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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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review 2017-09-01 07:16
I didn't need it pointed out to see it
Caín - José Saramago

So, Saramago goes trolling through the old testament.

I really liked "The Gospel according to Jesus Christ", and have read some very interesting takes on the Cain and Abel story (like Unamuno's Abel Sanchez), but I didn't much care for this one. After the first quarter, I had trouble staying engaged, and had to power through to finish.

It was choke full of dry or ironic humor, and of particular stylistic prose, and it made some pointed observations. And yet...

The Old T has some hugely objectionable, harsh, or down-right insane acts from god and it's devotees. I remember lifting my eyebrows at several points during my read as a teen. This book tours us through and addresses the problems with most (but not all) of them, in an attempt to... what? Discredit god? Because I can't even call this atheism, it is SO bitterly anti-god.

*shrug* It didn't live up to my expectations for the author.

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text 2017-08-23 03:01
Reading progress update: I've read 70 out of 189 pages.
Caín - José Saramago

How much will I earn, asked cain, The treaders all earn the same, Yes, but how much, That's not my business, besides, if you want my advice, don't ask, they don't like it, first you have to show what you're worth, in fact, don't ask anything, just wait until they pay you,

 

*grimace* yeap, true story

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url 2017-06-23 22:20
This Child Will Be Great
This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

President Sirleaf is one of the Nobel Prize winning women that I challenged myself to read last October. I had first heard her name in the memoir of one of her co-winners, Leymah Gbowee, that I had reviewed here for the blog I had before this one. Because of that, I was a little familiar with the civil wars that tore Liberia apart for 14 years and the name Charles Taylor.

What I wasn't familiar with was the overall political history of Liberia, which President Sirleaf discusses throughout her memoir. Her family had been involved in politics there long before the civil wars which gave her a more overarching view of what was happening than I had listened to in Gbowee's book. A part of me wishes I had read them in the opposite order. Gbowee's book is a lot more of the every woman experience of the wars and President Sirleaf shows the reader the "bigger picture", if you will.

President Sirleaf's story starts long before the wars, though. She begins with some history, such as the relationship the US had with the founding of Liberia before moving on to more personal history. I loved the story about the man who gave the memoir it's title by looking at her as a baby and saying those words, "This child will be great." I love the doubt that follows. President Sirleaf's rise to power was slow and winding, given the political climate of her country throughout her life, but it appeared to have progressed at a relatively steady pace with what seemed like short segues into other areas. There was a lot of heartache and a lot of experience involved in that climb to power, but she persevered.

This memoir was narrated by Robin Miles, who is an amazing narrator. The link will take you to an interview she did with BookRiot. The pacing of both the book and the narration was great, it was one of the few audiobooks that I haven't felt the need to tweak the playback speed on my app. Overall, it's an important memoir to read for those of us interested in the lives of women, particularly those who have had political success or been awarded the Nobel Prize.

This was also one of those rare books that I could fit into all three of my reading challenges this year because it is by a Nobel Laureate, it satisfies Task 11 for my Read Harder challenge, and is my Letter T for Litsy A to Z.

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review 2017-05-17 00:23
Incoming Rant
The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway

You know, I'd read in some posh literary review that Jake and Brett were two of Hemingway's most lovable characters, but I really can't see how that could be. I get he was painting an era, but I had the same difficulties I had with Fitzgerald's "Great Gatsby": I was bored by the characters misery (first world high class problems, people, that's what you have!); and I was enraged by the chaos and destruction they sowed all around themselves with their callow carelessness. Stupid egotistical brats.

And that's the other thing: they ARE reacting like brats. "Our parent's culture and ideology crumbled down and betrayed us! Let's rage and get drunk, and screw everyone around!" Except, you know, they are in their middle thirties. I don't say you have to have your shit together by that time or any other, God knows you never really do, and life has a marvelous way of sucker punch you when you think you have it balanced, but the over the top woe-is-me shit you are supposed to learn to manage after the hormones of puberty stabilize.

Every generation has challenges, and I reckon those that were born around the turn of the 20th century had a suck-fest of a raw deal, but what I saw inside this book was not just depression and insecurity over lost direction and of self, but a total lack of care for other people. I saw the phrase "moral bankruptcy" around, and I think that's and exact description, but it was treated as an excuse for how these particular characters act, because apparently it was a pervasive thing all around. News-flash: if everyone is a terrible person, and you act like everyone, you are still a terrible person.

 

So no, I have no love for these characters. Now, do I have any use for this book? *sigh* Thorny issue. If it was an accurate representation of the generation, I have to loose any surprise at seeing them fall right back into war; they all felt suicidal to me, and self-centered enough to blow up the world along with themselves.

 

So here's what I think: maybe it's useful, but I did not like it.

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