Reputations by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

 

Reputations

Reputations by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

 

Colombian fiction

Original title – Las reputaciones

Translator – Anne McLean

Source – Library edition

last month I decide I may need pick a few books from the last year that may be in the Man booker list that I hadn’t got to near the top of the list was this the latest from Juan Gabriel Vasquez . Whom I have reviewed on the blog twice before with The sound of things falling and the secret history of Costaguna . The later was on the old IFFP list as well as his debut novel so it is a good chance that he may make it three times on the list. Juan Gabriel Vasquez Is considered one of the great living Latin American writers , his books have been on numerous list of the best books of recent times. He also writes a weekly column for a Colombian newspaper .

What about Javier mallarino ?

The bootblack took a second to realize the question was directed at him. “Sir?”

“Javier Mallarino.Do you know who he is ?”

“The guy who does the cartoons for the newspaper”,the man said.”but he doesn’t come around here any more. he got tired of Bogota, that’s what I was told. he’s been living out-of-town for ages now, up in the mountains

Mallarine ask the bootblack if he knows who he is without knowing he is him so to speak .

Reputatuons is a another slice of Colombian world , this time he use the life of a political cartoonist , One imagines to be in the position that Javier Mallarino is where we meet him he is on his way to the Grand Teatro Colon that evening. We meet him as he is wandering Bogata before this very prestigious evening the first part of the book sees him in this wandering seeing how he went from a serious artist at the beginning into taking up the pen and ink and doing Political caricatures somehow managing to avoid getting into trouble along the way  and building a following a sort of Latin American  Steve Bell is what came to my mind. But as he spends the evening in Glory he is leaving the grand Tearto colon when we meet a young woman a journalist he thinks but she is wanting him to admit to an incident he observed that happened at the very beginning of his life happened when she was maybe attacked by a leading figure in the  political life and this girl was also a friend of his own daughter so the great man has to face a dark secret in his past.

If that were the case, the deterioration could not be less opportune, for Samanta Leal, from whose face a little girl had vanished, was urgently asking him to remember that little girl and her visit to this house in the mountains in July of 1982, and not just that, but she was also asking him to remember the circumstances of that long-ago visit, the names and distinguishing marks of those present that afternoon, everything mallrino saw and heard

He thought she is a journalist to this point when she reminds him of this incident in the past .

I felt this is a clever book to bring out now in a way , how many secrets from the past and stars from the past have had very dark secrets like in the book or even dark Jimmy Saville is one that came straight to my mind when I read this and how power can hide the truth or make other disbelieves the truth about certain people. I also love the choice of political cartoonist a job which at some points in Columbia would have been a short life job! We also want to know what happened that evening when these two seven-year old got drunk and slept was it a dream or real. This is another question do others seek fame from telling stories about other why do it on this evening ! A real story of the modern age when secrets and reputations seem to be fragile in the public eye and the past people have now seem to catch them up more than before !

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The lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The lowland cover by Jhumpa Lahiri

The lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Indian fiction

Source – Review copy

 

 

Boy, you’re going to carry that weight,
Carry that weight a long time
Boy, you’re going to carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time

I never give you my pillow
I only send you my invitations
And in the middle of the celebrations
I break down

I choose this Beatles lyric because sometime we do have to carry a weight for a family member

Well I ‘m going back here to late 2013 to review this book , I had a quick reread of it in bits over the weekend .I decide to finally review it because Lisa had ask me to join her in doing a Shadow Jury for the DSC south asian book prize , which I said yes as I had read two this book and Mirror of beauty (longest book on the list ) , I also had Noon tide toll on my shelves and could order another from Library leaving me one book to get when Amanda gets paid in a couple of weeks just before the prize .It’s nice to be judging with Lisa and Tara  .Now why didn’t I review this book , well it wasn’t that I didnt’ like it far from it was good but not stand out enough to be saved from Mount unreviewed .I had read Lahiri before both her short story collections , I was always nervous that her style wouldn’t work on the change from short story writer  to Novelist .Anyway to the book at last

So many times Subhash and Udayan had walked across the lowland .It was a shortcut to a field on the outskirts of the neighbourhood ,where they went to play football ,Avoiding puddles and stepping over mats of hyacinth leaves that remained in place .Breathing the dank Air

From opening page that gives rise to the book’s title the Lowland ,si near where the boys grew up .

The lowland is a classic story in many ways , a story of two brothers growing up , but also growing apart as they do so .Now the two brothers Udayan and Subhash , split apart from each other  one drawn into a world of politics the other drawn into a life far away from the India they grew up in .The brother drawn to Poltics Udayan is drawn to this protest at the poverty with in the country , this is 1967 and they are just following what had happened elsewhere in the world , but will it have a lasting effect on his life and his family , to a young wife and his parents .Meanwhile his brother Subhash has left to study in the but a moment of madness means , he comes home marries his brothers now widowed wife and returns with her to America , leading to a knock on for the next generation and the parents .

He was unwell ?

He was killed .

How ?

The paramilitary shot shot him .He was a Naxalite .

I’m sorry .It’s a terrible loss to bear .But no you’ll be a father .Yes .

Listen it’s been too long ,Why don’t you and your wife come to dinner one day .

Just after he lost his brother Subhash back in the US

Well The  lowlands , takes a classic story of brothers going  on different paths in their lives  .Then throws into it a real  event from  Indian history” the Naxalite cause “and the protest around that time .Brings this vast story down to the family level and looks at how politics ,l families and loyalty to ones loved ones .I loved that Lahiri managed to capture in a novel what she does so well in her stories and that is the interpersonal relationships between people on a daily level .At the core the brothers and the way the lives diverge but also cross each other again after one event leaving one gone and another with a new life and direction .I ‘m not sure it is the winner of the prize but it deserves it place on the DSC shortlist .

Have you read this book ?

The tango singer by Tomás Eloy Martínez

 

The Tango Singer by Tomás Eloy Martínez

Argentinean fiction

Original title –  El cantor de tango

Translator – Anne McLean

Source – personnel copy

Will they marvel at the miracles I did perform
And the heights I did aspire
Or will they tear out the pages of the book
To light a fire

With the rain on my face
There is no place that I belong
Did you forget this fucking singer so soon?
And did you forget my song?

The last two verses of the song The singer by Nick cave remind me of Julio in a way .

 

Well I’ve left it till near the end to finally join in Richards Argentinean theme writers of doom event for last three months of 2014 .I finally choose another book by a writer whose two previous books I have reviewed here and enjoyed .Tomas Eloy martinez I have reviewed on the blog  Santa Evita and Purgatory  , two books  for me that  rank among my favourite books from Latin America so I’m surprised it took me this long to get The tango singer which has sat on the shelves for a good few years .Martinez was Journalist and academic as well ,being a writer , he passed away in 2010 .

No one knew why Martel performed in such inhospitable places , without charging a cent .At the end of spring of 2001 there were lots of clubs , theaters , bars and Milongas in Buenos Aires that would have welcomed him with open arms .Perhaps he was ashamed of exposing a body mercilessly abused by illness day after day

Julio just plays in dark corners of the city that are hard to follow .

The tango singer follows the story of Bruno Cadogan , who has been given the chance as a student to go to Buenos Aires to study .But he is happy because he has become gripped by Tango singers and he has heard of one such singer from the city Julio Martel , who has never been recorded singing and doesn’t really do concerts more turns up and starts singing never announced. His voice is considered the best Tango singer ever .So Bruno arrives in the city and is hunting to see this old man sing , but along the way we find out Julio story how he became such a star and how sad is life is .Add to this Bruno is a bit of a literary romantic so wants to see the city of Borges , the story Aleph by Borges gets mentioned quite a lot as a reference point maybe for Bruno own journey through the city and finally meeting this mysterious singer .

A few days after arriving I visited the house at 994 Maipu street where Borges had lived for more than forty years, and I had the sensation that I’d seen it somewhere else or , which was worse , that it was a scene destined to disappear as soon as I turned my back .

Borges crops up a lot in the book his ghost still seems to haunt both the city and Martinez in this book .

I love the layer Martinez builds in this book as we take its twists and turns  .Julio and Bruno are like two planets orbiting  around the city of Buenos Aires and Borges is like the sun of the centre of the  city and eventually these two planets will eclipse one another .Oh I can be a little abstract at times, this book is  really an ode to a city warts and all , to the writers and singers that live with in that city .Martinez builds the tension as Bruno gets closer to Julio but also in the dark past of the city makes this feel like a thriller at times .I would picture this book making a great film the young man on the quest to find the old sage of a singer . Martinez manages to capture the good and bad of a city which he spent some time in but he had lived many years in exile and this feels more about the city he remembered than the city at the time the book is set .If you have read any other of his books I’m sure you will love this one and if you need an introduction to him this is maybe a good one to start with as it has bits of each of the other two books I’ve read .Well can’t see it be too long before I read The Peron novel by him .

Have you a favourite book about music or singers ?

Harraga by Boualem Sansal

 

 

Harraga by Boualem Sansal

Algerian Fiction

Original title – Harraga

Translator – Frank Wynne

Source – review copy

Out of my Algeria
they made the prisons taller
than the schools.
They sullied the nocturnal roots
of the People,
the serious Tree
of the remote Berbérie…
They denied the certainty of our Land,
they tore apart Islam, its color,
its fantastical tribes, even the shame
that makes them live.
They denied the Vital Fire, our Flag
They exiled the humble joys of our huts
slow at the return of corn…
Blind! Blind!

Well I had hope to get this book last week as it is one I feel we all need to read .Boualem Sansal  had a government job in the  early 2000’s til he start complaining about the government , his books since then have been critical of Algeria in particular how the vast money made from Oil is being spent and in this book womans rights .Boualem Sansal still lives in Algeria as he says the his country needs artists to pave the way to peace and democracy .He has won many awards and written six novels .He is one of the strongest critics of his country’s regime .

This is how a whirlwind sweeps into your life .Nothing absolutely nothing in my past led me to suppose that one day i would open my door , open my life to such mayhem .I opened the door because that’s hat you do when someone knocks , you answer .

Lamia just after Cherifka arrives at her door and the effect she has on her life .

Harraga is the story of two women , Lamia , who up to now had lived a quiet life behind the wall of her house , just living in her own world and Cherifika a 16-year-old unmarried pregnant girl arrives in the middle of the night at Lamia ‘s door , she was sent to her by Lamia brother Sofiane .Sofiane is also the inspiration  for the title the only member of Lamia family left alive he is a Hararaga , some one trying to escape Algeria for Spain across the sea .Meanwhile the two worlds of Lamia nad Cerifka start to clash , Sherifka is having to lay low but is struggling to do this in a way she is  a new woman wanting to be equal wanting to be heard but this is dangerous for a girl with child that is unmarried could be killed for Honour .This is what Lamia is trying to do ,whilst seeing the world anew through this young girls eyes making this meek woman who maybe is an example of what woman have been in Algeria she gets stronger .As the two woman adjust to each other and the world outside .

Cherifka is bored .I’ve noticed that she’s become less voluble , less frivolous , she is brooding , preoccupied serious .I scarcely recognised her .She is like a caged bird that has forgotten how to sing , to splash in its bath , to hop and skip for joy – a joy it can scarcely remember , one too distant and to fleeting to gladden the heart .

Lamia sees how being held up in the house is affecting Cherifka , these lines remind me of the lines of Maya Angelou in a way .

This is in some ways a classic odd couple story , the pair Lamia and Cherifka in some ways to me reflect the two faces of woman in the modern Arab world Lamia has hidden herself and in her own way is a romantic living behind a wall in her own world with ghost but not really living as she has settle for the life she has .Cherifka is the modern girl wanting to live , having a boy before being married , wanting to be seen and heard in a world where woman should really be meek like Lamia .Boualem Sansal has lifted the veil on being a woman in Algeria , but not just that through Sofiane and his trying to leave Algeria he has shown the problems in the country a country rich in its own world with oil money but only for the few .Then there is the house and the city t,the house has itself been part of Algeria and its history and through these two woman is seeing another turn in the country’s history .I know Frank the translator really hopes this book gets a wider readership because its writer has a voice that needs to be heard , silenced  in his own country even here this book hasn’t really got the coverage a work of its quality and insight needs .

 

Have you a favourite book from Algeria ?

The Eagle’s throne by Carlos Fuentes

 

The Eagle’s throne by Carlos Fuentes

Mexican Fiction

Original title – La silla del águila

Translator – Kristina Cordero

Source – Personnel copy

 

Here we are, seeking out the Reds
Trying to keep the communists in order
Just remember when you’re sleeping in your beds
They’re only two days drive from the Texas border

How can a country large as ours be scared of such a threat
Well, if they won’t work for us, they’re against us you can bet
They may be sovereign countries but you folks at home forget
That they all want what we’ve got but they don’t know it yet

We’re making the world safe for capitalism

Billy Bragg wrote this song , The marching Ballard of the covert battalions ,the song is a satirical take on US foreign policy .

This was one of the first books I brought around the time I started the blog with the idea of  52 books from 52 countries , well of course that has long since been past and this book has sat on the shelf for over five years , I was attracted by both the fact it was a Fuentes novel , but also the great cover on this book a linocutout of an eagle is very eye-catching .Carlos Fuentes is probably the best known Mexican writer in his time a member of what is called the latin American boom ,he wrote over thirty novels , and was always a writer tipped for the Nobel prize .He supported Castro and was at one time investigated by FBI .I had thought i reviewed him before on the blog , but no this is the first by him on here .

Our modern communications system has suffered a grave paradox .On the one hand ,we strived to become part of the largest global communication network in existence .On the other hand , we have wanted to monopolise access to information for our Government’s benefit.

They put all their eggs in one basket so ended up getting cut off , when US struck back at them .

The eagles throne although written twelve years ago and set in 2020 , seems more apt now than it did at the time it was written .We are told the story in a series of letters , yes letters as the premise of the book is the the Mexican president and government in 2020 , has angered the US government  this has led to the US effectively removing all the modern communication tools from Mexico .So with letters are the only way contacting and keeping in touch .We see a change in life as people start to open up more in letters .The topic of course on the mind is how will take over The Eagle’s throne (the name of the seat of the president !) .So what we get is the inner workings of the Mexican government laid bare in letters as we see the leading figures and powerbrokers jostling for power and trying to get the throne and the blackout sorted .Also what secrets will be let out in the letters .

Ex-president Cesar Leon came to visit me .At first I didn’t even recognise him .That young man with wavy black hair is now a mature man with wavy white hair .Those matinée idol’s wavy locks are what define him for me , politically and morally as well as physically .They remind me of that old song “The waves of the lagoon” some waves come ,while others go .

I was struck by the opening of this letter it is so true , leaders do age when in power .

Now I said this is more meaningful now than twelve years ago , imagine the  present with out the chance to use smartphones , laptops etc .I doubt even Fuentes could see how much the world would move on and really even more on wireless communication , this is like the millenium bug happening a country thrown back to a time when the written word was the only way to contact one another .Another thread to this book is of course the relationship between mexico and the US , this strangely has changed as well (from the totally uniformed view of me ) it seems Mexico is growing and is often mentioned as one of those countries along side Brazil , China  and India that will one day hold more power in world affairs ,whereas the US has seen the world power shrinking in recent years .So Fuentes wrote this after fifty years of writing , it isn’t as epic as some of his other books but is said a unusal future take on the epistolary novel .I must not wait five years to have another book by Fuentes on the blog .

Have you read Fuentes

 

Outlaws by Javier Cercas

outlaws by Javier Cercas

Outlaws by Javier Cercas

Spanish fiction

Original title – Las leyes de la frontera

Translator – Anne McLean

Source – Library book

One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca source

Now I had thought of rereading Soldiers Salamis for this Spanish lit month then by chance I caught Javier Cercas interviewed on the radio four book show about Outlaws and before the interview had finished I had already clicked the order button on my library ordering system .I have featured Javier Cercas before his last book out in the UK was The anatomy of a moment a non fiction narrative about the attempted coup in the mid 1980’s in Spain .Javier Cercas is of course an award-winning spanish writer ,he and some fellow writers have spent years writing books focusing on the historical memory of Spain’s past between the civil war and Franco’s death .

“That was where I saw Zarco for the first time .The Vilaro arcade was on Bonastruc de porta street ,still in La Devesa neighbourhood ,across from the railway overpass .It was one of those amusement arcades for teenagers that proliferated in the seventies and eighties.

Ignacio first sees him at the arcade on the edge of their part of town .

Now this book is again about the time of Franco just after he has died the vacuum that Spain had  ,but for once he isn’t the important figure in the book, but  no this is a story of growing up  in the 1970’s in a large Spanish town  Gerona and a triangle of friends one Ignacio is from one side of town or as Cercas put it in the interview one side of the river he is a quiet timid one could say a perfect vision of a bookish boy .When one day he is playing pinball and his life is changed forever when two kids from the other side of town (the rough side ) ,start playing pinball with him these two Zanco and Tere ,take Ignacio into their circle and show him the other side of town for just one summer in 1978  .Now this is the first part of the tale the story is strong with what Cercas called his own childhood memories of where he grew up  ,although Ignacio isn’t autobiographical he said in part he was Ignacio  at that age .The second line of the story finds the three characters in the mid 90’s on different sides of the fence again Zarco has gone on to be a huge gangster who after Igancio went away has spent time in prison and has now via their other friend Tere reached out to their old friend to help Zarco who is now a folk-lore gangster .But in doing so each must reflect on their own past .Add to that Tere is a girl you can see what can happen .

“Then Tere got to the point .She told me they wanted me to defend Zarco at a trial to be held in Barcelona in a few months time ,a trail in which Zarco would be accused of assaulting two guards at Brains prison .Of course ,Tere took it for granted that I knew ,as everyone did ,who Zarco had turned into over the years

Tere find Ignacio to help their old friend

Now it’s fair to say I liked this book ,no in fact I loved this book and was so glad I caught the interview ,I know so people don’t like to know to much about a book before they read it but the interview with Cercas sold it more so to me I would have picked it up from the library at some point to read but the writer sold it to me .The book is one of those soaked in the writers own past ,but also a dreamed past of what would have happened if he had ventured more into his own childhood town dark side .But it is also a story of the bond of friendship those ties that bind and as in this case can cross class ,moral and personnel beliefs .Zarco is a character that many places have the heroic or infamous gangster a sort of superstar of the underworld . Ignacio is the boy done good and Tere is the sort of go between .In fact the spanish title laws of the border maybe tells you more about this book that is what it is a bout crossing borders in one’s life .

Have you read Cercas ?

Pig’s foot by Carlos Acosta

pigs foot

Pig’s Foot by Carlos Acosta

Cuban fiction

Original title –  Pata de Puerco

Translator – Frank Wynne

Source – from Frank the translator of the book .

Well when I first heard last year that Carlos Acosta had a novel out ,I was a bit sceptical the whole celeb writing novel is never a real winning formula in my Opinion .Carlos  is someone I have been aware of for a number of years as one of the face of Ballet ,where he has been a star of the Royal ballet and is considered the greatest male dancer of his generation .It wasn’t till I saw Frank’s name attached to the book as the translator , I knew this was more than a run of the mill celeb writes novel (May be awful but celeb names sell books is my usual view on celeb novels and why they come out  ) .

Beuno … Ok .. the first thing you need to know about me is I never knew my mother or my father ,in fact I only found their names a couple of months ago .My memories begin on the day i came home from primary school dragging a dead cat by the scruff of the neck .I must have been about seven .

What happen before he was seven has he blocked this out ?

So pig’s foot is the of a family told by its last surviving member as he holds the pig’s foot  amulet a family talisman passed through the generations .Also to the very small village in the hinterland of Cuba is  were a  family story and the story of Cuba during the past four generations is told .So from Oscar and Jose who were  Slaves  that helped in the freedom  and end up settling in the village after Cuba gets it Independence in the 1850 ,we see the the next generation through the eyes of three children relate to another Oscar in the present day the last of this family line .alive , as the years past we see the good and bad of Cuba ,from the rise of Us involvement to the fall of the regime that was toppled by Castro .

I looked at the pendant in disgust .The pig’s foot was not dried and shrivelled ,in fact seemed to be alive ;the veins pulsed ,the flesh was red and bled constantly .I fetched a damp cloth to wipe up the blood inside the drawer and on the floor then ran back into the kitchen and threw the gruesome amulet in the bin .

The amulet comes to life ,this remind me a bit of Marquez .

Now I loved another Cuban novel  I reviewed ,well  novel isn’t  the right word it’s actually a collection of vignettes about Cuba .The book view of the tropics in the  dawn  by Guillermo Cabrera Infante ,this book also follows Cuba through snippets from independence to the Castro took over so actually serves well as a companion to this book ,Carlos book is on a more personnel level but also shows the struggles Cuba have had since its independence .I read an interview with Carlos about the writing of the book and the writers he loves and he read his first book in his twenties and it was a book by Marquez and the is touches of magic realism in this narrative ,he also loves the writing  Borges ,which for me I felt more as there is a lot of looking where the modern Oscar comes from about the mirror of his life almost and to me that is a very Borges thing to do .As ever frank has work wonders on this book ,Carlos even thanked Frank for his input to the final edition .You will remember I had this on my IFFP prediction its a shame it missed it the book is more than a celeb novel ,in fact it could be the first step for Carlos Acosta in a post dance career .

Have you ever read a celeb novel that is as good as this one ?

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