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review 2017-07-05 23:04
Five for one
Las Armas Secretas - Julio Cortázar

I understand now why this one is classified as European lit all the time. I haven't researched it, but I'm pretty sure this one was written after Cortázar left Argentina, because the five stories in this volume are all set in Paris.

I was not that dazzled by this too much at first but then, my bar with Cortázar is "Bestiario", and that's a hard one to upstage in the wow (weird, awesome, uncomfortable, puzzling) factor.

Cartas de Mamá, leaving aside the historical parallelism that some scholar or other wants to saddle on it, was an excellent exercise on revealing the past through the present. Many authors could learn a thing or two about how to do back-story. Of course, back-story is the whole issue here: sins and regrets that turn into silences, and that end that is half fantasy, half delayed acknowledgement. And the great opening line:

 

"Muy bien hubiera podido llamarse libertad condicional."

 

Los Buenos Servicios was a very scathing look at how moneyed people use "the help", many times frivolously, and often callously, and how hollow the "throw money at it" approach is, which is more jarring  (and ridiculous) from the poised view of Francinet. She had more class than any of the cast.

Las Babas del Diablo is a POV nightmare. As it tends to happen when I read magical-realism, I enter a weird state where I'm paying close attention, but at the same time relax my mind and just go with it. Like suspension of disbelief, but I just suspend logic and sometimes even grammar. I find it pays off with many complex or weird plots, or speculative fiction too. Triggers galore in this one, and one VERY uncomfortable suspicion.

"El Perseguidor", now here is the jewel of the book, and the point where I started to love this collection. It was absolutely engrossing. I understand why it has been known to be edited as "El Perseguidor y otras historias". This one got to me, emotionally-wise, and I'm not even quite sure why. I guess it's that desperate search.

"Las Armas Secretas" you know how it's going to go almost from go. Or maybe it's that I've read enough Cortázar to understand the clues he leaves. Or, maybe more, this sense of having read one of his before, about a big house in San Isidro, that has similar elements, but I can't remember to which collection it belonged to contrast.

You know, the more I write, the higher I want to star this. I realize it made my brain jog, and my thoughts come back to it whenever I wasn't reading.

Not his best, but for "El Perseguidor" alone, so worth owning it. I predict re-reads.

 

And there it goes my 4th of July extra. I devoured it, lol

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review 2017-07-05 11:00
A Suffocating Village: Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda
Death in Spring - Mercè Rodoreda,Martha Tennent

Less than a year ago I reviewed a novel by Catalan author Mercè Rodoreda (1908-1983) who is much celebrated in her country but virtually unknown elsewhere. I was so impressed by the book that I felt like reading also others of her works and from the two novels published posthumously, both of them unfinished, I eventually picked the one available in English translation, namely Death in Spring or in the original Catalan La mort i la primavera, i.e. Death and Spring. At first the title seems a bit strange, if not contradictory because it links death with nature’s rebirth after winter, but given that the novel flows over with powerful as well as poetical symbols and metaphors of life and death it’s quite appropriate. It’s a complex and well-constructed story about society that reminds me a lot of the works of Franz Kafka although it’s different in style.

 

The nameless I-narrator and protagonist makes his first appearance as a fourteen-year-old boy who enters the river passing under his mountain village built generations earlier on the debris of a huge rock-slip. He inhales the beauty of nature surrounding him and realises that he is “being followed by a bee, as well as by the stench of manure and the honey scent of blooming wisteria” representing the village with its pink houses that is always on his mind. As it turns out people there have many rituals to keep misfortune at bay. On the other side of the river is the forest of the dead with a tree dedicated to every inhabitant living or already dead with a plaque and a ring. During funerals all children are locked away into the stifling wooden kitchen cupboards, a custom that clearly mirrors the cruel death ritual practiced by the villagers for generations that requires to force pink cement down the throats of the dying in order to keep their souls from escaping and turning into shadows creeping “among the shrubs, always threatening to attack the village”. At the same time, and less obviously, it reflects the oppressive atmosphere in the village where everybody has to follow strict rules and not even the children are allowed to breathe freely in the literal as well as in the figurative sense. For being a boy the narrator doesn’t understand why the man whom he watches from behind a shrub hollows out a tree and enters it to die. As it turns out the man is his father, but instead of showing himself and talking to him, the boy returns to the village and tells the blacksmith. Everybody rushes out to give the already half-dead father the necessary cement treatment. With his teenage stepmother whom everybody considers retarded and strange he roams the village and its surroundings by night taking fun in vandalising the forest of the dead and using the pink powder of the cave to find out where its waters flow – thus defying the old village rituals that don’t make sense to them. Before long their adolescent urges take over and they have a daughter, but the community doesn’t accept them neither as individuals nor as a family because they are just too different, too free, too alive…

 

Many reviewers argue that Death in Spring represents life during the Spanish Civil War and in the rigid regime of General Franco that followed and that forced the author into exile, but in my opinion this is too limited an interpretation. I think that the author more generally portrayed the workings of human society where conservative forces use to be the stronger ones except in times of deepest discontent and misery. Even in our modern western civilisation that holds individual freedom in such high esteem, those who aren’t like all others or behave in a different, maybe even revolutionary way are marginalised, excluded and eventually crushed, i.e. driven to suicide or madness like in the novel although more subtly than in a totalitarian regime. In a nutshell: this is another great work of literature that would deserve much more attention. Highly recommended!

 

Death in Spring - Mercè Rodoreda,Martha Tennent 

 

»»» read also my review of In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda.

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review 2017-07-02 19:14
Marcos Ramirez by Carlos Luis Fallas
Marcos Ramírez - Carlos Luis Fallas

This is an enjoyable tale of a boy growing up in Costa Rica in the 1910s and 1920s. It is mostly episodic, without an overarching plot, and Marcos spends most of his time misbehaving and causing trouble, so the Tom Sawyer comparison feels apt. The specific details of Marcos’s life feel real rather than drawn from fictional tropes, so I suspected the book was autobiographical even before learning from the brief autobiographical essay in the front that all the facts of Marcos’s life match Fallas’s.

 

It is a colorful and entertaining book, and it’s not your stereotypical Costa Rica: the boys, including Marcos, are quite violent, and at one point he runs off with the army when war with Panama is brewing. Marcos is a lively if sometimes exasperating character, though there’s little development of anyone else – we get to know his mother and uncle a bit, but the book’s autobiographical nature means his friends are represented by an ever-changing stream of boys who put in brief appearances, and few other characters register much. Toward the end we read more about Marcos’s schooling, which is interesting but not in the same way; there’s a lot of school politics and criticism of teachers for whom memorization is the highest form of learning. But the couple of episodes in which Marcos uses cruelty to animals to revenge himself on their owners were my least favorite.

 

Overall though, this is a fun book; Fallas seems to be one of those few authors who can write about childhood from the inside rather than imposing an adult viewpoint on the narrative. It’s a shame this book apparently has never been translated to English, as I suspect it could find a healthy readership.

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text 2017-06-25 01:06
Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 438 pages.
Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 - Adam Hochschild

my second Nonfiction pick for this month...because I did not get to one in May, and oh, the guilt, the guilt. plus this book calls to me. Spanish Civil War stuff has an especial attraction for me, after Hemingway, and a Spy novel, a while ago, that went there and rocked. text that I would actually read in a straight line only goes to page 376, then it's into Notes (when I need them), and then the Index etc. here I come again, Spain!

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review 2017-04-30 13:19
Great Story and Characters
Playing the Spanish Billionaire - M.K. Meredith

London felt a little one night stand with a Spaniard might be just the thing to help her decompress. Truth was London had been too good keeping men away the last couple of years. After working non stop to pay her mom’s medical bills and build a reputation as a sought after luxury  hotel inspector for Elite Travel and Life Magazine. A string of unbreakable migraines and endless  weeks of insomnia had landed her in to see her doctor more than once.Her her doctor warned her if she didn’t take care of herself she wouldn’t be able to take care of her mother Alanna who had MS. So London was on vacation in Barcelona. Then a little girl about six years old  came to her crying and before London knew it she stole her luggage. Then a very hot man came up to London and said “ I think I found something that belongs to you” and he had her luggage and then London hugged the man then got embarrassed as he was a stranger and pulled back and said “ This is such a relief, thank you”. Then he asked where she was going and it turned out they were going to the same place- Huntington Place. He said he was just returning from a trip. He mentioned his family owned orchards and they all worked together right along side his parents. That gave London an idea for her magazine’s Homeward Bound section. His great great grandfather established the orchard in 1870. Mateu was CEO of Huntington Place Barcelona. And it was her duty to ensure London loved her visit so much she wouldn’t be able to check out the hotel without leaving a five star review in Elite Life and Travel Magazine. They had held the coveted position of  number one hotel in Barcelona four years in a row. A fifth year would have earned them induction into the magazine’s “ Hotel Of Fame”. and significant  critical recognition. But they had lost it by cuts a hotel could not be number one if it didn’t have the staff to make it work. Mateu saw on London’s phone once in a lifetime. She told Mateu she worked all the time and she had a lot of responsibility back home and this was her one chance to live it up. Also this would give her a chance to live it up and also give her a chance to do her job. Hotel inspectors worked anonymously and needed to be at the hotel to do their job but this list  had her going all over Barcelona, London was taking every precaution to keep from revealing why she was really there. As far as London knew Mateu was an orchard laborer and that was how he wanted to keep it. Mateu had learned a hard lesson that when women found out he was rich they lost interest in him as a man and cared only about what he could do for them ask his ex fiance. London got a text from her friend Susan and was told Mateu was actually Nicoleru Mateu CE of Huntington Place Barcelona. So he was a liar and London was really there on vacation  not to do a five star review. Then London got a call from her mother and her mom told her that the medicine that worked for her was no longer covered by the insurance it would be thirty five hundred dollars a month for the medicine now. So London knew she had to take back the shoes she had bought but she was going to wear them tonight when she went to meet Mateu. London knew she would have to cancel her things she had already paid to do and get her money back. London didn’t know how she would cover everything now and how she would make ends meet. Then London had to get ready to meet with Mateu for a drink. Then London called her boss and she was doing a review but using her own name and and bank account instead of her alias She planned on playing Mateu at his own game all she had to do make Mateu think her plan was his idea all along. Mateu had no problem showing London a good time he just didn’t a good time he just didn’t like the hidden agenda and deceit. But his father wasn’t in great health and Mateu had to get the hotel rating back up then he could spend half of his time helping his father.Mateu thought London was playing right into his hands. Mateu should assume from business if it’s too easy it’s probably too easy for a reason. Already first thing he should remember to assume nothing. But he had broken both rules. London got up the next morning when they were heading to a cooking class at the hotel and she had to admit Mateu had her head swimming a bit but any woman would feel that around a man as handsome as Mateu. Margo is Alanna’s best friend since grade school. Alanna was in the hospital with a respiratory infection but Margo and London’s best friend Susan where at her side. Margo offered a small loan but London texted her mother that they would figure it out and wanted no loan. Mateu knew knew there was something between him and London but he had to keep it in check. Mateu took London to Espana Orchards - his family home. London felt she had to come clean to Mateu she hoped he would also be honest but it was a chance she had to take.

This was a great story and I loved it. I sincerely enjoyed everything about this story: the plot. The writing, and the pace. I loved how London just had to come clean with Mateu. I also loved how Mateu and his family were. It choked me up when his father fell and when Mateu lashed out at London and how she hurt. But London was still there for Mateu and his family after Mateu father fell. I also loved how Mateu’s mom took time to talk to him about London. I also loved how London the characters and the ins and outs of this story and I highly recommend.

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