a halt. 

Nonetheless, this book is powerful. Seeing Lenù and Lila go through a series of violent and terrible life events hits you in the gut. But Ms. Ferrante's masterful weaving pulls everything back together again, and you are brought to the beginning of the first book right as you finish the fourth.

But what is, as usual, the best part of these novels is the characterization. I know I've said this before in my review of the other three novels, but I truly have never read a more raw, honest and gripping tale of a friendship between two women. It's not black and white; it's not simplistic, it's messy and tangled in a web of loyalty and guilty desire for independence not only of each other but also their circumstance.

 

In the end, though, I feel numb. I have so many questions. 

Like, what really happened to Tina? Is she alive? Is she dead? What happened to Lila? Are she and Lenù never going to see each other again?

(spoiler show)

 

That's the thing about these novels. Though the novel (and by consequence the series) ends on a bittersweet note, you don't end up with a happy, hopeful glow. All you will have left is this overwhelming melancholy and a fierce wish that things were different in their world and ours.

After I finished reading
I don't know how to rate this just yet or even what to write for my review. I have been reading this book nonstop for 48 hours. I need a mental break to pick up my soul from the ground.

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review 2017-07-01 22:10
[REVIEW] Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay - Elena Ferrante
"The solitude of women’s minds is regrettable, I said to myself, it’s a waste to be separated from each other, without procedures, without tradition." 
(72%)



TW: This book contains SEXUAL ASSAULT, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE 

I need time for my heart and my mind to recover. And to think this isn't the last book of the series. Elena Ferrante is a master storyteller. How is it that she can truly capture the good, the bad, the despicable, the intimacy of female friendships? How can she effortlessly capture the impossibility of surviving in a patriarchal society? Her tale and her words have me utterly spellbound and also terrified. 

With each passing book, I find myself loving Lila's unbreakable and fragile spirit more. I wish I had her strength, her resolve. But if I had to choose whom I resembled the most, it would have to be Lenù. Succumbing to the pressure of who we need to be, trying to leave our hometown before it swallows us whole and erases our dreams, and makes us forget who we are.

What will happen to Lila? What will happen to Lenù? I'm scared of finding out.

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