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review 2018-03-07 23:43
[REVIEW] Veinte Poemas de Amor y Una Canción Desesperada by Pablo Neruda
Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada - á
Es tan corto el amor, y es tan largo el olvido.

Después de leer
No hay manera que Neruda y yo peguemos una pero por lo menos esta me gustó un poco más que la otra colección de poemas que leí. 

Antes de leer
Porque Francis dice que toda persona debe de leer por lo menos dos libros de Pablo Neruda en su vida.

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review 2018-02-15 01:41
My ninety-first podcast is up!
The Road to Armageddon: Paraguay Versus the Triple Alliance, 1866-70 - Thomas L. Whigham

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Thomas Whigham about the second and concluding volume of his history of the Paraguayan War (which I reviewed here). Enjoy!

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review 2018-02-14 16:52
An excellent history of a monumental conflict
The Road to Armageddon: Paraguay Versus the Triple Alliance, 1866-70 - Thomas L. Whigham

The second volume of Thomas Whigham's history of the Paraguayan War picks up where his previous volume, Causes and Early Conduct, left off, with the forces of the Triple Alliance — Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay — preparing to invade Paraguay after having driven Paraguayan troops out of Argentina. Though the Paraguayans initially checked the Alliance's advance, their defeat at the battle of Tuyuti devastated their army. Yet while the leaders of the Alliance expected such a loss to result in Paraguay's surrender, the Paraguayan dictator Francisco Solano López refused to accept terms which required him to give up his position, thus dooming Paraguay to a drawn-out and destructive defeat.

As Whigham explains, a key factor behind Paraguay's ability to endure for so long was its cohesion as a population. With their nation under attack, López was able to mobilize the population to sustain a seemingly unimaginable war effort. With Paraguay's access to the outside world cut off by an Alliance blockade, the Paraguayans were forced to undertake extraordinary expedients in order to sustain their war effort. Yet not even the total mobilization of their population could overcome the increasingly capable Alliance forces from taking the fortress of Humaitá in 1868 and capturing the Paraguayan capital in the new year. Only with López's death in March 1870, though, did the war finally come to an end, with ramifications to be felt for decades to come.

The product of years of archival labors and writing, Whigham's book is a superb account of a war too often underappreciated in the north. With a narrative that reflects the tragedy (and even absurdity) of the conflict, he captures well its epic nature while analyzing the various factors at work in the conflict, from the command structures to logistics and medical care. Together the two volumes combine to provide readers with the definitive study of the Paraguayan War we have long needed, one that nobody interested in the subject can afford to neglect.

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review 2018-02-13 16:42
A masterful account of the start of an epic conflict
The Paraguayan War, Volume 1: Causes and Early Conduct - Thomas L. Whigham

If you ask most Americans to name the most destructive war in history, the answer you are likely to get is the World War II. A good case can be made, though, for awarding that dubious distinction to the Paraguayan War, in which the South American nation fought against the "Triple Alliance" of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, For six years the two sides waged a war that resulted in the deaths of well over half of the Paraguayan population, transforming victor and vanquished in ways that rippled outward for decades.


While the Paraguayan War has received considerable attention from historians in the region, studies of the conflict have usually been constrained by a variety of factors, from nationalist bias to the diffuse nature of the archives and the limited resources available to scholars to undertake the research necessary for a truly comprehensive account. This is one reason why Thomas Whigham's efforts are to be lauded, for he has invested years of study to provide just a work. Through his research in archives on three continents he has brought together a formidable amount of material to detail the events of the war, which he then used to provide the most detailed examination of the conflict ever attempted. He traces its origins to the post-independence politics of the region, where new countries coalesced out of the fragments of Spain and Portugal's New World empires. With boundaries undefined and national identities gestating, disagreements persisted for decades over the shape of these new countries, sowing the seeds for future disputes.


One such area was the Rio de la Plata, where Argentina and Brazil faced off for control. As early as the 1820s the two countries fought each other over the region. The inability of either side to gain the upper hand led to the formation of independent Uruguay in 1828, though this did nothing to deter conflicting Argentinian and Brazilian ambitions in the region. The brief Uruguayan War in 1864 provided an opportunity for Paraguay's ambitious leader, Francisco Solano López, to assert a greater role for his landlocked nation, as he intervened on behalf of the ruling Blanco Party in Uruguay against the Brazilian-supported Colorados. This soon led to war with Brazil, and when Argentina refused to allow Paraguayan troops to transit through their territory López expanded the war to include them as well. Invading Argentina, his forces seized territory in Corrientes and Rio Grande del Sul provinces, yet by the end of 1865 the newly-coalesced Triple Alliance succeeded in driving Paraguay out of the territory they occupied. Whigham concludes his volume with the Triple Alliance preparing for an invasion of Paraguay that, unbeknownst to them, would lead to four more years of warfare and the total occupation of the country.

By carefully detailing the events in the region, Whigham proves a masterful guide to the complex factors behind the war. His account of the early battles are no less accomplished, as he makes excellent use of the surviving accounts to reconstruct the various developments. To fill in the blanks he provides an analysis that is assured and well-informed, helping the reader to understand the reasoning behind his conclusions. All of this makes for an authoritative account of a war, one that is required reading for anyone interested in it or the larger history of post-independence South America.

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review 2017-09-03 18:32
The Discreet Hero, Mario Vargas Llosa, trans. Edith Grossman
The Discreet Hero: A Novel - Mario Vargas Llosa,Edith Grossman

This book put me in a bind: while I found the story and characters engaging, fun, even, there are aspects that offended me. As I read, I would wonder: "Is this attitude or behavior endorsed by the author, or just described by him in depicting this place and these personalities?" By the end, I decided that there are definite ideologies at work here, including the beliefs that when it comes to family, blood is all; that the younger generation is responsible for squandering the hard work of their parents'; and the conservative viewpoint that if one only works hard enough, one can be successful. Other troubling attitudes that are questioned by characters but nevertheless feel condoned by the narrative: blaming victims of rape or sexual coercion; treating women as objects; racism; masculine pride as more important than the lives of loved ones.


After I finished the book, I read several reviews as I tried to work out my opinion of it. These mention that Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize for Literature but that this may not be his best work; that he used to be a social progressive but became a conservative who ran for president of Peru; that some characters appear in other books of his; that some elements are based on real events and his own life.


The book is divided between two alternating and converging narratives with separate protagonists, both fitting the "discreet hero" label of the title. The stories take place in two different areas of Peru, one Lima, one provincial, and their plots appear to have no connection. When they link up, it's very satisfying, even though the connection is quite minor. Each plot has elements of a mystery-thriller that propel the story; I found it hard to put down. The characters are often charming and easy to root for (until they're not). In story one, a man who worked his way up from nothing and owns a transport company is anonymously threatened unless he pays for protection; he refuses. In story two, a man on the verge of retirement and a long-awaited trip with his wife and son finds his life upheaved when his wealthy boss decides to marry his servant to punish his errant sons; at the same time, the protagonist's teenaged son is being approached by a mysterious stranger who may or may not be real, the devil, an angel, or just the kid fucking with his parents (this last mystery is left ambiguous).


Other elements I enjoyed included the relationship between the second protagonist and his wife, his feelings about art's role in life, the police sergeant from the first story, and learning about Peruvian life across two settings.

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