Monthly Archives: August 2013

Happy birthday, Julio Cortázar!

Julio CortázarJulio Cortázar was born Aug. 26, 1916 in Belgium and died in 1984 in Paris. But he was raised in Argentina and, with his inventive novels and short stories, he’s considered one of Latino literature’s finest writers.

Cortázar was one of the leaders of the Latin American boom in literature of the 1960s, along with Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa. His best known novel, Hopscotch, celebrates is 50th anniversary this year. The novel may be as well known for its structure — readers can choose to read the chapters in whatever order they want — as much for its plot — about a man dealing with the strange turn of events in his life. (Here’s a great article about the book from the LA Review of Books and here’s an interesting look from The New York Times at the cover design process for the newly designed book jacket.)

Cortázar also wrote the short story “Las babas del diablo” (“The Devil’s Drivel”), which inspired the 1966 movie Blowup and is part of the collection Blow-Up: And Other Stories.

Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia, Amazon.com

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Happy Independence Day, Uruguay!

Uruguay declared its independence from Brazil on Aug. 25, 1825. The South American country is one of the most progressive nations in the continent, recently passing laws legalizing marijuana and same sex marriage. Its writers are just as progressive:

felisberto+hernandezFelisberto Hernandez (1902-1964) is considered one of the fathers of magic realism, paving the way for other Latin American novelists such as Julio Cortázar and Gabriel García Márquez, who said, “If I hadn’t read the stories of Felisberto Hernández in 1950, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today.” His short stories — including his most famous, “The Daisy Dolls” — are collected in the book Lands of Memory.

OnettiJuan Carlos Onetti (1909-1994) won the Cervantes Prize, one of the most prestigious awards given to Spanish language novelists. His novels, including La vida breve (A Brief Life) and El astillero (The Shipyard), feature characters struggling with the meaning of their lives.

cristina-peri-rossiCristina Peri Rossi has added a feminist viewpoint to Latin American literature in her poetry, short stories and novels, including The Ship of Fools. She now lives in Spain, where she works as a journalist.

Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, The Village Voice, Amazon.com

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Classic book review: Gabriel García Márquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude”

100 Years of SolitudeGabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (Harper Perennial) has been named frequently on literature’s all-time greatest book lists. It also ranks high on Good Reads’ “didn’t finished” list. I can see how it made both lists.

Solitude defeated me once before. I attempted to read it when Oprah Winfrey put it in her book club, but I quit when I couldn’t keep up with all the characters. (I was able to complete and enjoy Love in the Time of Cholera.)

This time, I was prepared, ready to take notes and absorb this greatly loved story.

The book has an aura about it. It was released in 1968 during the Latin American boom in literature in the 1960s. The novel helped García Márquez win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. The book has numerous fans — including former President Bill Clinton — and it even makes an appearance in the Tom Hanks movie Turner and Hooch.

The novel covers the Buendía family over four generations in the town of Macando, founded by José Arcadio Buendia. García Márquez is an innovator of magic realism, so the villagers experience insomnia together and its rains endlessly for years. But the characters also experience real life — love, heartache, work, illness, death.

“It was as if God had decided to put to the test every capacity for surprise and was keeping the inhabitants of Macondo in a permanent alternation between excitement and disappointment, doubt and revelation, to such an extreme that no one knew for certain where the limits of reality lay.”

García Márquez writes in long sentences and paragraphs that makes the book seems longer than its 421 pages. The book, translated by Gregory Rabassa, demands intense concentration as García Márquez gives long descriptions and plenty of action, but little dialogue. Fortunately, the book had a family tree that I frequently referred to since so many characters share similar names.

Readers are rewarded with beautiful language — rich in description, humor and theme. And the stories are wonderfully crazy. One character, a colonel in the the military, insists no one come more than 10 feet of him. One woman kills men with her beauty. And, near the end, one shocking incident happens that uses both magic realism and hard core reality.

Solitude can be a challenge, but it’s a terrific challenge.

Gabriel Garcia MarquezMore about Gabriel García Márquez:

Born in Aracataca, Colombia, in 1928, García Márquez is one of the best beloved writers in the world. His other books include News of a Kidnapping and Memories of My Melancholy Whores.

 Source: I purchased this book.

Note: This review is part of my series of classic Latino novels. Up next: Oscar Hijuelos’ The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.

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The Hispanic Reader is two!

The Hispanic Reader is two years today! And with our last post, a review of Javier Mácias’ The Infatuations, this blog has marked another milestone – 75 book reviews. Let’s look at these books:

MyBelovedWorldType of books:

  • 53: Novels
  • 6: Memoirs, including My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
  • 5: Short story collections
  • 4: Essay collections
  • 4: Non-Fiction
  • 3: Graphic books/Picture books

Death of Artemio CruzGender of authors:

Settings of book:

Note: Some books take place in more than one country. (And, in case you’re wondering, I kept a spreadsheet of these details.)

say-her-name-jpg-ccfb2220605708e3First book reviewed: Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman

Shortest book: Have You Seen Marie? by Sandra Cisneros, 112 pages, much of which were illustrations

Longest book: The Time in Between by Maria Duenas, 624 pages

AlephBorgesNumber of contemporary books (released during the blog’s existence): 58

Number of classic books (released before the blog’s existence): 17

Oldest Book: The Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges, released in 1949

Favorite title:The+Hummingbird's+Daughter Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Favorite ending: When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago

Favorite book: The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea

Best passages:

From The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea

“If you are too blind to see God in a Goddamned taco … then you are truly blind.”

From Loving Pedro Infante by Denise Chávez

“There’s nothing a Mejicano or Mejicana loves more than the burning, stinging pain of thwarted, frustrated, hopeless, soulful, take-it-to-the-grave love. Nothing gets us going more than what I call rabia/love of the te-juro-you’re-going-to-pay-for-all-the-suffering-you-caused-me variety.”

From The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

“I kept waiting to run into my family posting up flyers of me on the boardwalk … but the closest I came to any of that was someone had put up for a cat they lost. That’s white people for you. They lost a cat and it’s an all-points bulletin, but we Dominicans, we lost a daughter and we might not even cancel our appointment at the salon.”

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Book review: Javier Marías’ “The Infatuations”

The Infatuations Javier Marías’ The Infatuations (Knopf) begins with an intriguing premise.

A young woman, María Dolz, eats breakfast every morning at a café in Madrid that is frequented by an attractive couple, Luisa and Miguel.

“The nicest thing about them was seeing how much they enjoyed each other’s company. At an hour when almost no one is in the mood for anything, still less for fun and games, they talked non-stop laughing and joking, as if they had only just met or met for the every first time.”

One day, she discovers Miguel is murdered. She becomes friends with Luisa as well as with Javier, a friend of the couple who helps the widow out after her husband’s death. María becomes entranced by the mystery of Miguel’s death — and Javier may have played a role in the part.

The Infatuations sounds like a great thriller, but it’s more intellectual. Whether you’ll like it depends on your tastes in literature.

The characters often talk in long monologues than can go on for paragraphs or even pages. Who talks like that? At times, I wanted the story to hurry up and get to some action. The book — which ran about 50 pages too long — is best read in small doses.

But those long pages of conversations also had elegant writing (translated by the great Margaret Jull Costa, who also translated José Saramago’s Cain and Paulo Coelho’s Aleph). Marías has some great observations about the human condition.

On memory:

“We gradually learn that what seems really important now will one day seem a mere fact, a neutral piece of information. We learn that there will come a time when we don’t even give a thought to the person we once couldn’t live without and over whom we spent sleepless nights, without whom life seemed impossible, on whose words and presence we depended day after day, and if we ever do, very occasionally give that person a thought, it will merely be to shrug and think at most: ‘I wonder what became of her?’ without a flicker of concern or curiosity.”

On fate:

“The bad thing about terrible misfortunes, the kind that tear us apart and appears to be unendurable, is that those who suffer them believe or almost demand that the world should end right there, and yet the world pays no heed and carries on regardless and even tugs at the sleeve of the person who suffered the misfortune, I mean, it won’t just let them depart this world the way a disgruntled spectator might leave the theatre, unless the unfortunate person kills him or herself.”

On relationships:

“We think men will change their mind or their beliefs, that they will gradually discover that they can’t do without us, that we will be the exception in their lives or the visitors who end up staying, that they will eventually grow tired of those other invisible women whose existence we begin to doubt or whom we prefer to think do not exist, the more we see of the men and the more we love them despite ourselves; that we will be the chosen ones if only we have the necessary staying power to remain by their side, uncomplaining and uninsistent.”

Patient readers will be rewarded with an interesting twist about the murder. The ending also makes you think about the significance of the title and how people can get caught up in each other’s lives. Think of The Infatuations as literary fiction with a wicked side.

Javier_MaríasMore about Javier Marías:

Marías, who was born in Madrid, is considered one of Spain’s top contemporary novelists. He has written thirteen novels, including the award-winning The Man of Feeling, All Souls and A Heart So White.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Happy birthday, Jorge Amado!

Jorge AmadoJorge Amado was born on Aug. 10, 1912 in Brazil and died Aug. 6, 2001. His 32 books won international acclaim for reflecting his homeland’s culture and people, including blacks and working people.

His best known novels are 1958’s Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, about a migrant worker who changes life in a village with the help of a beautiful cook, and 1966’s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, about a widow who finds a new love — and then her first husband shows up. Actress Sonia Braga appeared in the TV version of Gabriela and the 1976 movie of Dona Flor.

His politics were controversial. He was a Communist, and lived in exile in Europe when the Brazilian government banned the party, although he eventually left the party.

But his books were well-loved and were translated in 49 languages. His 100th birthday last year was celebrated with many events, including the reissuing of two novels and other celebrations. The BBC ran this great story about his life and work last year. Here is his obituary from 2001 from The Guardian. And check out the website for the Jorge Amado Foundation.

Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, BBC, Amazon.com, Jorge Amado Foundation

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Happy Independence Day, Bolivia!

Bolivia declared its independence from Spain on Aug. 6, 1825. The South American country, named after Simon Bolivar, is located in the Andean Mountains.

Yolanda_Bedregal• Poet Yolanda Bedregal (1913-1999) has published more than 20 books of poetry and novels, including Bajo el oscuro sol, about a woman’s struggles during a revolution. The government of Bolivia gives out a poetry award in her name.

Edmundo Paz SoldanEdmundo Paz Soldán is considered the country’s best-known contemporary novelist, winning awards and a Guggenheim Fellowship. His novels, including Turing’s Delirium and The Matter of Desire, frequently cover the politics in Latin America. He currently lives in the United States and has taught at Cornell University.

Giovanna Rivero• Another contemporary novelist, Giovanna Rivero has written several novels and short story collections, including Sangre dulce/Sweet Blood. Visit her blog.

Sources: Washington University in St. Louis, Wikipedia, Good Reads, A Year of Reading the World blog

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