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review 2019-08-18 20:12
Después de las Bombas by Arturo Arias
Después De Las Bombas - Arturo Arias

I can’t say this is an objectively bad book, but I can say I really disliked reading it. It’s an absurdist version of Guatemalan history from the 1950s through 1970s, told through the eyes of a boy named Maximo as he grows toward adulthood. This passage toward the end, as Maximo begins to explore his own writing, seems to encapsulate its philosophy (translation is mine):

“I’ll exaggerate. I’ll lie. Chingolo says that to be understood one must lie. It’s another way of getting inside someone. Begin lying fast and furiously and they’ll start to hear me. Lies are sacred, Amarena.”

The mid-19th century was a turbulent, bloody time in Guatemala, and this book is full of brutal, gruesome scenes and imagery, but in a way that seems over-the-top, disconnected from real historical events: there’s a guillotine set up in the capital’s hippodrome to execute losing jockeys; a wealthy couple kills two servants for their attraction to one another and displays their body parts; leaders of a prostitutes’ strike are executed in the manner of Aztec sacrifices, their hearts cut out with obsidian knives before throngs of people in a stadium while the American ambassador, who demanded vengeance for the death of some official, looks on approvingly. Knowing little about Guatemalan history, some of these incidents were easier for me to understand in terms of the author’s message than others. Overall though, it shouldn’t be taken literally, which for those of us unfamiliar with the place and time covered, is disorienting.

Curiously, I did a bit of online research to try to map some of these fictional events onto actual ones, and my key takeaway was that English-language sources tend to portray this period of Guatemala’s history as one of racial terror, i.e., massacres of the Mayan population. This book, on the other hand, portrays it as a period of political terror: a succession of dictatorships masquerading as democracies, the streets ruled by thuggish forces who rape and murder at will, school forever cancelled due to one political disruption or another (in what I assume is another exaggeration, Maximo “graduates” high school without ever attending a day of class; each year, school is cancelled and the students promoted anyway). I am not quite sure how to view the discrepancies between these two versions: Americans glossing over their own country’s role in overturning democratic governments unfriendly to American interests? The author glossing over genocide carried out by, I think, his own racial group? Or perhaps it’s just that this book is mostly set before the genocide really picked up, in 70s and 80s, but that ethnic cleansing naturally tends to overshadow what came before it? As with much of this book, I was left with more questions than answers.

But overall, it’s a difficult book to read, both in the way it’s put together – lack of quotation marks and speaker attributions, sudden jumps in time between paragraphs with no section breaks, etc. – and in its horrific subject matter: not a chapter passes without something gruesome and terrible, whether it’s decomposing bodies littering the streets or the lengthy and graphic rape scene midway through the book that results in permanent disfigurement for one of the victims. I can’t speak to the merits of this book for those more familiar with the time period discussed, but I’m really just glad to be done with it.

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review 2017-04-13 10:28
Grief, survivor’s guilt, identity and family relations in a beautifully written book set in Guatemala.
Petals - Laurisa White Reyes

I’m writing this review as part of a blog tour for this novel that I voluntarily agreed to participate in.

From the author’s note, it is clear that this book is a labour of love that has been many years in the coming. This is the first novel by Larisa White Reyes I had read and it is unlikely to be the last one.

The story is told in the first person by Carly Perez, a young girl (almost eighteen) who lost her mother last Christmas Even in a car accident. She was also in the car when it happened and it has taken her a long time to recover, both physically and mentally. We soon realise how precarious this recovery is. Her father, who is originally from Guatemala, insists on going there to visit his family for Christmas and Carly is less than happy. She doesn’t know them, as her father hasn’t visited in the last twenty years, she hardly speaks any Spanish, and a year after her mother’s death, the last thing she wants is to spend time in an unfamiliar (and to her mind backwards and wild) place with a bunch of strangers. Her preconceived ideas of the country and her family will be put to the test and her precarious mental equilibrium will be stretched to the very limit.

Carly is a typical adolescent in some ways, but also an extremely sensitive soul. She is moody because she has to go to Guatemala, instead of staying in California, she argues with her father, she disobeys his rules and gives him the silent treatment at times. She can be grumpy and quick to judge, both the country and her relatives, and she does not know what to think about Miguel, her step-cousin, the only one close to her age and experiences but also reluctant to engage and talk about his problems. Carly is an artist, although she’s had difficulty painting since her mother’s death, and she keeps being tormented by strange dreams, and by the recurrent appearance of a weird man, wrinkled and scarred, who keeps nagging at her subconscious. She is terrified of him but can’t recall where she saw him before. She’s convinced he has come to confront her with something, but she does not know why or what. The combination of her disturbing experiences and the new environment manages to make her remember something that had been hiding inside of her mind, masked by the grief and the medication.

The author excels at showing Carly’s point of view, and how her opinion evolves from indifference and disdain towards her relatives and the country to curiosity and eventually affection and love. One of the reasons why I decided to read the book was because I was intrigued about how a girl brought up in California would adjust to a new family and a completely different environment. The description of Guatemala, the city of Reu, the Mayan temples, Xela … paint a vivid picture of the country, its traditions (including those related to Christmas, religious and otherwise), its food and its people. We get to meet the more traditional older generation (her grandfather, caring and congenial, and her grandmother, always cooking and comforting), her aunt Dora, who also left the country and lived in New York for many years, and Miguel, the youngest one, who was born in the USA and who, although initially reluctant, ends up becoming the closest to her. They share not only age but also similar identity problems, and he’s dark and handsome too, so it’s not surprising that things develop to Carly’s surprise.

There is clean romance, there are some interesting discussions about identity, family, and what makes us who we are (and how difficult it might be to fit in when perhaps you don’t belong anywhere), and also about life, death, guilt and forgiveness. There are very emotional moments, fun and magical ones, and sad ones. Although the discovery Carly makes towards the end wasn’t a big surprise for me, the beauty is in the detail, the visual symbols (the snow, the petals of the title, the man …), the way all the pieces come together, and the final message is one of hope, forgiveness and reconciliation.

In summary, this is an excellent YA book, well written, with beautiful description of places, people and emotions, exploring issues of identity, survivor’s guilt, grief and death, mixed marriages and families, the role of tradition and culture, with an engaging and sympathetic main character and a good cast of secondary ones. This is a clean book with some Christian religious content and questions although that is not the emphasis of the book. It will appeal not only to readers of YA books but to anybody who enjoys well-written first-person narratives, exploring mixed family relationships, identity and grief, set in a wonderful location.

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review 2014-07-14 00:04
Good even with the werewolf as a hero
Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night - Kresley Cole


The material from the beginning of this book is taken from the previous one.

So, Lykae Bowen MacRieve entered the Hie to win the key just as the previous hero (Sebastian Wroth) and heroine (Kaderin the Cold Hearted). Bowen has spent centuries trying to find a way to bring back his lost mate. Now, when the opportunity presented itself he tried as best as he could and if not for the little wicked witch he might have succeeded. But he didn't. He felt as though he lost his mate all over again.

The young witch Marika the Awaited is still mortal but she entered the Hie regardless. Since everyone expects great things from her and she always failed everyone, this was her opportunity to redeem herself. She was doing a good job until she crossed paths with the Lykae. She felt instant attraction towards him. And she thought he did too towards her but then he changed and did something unforgivable.

Bowen entombed Marika along with two demons and two Archers so he would delay them in a competition. Just before he shut them in, Marika cursed him. He would not heal from his injuries for as long as he doesn't come back to her. Bowen didn't think that these great warriors would have a tough time opening the tomb and he didn't know what was inside it, he thought it was empty. Unfortunately, no one could have opened the tomb for three weeks and the tomb was everything but empty.

When Bowen lost the competition and was informed that those five didn't return he immediately went back for them. But three weeks has passed. And the wicked witch made him feel things that he didn't feel in centuries. What would he find in there and what will happen to a gravely injured werewolf who made enemies out of five fierce warriors?


The werewolf.
Let me explain why I picked this book so soon after the last one. I was misled. I admit I judged this one by the cover. I swear on everything I own that I believed this book would be about a male vampire. It looks like that, doesn't it?
So, I ended up being seriously disappointed. Werewolves not so much my thing. But Bowen was... interesting. I say I respect that man from the bottom of my heart. He was faithful to his dead mate for centuries. I mean, really? Even though he didn't really love her all that much or even spent much time with her. His loyalty was something that is sorely missed today. Some may argue that he also kind of acts like a neanderthal (being a werewolf and all) but that is not so bad really. He provides, protects and loves his woman above everything and everyone else. And since he loves her so much, he is letting her do whatever she wishes as long as it isn't harmful to her.

The wicked witch.
Again with the small stature. She is petite. Like every other heroine so far in this Series. And she is a witch of an unimaginable power that is destined to do great things.
When she isn't on her mardi gras or in the bed of her demon boyfriend. But let's be fair, that was a few years back. Now, all she wants is to prove herself even though she is still mortal and young (23 years old). She keeps complaining. How she can't do this or that but never once did she practice anything. And she takes the Hie fairly lightly even though she wants to prove herself. I would have never imagined her to be the perfect mate for a centuries old werewolf who lived through the greatest sorrow and pain. She just doesn't fit very well. I often imagined how he must feel like he has a child in bed rather than a real woman.

I'm not quite sure what the little witch did before they entered that tomb that everyone respected her so much and everyone tried to protect her. I mean, two Archers who apparently liked her because she was part fey were acting like she was their best friend. And not to mention, the two demons, one a former king (and someone still believe him to be a rightful one) and the other his first in line to the crown. They were acting as though she was a close friend and a queen herself. It just seemed strange that in a world where everyone was weary of the other species, they all liked her so much that they risked their lives for her.

The storyline.
Absolutely interesting. The author added a little more to her recipe this time around. A mystery, a vengeful former goddess, a longer game of seduction and an interesting twist in the end.
But what remained the same was a rushed ending. Again, everything unfolded in a mere few pages.
For example.

When Marika defeated the sorceress and took her power she was trapped in a mirror. She enchanted herself. She couldn't take her eyes from herself and everyone who stood between the mirror and her was obliterated. And this went on for days. And then the Lykae comes to her and in one paragraph she blinks and she falls to his arms. Sorry, but you just can't do this.

(spoiler show)

Tangling and unveiling this kind of things in just a few paragraphs. It demands more agony so our hearts will shatter and then flutter from utter joy when it reveals a happy ending.

All in all, this Series has proven its charm once again. But still some important ingredients are missing. I hope this will also improve through time and experience.

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review 2013-10-23 19:55
Homo Faber
Homo Faber (Penguin Modern Classics) - Max Frisch

And now here at last is a real book for grown-ups. Intelligent and utterly unsentimental, Homo Faber would, I feel, have been wasted on me if I'd read it ten years ago; now it strikes me as extraordinary. (This is unlike most novels, which, if not actually aimed at people in their late teens and early twenties, seem to resonate most strongly with that intense and exciting age group.)

As it happens, Walter Faber, the central character of this novel, does not read novels at all. He can't see the point. A technician for UNESCO, Faber builds things, records them, and analyses them. He believes in logic, reason, facts, brute statistics. A machine impresses him in a way that a human does not, because ‘it feels no fear and no hope, which only disturb, it has no wishes with regard to the result, it operates according to the pure logic of probability.’ Faber has few close male friends; women he can't relate to at all. Too emotional. ‘I'm not cynical,’ he explains. ‘I'm merely realistic, which is something women can't stand.’

I called her a sentimentalist and arty crafty. She called me Homo Faber.

His one serious relationship ended in divorce years ago. She scorned his beloved technology as ‘the knack of so arranging the world that we don't have to experience it.’ (And she, by contrast, was an archaeologist: ‘I stick the past together,’ she says in one of the novel's few moments of unsubtlety.)

I can imagine many readers finding Faber very unlikeable, even monstrous; and yet I feel desperately defensive towards him, perhaps because he reminds me of my father. Actually he reminds me of all fathers – there is an air of generalised daddishness about him, and this is not coincidental: the notion of paternity is crucial to the book.

‘I like functionalism,’ Faber says. He has a prose style to match. This is not to say that it is dry, or clunky, or unartful, because it is none of those things. The style is astonishingly telegraphic, elliptical, Faber narrating the facts that he considers important. The effect is staccato but wonderful; an extreme example here from a virtuoso section set in Havana:

My lust for looking.
My desire.
Vacuum between the loins.
I exist now only for shoeshine boys!
The pimps.
The ice-cream vendors.
Their vehicle: a combination of old pram and mobile canteen added to half a bicycle, a baldachin with rusty curtains; a carbide lamp; all around, the green twilight dotted with their flared skirts.
The lilac moon.

Often you are forced to read between the lines to understand what is really going on, and sometimes this reaches such a pitch that one has the impression of having experienced a scene twice. All the time Faber is writing to understand what has happened, and to justify his behaviour to himself. He can hardly accept the novelistic coincidences that the story involves: this cannot have happened. How was I to know. What else could I have done. The probability was minuscule. These were the facts as I knew them.

I am not mentioning the plot because it shouldn't be spoiled. Which seems strange, because we are given all the main facts quite early on. But part of the point of the book is discovering that the facts are not always, after all, the most important thing.

It's not often I really, really love books in translation. This is not because of any hipsterish misconception that you're not getting the "real" book, it's just that one of the things I most enjoy analysing when I read is the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of sentence construction and vocabulary choice, and this is all very different when you are reading the words of a translator. (Not that translators are not adept at this too – they are – but their motives and concerns are to do with fidelity to someone else's idea rather than their own, and this difference is fundamental.) But here I was riveted by the technique on display.

There is a moment where Faber recalls being on a beach in Greece with a girl. The two of them have a competition of similes: describing what they can see in terms of what it looks like. This is new ground for scientific-minded Faber, but he gets into it, and the paragraph rolls on for pages:

Then we found we could make out the surf on the seashore. Like beer froth. Sabeth thought, like a ruche! I took back my beer froth and said, like fibreglass. But Sabeth didn't know what fibreglass was. Then came the first rays of the sun over the sea: like a sheaf, like spears, like cracks in a glass, like a monstrance, like photos of electron bombardment. But there was only one point for each round; it was no use producing half a dozen similes. Soon after this the sun rose, dazzling. Like metal spurting out of a furnace, I thought: Sabeth said nothing and lost a point….

It's hard to describe the effect this long passage has on you, coming as it does after 150 pages in which I don't think a single simile had been deployed. To me it felt like being hit by a truck. It's one of the most unusual and powerful devices I can remember, in terms of constructing a novel, and the reason is that the passage coincides exactly with a moment of exquisite emotion both for Faber the character, experiencing it, and for Faber the narrator, remembering it. There is something technically brilliant going on in here.

There are so many other aspects to this superb novel that I haven't even touched on: its comments on the war, its deliberate and wide-ranging internationalism, its precise descriptive scenes. The story is clear-eyed and matter-of-fact and this has a cumulative effect that is quite devastating – heart-breaking, really. And yet for all that, what I am left with is this unexpected, life-affirming feeling…a renewed appreciation of what existence entails:

To be alive: to be in the light. Driving donkeys around somewhere (like that old man in Corinth) – that's all our job amounts to! The main thing is to stand up to the light, to joy (like our child) in the knowledge that I shall be extinguished in the light over gorse, asphalt and sea, to stand up to time, or rather to eternity in the instant. To be eternal means to have existed.
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review 2012-03-01 00:00
Joseño: Another Mayan Voice Speaks from Guatemala
Jose O: Another Mayan Voice Speaks from Guatemala - Ignacio Bizarro Ujpban Often insightful but the prose is occasionally clunky, probably due to poor translation.
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