domingo, 31 de agosto de 2008

Dom Casmurro

Dom Casmurro (1997 hardback)
by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
Brazil, 1899
ISBN 0-19-51038-4

"I turned to face her; Capitu had her eyes on the ground. She soon lifted them, slowly, and we stood there looking at one another... Childhood confession, I could give two or three pages over to you, but I must be economical. The truth is, we said nothing; the wall said it all for us. We did not move, but our hands stretched out little by little, all four of them, taking hold of each other, clasping each other, melting into one another. I didn't take down the exact time of the gesture. I should have done so; I regret not having a note written that same night, which I could reproduce here with all its spelling mistakes: though it would have none, such was the difference between the scholar and the adolescent. I knew all the rules of orthography, but had no suspicion of the rules of love; I had gone through orgies of Latin and was a virgin with women.

We did not unclasp our hands, nor did they drop of their own accord, out of weariness or inattention. Our eyes stared into one another, then looked away, strayed for a while, then came back to each other again... A future priest, I faced her as before an altar: one of her cheeks was the Epistle and the other the Gospel. Her mouth might have been the chalice, her lips the paten. All I needed was to say a new mass, according to a Latin that no one learns at school, and is the catholic language of mankind. Don't think me sacrilegious, devout lady reader; the purity of the intention cleanses anything unorthodox in the style. We stood there with heaven within us. Our hands, their nerve ends touching, made two creatures one: a single, seraphic being. Our eyes went on saying infinite things, and the words did not even try to pass our lips: they went back to the heart as silently as they had come..." (Machado de Assis, 28-29)

While Brazilian culture's never had the death-grip on my imagination that fiction and films from France, Italy, and the Spanish-speaking world have lorded over me for years, Dom Casmurro went a long ways toward changing that during the brief amount of time I was lost in its pages. A worthy rival to Lampedusa's The Leopard for the best fictional non-fiction I've come across this year, this slyly chatty novel poses as the giddy first-person account of Rio de Janeiro native Bento Santiago's 1857 schoolboy romance with his beautiful neighbor Capitu Pádua, told some forty years after the fact when one lover's jealousy and a series of unkind surprises from life for both have taken their inevitable toll on the couple's first moments of teenage happiness.

Bento's no 19th-century pícaro to be sure, but he's just as disarming and witty a narrator as our old friend Lazarillo de Tormes. Always fussing over the sequence of events in his manuscript and worrying about how the reader will react to his telling of the story of the first love of his heart, he cuts a very charming, convincing and credible figure as a memoirist even as doubts begin to surface about the reliability of his judgement and memory. In addition, he's surrounded by a well-drawn cast of characters prone to making grand statements about life being like an opera ("God is the poet, the music is by Satan, [and the] special theater, this planet" [18-19])--not bad for a consciously "literary" romance set in a land wracked by fever epidemics, floods, leprosy and slavery, no? A great read.

  • Machado de Assis, Joaquim Maria. Dom Casmurro (translated by John Gledson). New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Machado de Assis

miércoles, 27 de agosto de 2008

¡Idiotas del día!

Queridos Lectores:

Aunque hay muchas personas "dignas" del premio de "idiotas del día" cada día, las líderes amerikkkanas de la LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) son las recipientes de hoy para su discriminación, falta de hospitalidad, y estupidez mezquina en cuanto a una iniciativa "English only" en el "mundo" de deportes. Véase el artículo "Report: LPGA to Force Players to Learn English" aquí para entender porque me averguenzo de mis compatriotas esta noche y la respuesta "LPGA's Message is Loud and Unfair" aquí para ver la otra cara de la moneda. Mientras tanto, gracias a "SJ" de los "message boards" de MSNBC para poner las cosas en su sitio: "What's next? All Olympic athletes have to learn and speak Greek?"

domingo, 24 de agosto de 2008


Là-Bas [a/k/a The Damned, a/k/a Down There] (2001 paperback)
by J.-K. Huysmans
France, 1891
ISBN 0-140-44767-9

"Whatever you say about Charles VII pales into insignificance when you see Foucquet's portrait of him in the Louvre. I have often paused in front of that bestial face, a face in which I can clearly distinguish the snout of a pig, the eyes of the provincial money-lender and the sanctimonious, bloated lips of a prelate. The figure in Foucquet's painting resembles a debauched priest with a bad cold sunk in wine-induced self-pity! Skim off the fat and reheat the dish through and you can also see the same personality type--less salacious perhaps, more prudent in his cruelty, more obstinate and cunning--as his son and successor, King Louis XI. Nonetheless, this was the man who had Jean Sans Peur assassinated and who abandoned Jeanne d'Arc. I rest my case." (Huysmans, 38-39)

I think I first read parts of this deliciously juicy, odd, and truly cynical narrative fifteen to twenty years ago in one of my earliest encounters with the French proto-surrealist canon, but the Orbis Terrarum Challenge provided me with the perfect pretext to revisit its late-19th century world. While the work begins with an attack on the modern novel's naturalism-obsessed aesthetics that's halfway between a debate and a lecture, it quickly evolves into a scornful condemnation of the modern age itself--so pleased with itself for advances in medical science and inventions like electricity and yet further and further removed from the religious ecstasies and theological certainties of the Middle Ages. As if to accentuate this generational chasm, Huysmans wickedly introduces an age-old metafictional ploy, the presentation of a book within a book, in the form of a biography that's being written by the protagonist Durtal about a real-life 15th century soldier and mystic. His subject? None other than the infamous child murderer and heretic and one-time Joan of Arc loyalist Gilles de Rais, research into whom leads our fictional biographer into a shadow world of 19th-century fin-de-siècle Parisians engaging in Satanism, spiritualism, and other such occult practices in their own quest for some sort of spiritual meaning in the here and now. If this sounds like unduly heavy reading, not to worry. Huysmans' prose is full of an adjectival fury that's frequently hysterical to behold, and his characters, prone to constant diatribes against this, that and the other target du jour of their pre-blogging day and age, are rarely dull. However, this might not be the ideal book for you if you're offended by the notion of a sex scene taking place on a mattress strewn with communion wafers or bothered by the people of southern France being described as a race of "dull-eyed, olive-skinned chocolate munchers and garlic crushers" (41). In other words, a controversial classic!

sábado, 23 de agosto de 2008

The Last Mistress

Une vieille maîtresse
Directed by Catherine Breillat
France and Italy, 2007
In French with English subtitles

Uneven but entertaining period piece set in 1835, "au siècle de Choderlos de Laclos" as we're told at the outset. I never figured out whether this film was trying to mimic that novelist or to mock him, but a small dose of gore and an even bigger serving of nudity appear meant to modernize Les Liaisons dangereuses for jaded 21st century sensibilities. Asia Argento is positively bewitching as the half-Spanish/half-Italian courtesan from Málaga who scandalizes Parisian society types with her unapologetically carnal behavior, but her fearless and feral performance (the best thing about this movie by far) is way more convincing than her character's long-term love affair with dissolute pretty boy Reyno de Marigny (Fuad Ait Aattou)--who isn't really all that interesting a figure when it comes right down to it. The script, brought to the screen with a certain emotional verve thanks to the exquisite cinematography and evocative background music that complement the narrative's gilt-edged tropes on love and desire, is based on an 1851 roman by Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly which was criticized for its immorality.
Asia Argento as La Vellini

martes, 19 de agosto de 2008

The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop?

The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop? (2007 hardback)
by Francisco Goldman
USA, 2007
ISBN 0-8021-1828-3

On April 26, 1998, 75-year old Guatemala City Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera was bludgeoned to death in the garage of his parish house in what many considered Guatemala's "crime of the century" (Goldman, 52). While various theories would be floated in an attempt to pass off the killing as the work of drug-addled vagrants, a crime of passion, an organized gang of traffickers in church relics, and even a dog attack, The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop? masterfully chronicles the high-profile trial that eventually led to the convictions of three members of Guatemala's Presidential Military Staff and Military Intelligence and one member of Bishop Gerardi's own household for their collusion in an "extrajudicial execution"--essentially a politically-motivated assassination of the bishop for his role in the production of a 1400-page report, Guatemala: Never Again, documenting the role of the army and Military Intelligence in the massacres of thousands of innocent civilians during the government's 36-year civil war with leftist guerrillas. Goldman's book, part legal thriller and part real-life whodunit, is both fascinating and depressing. Based on over eight years worth of interviews and reporting, the work is an organizational marvel at reconstructing the extremely complicated chain of events from the night of the crime to the ongoing investigation and pursuit of false leads on through to the dramatic trial and last-ditch series of appeals. At the same time, the constant threats of kidnapping, torture and murder faced by many of the witnesses, prosecution members, and their families throughout the long drawn out judicial process make for grim reading for anyone concerned about Guatemala's future. Goldman's belief that those convicted probably only represented a small number of co-conspirators who were party to the crime is equally unsettling. Despite this, this is an important and utterly compelling read. (
  • Goldman, Francisco. The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop? New York: Grove Press, 2007.

  • Guatemala: Nunca Más: Informe del Proyecto Interdiocesano de Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica is available in print in Spanish (four volumes) and in English (one volume, abridged). Parts are also available online--along with other information about Bishop Gerardi such as the photo above--at , which is a site maintained by the Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado de Guatemala.

jueves, 14 de agosto de 2008

El invierno en Lisboa

El invierno en Lisboa (2006 libro de bolsillo)
por Antonio Muñoz Molina
España, 1987
ISBN 84-322-1722-0

"En la Gran Vía, junto al resplandor helado de los ventanales de la Telefónica, se apartó un poco de mí para comprar tabaco en un puesto callejero. Cuando lo vi volver, alto y oscilante, las manos hundidas en los bolsillos de su gran abrigo abierto y con las solapas levantadas, entendí que había en él esa intensa sugestión de carácter que tienen siempre los portadores de una historia, como los portadores de un revólver. Pero no estoy haciendo una vana comparación literaria: él tenía una historia y guardaba un revólver". (Muñoz Molina, 16)

Madrid, San Sebastián y Lisboa son los tres marcos geográficos en este interesantísimo thriller (galardonado con el Premio de la Crítica y el Premio Nacional de Literatura en 1988), una especie de film noir literario también influida por los rítmos y la mitología del jazz. Aunque un narrador sin nombre cuenta la mayor parte de la historia de Santiago Biralbo, el hilo argumental se revela con un estilo elíptico que riende homenaje a la estructura de las canciones de jazz y de recuerdos medio olvidados. Hay muchas escenas retrospectivas, confesiones de bar, etcétera, todas presentadas de manera interesante, pero el núcleo de "cine negro" de la trama tiene que ver con el amor prohibido entre el pianista Biralbo y la casada Lucrecia. Su romance y los círculos en los que se mueven lo llevan a una situación donde Lucrecia y luego Biralbo tienen que huir para salvar sus vidas. Es una historia atrapante.

Muñoz Molina es un gran estilista, y sabe apreciar los detalles. Sus clubes y bares huelen a cerveza y bourbon, por ejemplo, pero un comentario de su narrador sutilmente llama la atención al consumo de drogas de un batería: "Nunca bebía alcohol: al alcance de su mano había siempre un refresco de naranja. 'Buby es un puritano', me había dicho Biralbo, 'sólo toma heroína" (125). Irónicamente, esta mezcla de "realismo sucio" y el cinismo latente de sus personajes intensifica lo pensativo logrado por la historia de amor. Si les gustan el film noir clásico y/o el jazz de los tugurios, aquí se puede encontrar su equivalente en la narrativa española moderna. Fuertemente recomendado. (


Winter in Lisbon (1999 paperback)
by Antonio Muñoz Molina (translated by Sonia Soto)
Spain, 1987
ISBN: 1-86207-166-7

"On the Gran Vía, by the cold gleaming windows of the Telefónica building, he went over to a kiosk to buy cigarettes. As I watched him walk back, tall, swaying, hands sunk in the pockets of his large open overcoat with the collar turned up, I realized that he had that strong air of character one always finds in people who carry a past, as in those who carry a gun. These aren't vague literary comparisons: he did have a past, and he kept a gun." (8, translation by Sonia Soto)

Madrid, San Sebastian and Lisbon are the three geographical loci in this super-interesting thriller (recipient of Spain's Critics' Prize and National Literature Award in 1988), a kind of literary film noir that's also influenced by the rhythms and mythology of jazz. Although an unnamed narrator tells the lion's share of Santiago Biralbo's story, the narrative thread as such is revealed in an elliptical style that pays homage to the structure of jazz compositions and of half-forgotten memories. There are many flashbacks, barroom confessions and the like presented in a very interesting way, but the noir nucleus of the story centers around pianist Biralbo's obsessive love affair with the married Lucrecia. Their affair and the circles they travel in lead to a situation where first Lucrecia and then Biralbo have to flee for their lives. It's a gripping story.

Muñoz Molina is a great stylist, and he has a wonderful eye for detail. His clubs and bars reek of bourbon and beer, for example, but one of his narrator's asides casually draws attention to a drummer's drug use: "He never drank alcohol and always had a glass of orange juice within reach. 'Buby's a puritan,' Biralbo told me once. 'He takes only heroin.' " (118-119). Ironically, this mix of dirty realism and blatant cynicism on the part of his characters only heightens the sense of wistfulness induced by the love story. If you like classic film noir and/or dive bar jazz, prepare to meet its Spanish fictional equivalent. Highly recommended. (

  • Muñoz Molina, Antonio. El invierno en Lisboa. Barcelona: Editorial Seix Barral, 2006 [1987].
  • _____. Winter in Lisbon. London: Granta Books, 1999 [1987].

martes, 12 de agosto de 2008

Orbis Terrarum Challenge

It would be nice to find out about some of these reading challenges before they were halfway over, but this one's international focus is too difficult to resist! Hosted by Bethany of the B&b ex libris blog, the goal of this challenge is to read "9 different books, written by 9 different authors, from 9 different countries." You can check out the full scoop on the challenge here or hopscotch over here Cortázar style to see some of the linked book reviews from various challenge participants. In the meantime, the countries/books I plan on "visiting" as part of my 2008 world tour are as follows:
  • ARGENTINA: Mantra (Rodrigo Fresán)
  • CHILE: 2666 (Roberto Bolaño)
  • FRANCE: Là-Bas [The Damned] (J.-K. Huysmans) (review)
  • IRAQ: Maqamat (al-Hariri) (review)
  • IRELAND: Melmoth the Wanderer (Charles Maturin)
  • ITALY: Non ti muovere [Don't Move] (Margaret Mazzantini)
  • JAPAN: All She Was Worth (Miyuki Miyabe) (review)
  • MEXICO: Los de abajo [The Underdogs] (Mariano Azuela) (review)
  • SPAIN: El invierno en Lisboa [Winter in Lisbon] (Antonio Muñoz Molina) (review)


  • ARGENTINA: Cicatrices (Juan José Saer) (review)
  • CHILE: Estrella distante [Distant Star] (Roberto Bolaño) (review)
  • ENGLAND: She (H. Rider Haggard) (review)
  • ITALY: Gomorra [Gomorrah] (Roberto Saviano) (review)


Flamenco (2003 DVD)
Dirigida por Carlos Saura
España, 1994
En español con subtítulos en inglés

"El Flamenco aparece en Andalucía en el sur de España a mediados del siglo XIX como una consecuencia del cruce de pueblos, religiones y culturas que dan lugar a un nuevo tipo de música. Crótalos griegos, jarchas mozárabes, cantos gregorianos, romances de Castilla y lamentos judíos. El son de la negritud, y el acento del pueblo gitano que viene de la lejana India para quedarse aquí. Se entremezclan para formar la estructura musical de lo que hoy llamamos el Flamenco y que se expresa mediante el cante, el baile, y la guitarra".

Vi este gran espectáculo multimedia en un estado de euforia. Después de lo dicho arriba (las únicas palabras que no son cantadas en el curso del documental), Flamenco se abre con una maravillosa interpretación de "Bulerías" por parte de Paquera de Jerez y otros (abajo). Si no fue exactamente un aficionado al Flamenco anteriormente, sí soy ahora a causa de la combinación de "cante, baile y guitarra" tan llena de vigor que se ve en este DVD. He visto el capítulo que contiene "Bulerías" cinco o seis veces en los últimos dos días, por ejemplo, y quedo estupefacto cada vez.

Milagrosamente, las más que veinte escenas que siguen este gran principio son casi de la misma alta calidad. Con cerca de 300 personas entre su "elenco", Saura nos ofrece una visión panorámica del Flamenco que llama la atención a varios estilos regionales al mismo tiempo que su obra parece ser una especie de albúm familiar andaluz (uno de los placeres de Flamenco es lo de ver ancianos y jovenes se convierten en "estrellas" de sus propios momentos de fama). Dado que soy nuevo en el ofico, no puedo decir cuán "auténtica" es esta música; sin obstante, solo afirmo lo obvio en decir que todas estas interpretaciones--como el grito gitano a capella del cantaor Agujetas abajo--son definidas por su intensidad artística.

Saura rodó este documental a la Antigua Estación de Ferrocarriles en Sevilla con la ayuda del reconocido cinematógrafo Vittorio Storaro. Aunque la cantidad de músicos, bailadores y otros participantes es impresionante en sí misma, Saura y Storaro sutilmente nos recuerda que este grupo brillante representa una cultura inconfundiblemente andaluza por rodar varias escenas con los colores "regionales" de sol a sol como telón de fondo. Entre los extras en el DVD estadounidense, se encuentra más información sobre los artistas y los géneros de esta música. Al final del día, no hay nada mas que decir: Flamenco es una obra que me encanta.

viernes, 8 de agosto de 2008

A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca

by Andrés Reséndez
USA, 2007
ISBN 978-0-465-06840-1

"For sheer drama and excitement, the journey of Cabeza de Vaca and his companions remains unrivaled, even by the adventurous standards of the Age of Exploration. Out of 300 men who set out to colonize Florida in 1528, only four survived: Cabeza de Vaca, two other Spaniards, and Estebanico. They became stranded. And to reenter European-controlled territory, they were forced into a harrowing passage on makeshift rafts across the Gulf of Mexico, years of captivity in what is now Texas, and a momentous walk across the continent all the way to the Pacific coast.

This small band of men thus became the first outsiders to behold what would become the American Southwest and northern Mexico, the first non-natives to describe this enormous land and its peoples. Conversely, innumerable natives living in the interior of the continent experienced the passage of the three Spaniards and the African as an extraordinary portent, a first brush with the world beyond America. The natives called the four travelers 'the children of the sun' because they seemed to have come from such unimaginably remote lands." (Reséndez, 2-3)

For our latest installment in the Back to History Challenge, I'm pleased to note that Andrés Reséndez, a professor of history at UC Davis who hails from Mexico City, has written an outstanding companion piece to Naufragios called A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca. Although I chose the quote above to start with in part because it does such an effective job of selling Cabeza de Vaca's story, I also like it because Reséndez' sensitivity in considering both sides' reactions to this early New World encounter is typical of his style. As a result, his book, accurately described as "the extraordinary tale of a shipwrecked Spaniard who walked across America in the sixteenth century," is just a delight. What's more, reading this text side by side with Cabeza de Vaca's own version of events will probably only increase your appreciation of the original.

Where Naufragios basically begins in media res, for example, Reséndez thankfully backtracks to provide biographical information on ill-starred expedition leader Pánfilo de Narváez and a wealth of background info on Spain's maritime activities in the 16th century. Moving ahead to the even juicier parts of Cabeza de Vaca's narrative, Reséndez' history is equally adept at filling in the various lacunae that are either glossed over or left unaddressed in that early chronicle. An epilogue concerning what happened to the four survivors after they returned to "civilization" is particularly moving. All in all, this is an extremely engaging and eye-opening account that should be of interest whether or not you've ever read Naufragios in the first place. In addition, there are a host of carefully-chosen maps and images and a full 18 pages worth of suggestions for further reading for those who want to know more about the world of the four survivors--Cabeza de Vaca, Castillo, Dorantes, and the slave Estebanico--"who were European and African by birth...but becoming American by experience" (10). A superb read.

  • Reséndez, Andrés. A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca. New York: Basic Books, 2007.

Bonus: Click here for a nice interview with Professor Reséndez where he talks about his book.

miércoles, 6 de agosto de 2008


Naufragios (libro de bolsillo, 2003)
por Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca
España, 1542 y 1555
ISBN 84-376-0851-1

"Los indios, de ver el desastre que nos había venido y el desastre en que estábamos, con tanta desventura y miseria, se sentaron entre nosotros, y con el gran dolor y lástima que hubieron de vernos en tanta fortuna, comenzaron todos a llorar recio, y tan de verdad, que lejos de allí, se podía oír, y esto les duró más de media hora. Cierto ver que estos hombres tan sin razón y tan crudos, a manera de brutos, se dolían tanto de nosotros, hizo que en mí y en otros de la compañía creciese más la pasión y la consideración de nuestra desdicha". (Cabeza de Vaca, 121)

Este libro fue un verdadero encanto. Un clásico de la literatura hispanoamericana colonial, la obra es la relación en primera persona de Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, el tesorero de la expedición de Pánfilo de Narváez a conquistar la Florida en 1527 para el entonces rey Carlos V de España. Después de una serie de desventuras e un errabundeo de nueve años en las tierras que ahora pertenecen a los Estados Unidos y México, Cabeza de Vaca reapareció al lado opuesto del continente en 1536 como uno de sólo cuatro sobrevivientes (tres españoles e un esclavo de Marruecos) del proyecto. Seis años más tarde, escribió este testimonio para compartir con su rey todo lo que pasó durante los años "que por muchas y muy extrañas tierras que anduve perdido y en cueros" (76).

No tengo ganas de entrar en el debate sobre la veracidad de Cabeza de Vaca como narrador aquí (si quiere saber más, veáse los comentarios agudos del editor Juan Francisco Maura en su introducción a esta edición), pero hasta un simple resumen de los "ingredientes" de su historia incluiría asuntos como huracanes, ataques dirigidos a o sufridos por parte de varios grupos de indígenas, episodios de hambre e incluso del canibalismo, un periodo de esclavitud para los españoles, otros periodos de vivir en paz con los "indios", varios ahogos, etcétera. ¿Increíble o sencillamente difícil creer? Cada uno tendrá su propria respuesta, pero a lo largo de su narración Cabeza de Vaca nunca deja sorpresarnos. Además, muchas de las escenas narradas parecen proceder de experiencias auténticas como la de los indios en la cita arriba. La nota: ¡totalmente divertido: cinco estrellas de cinco estrellas!


"The Indians, upon seeing the disaster that had befallen us and the disastrous circumstances which we were in with so much misfortune and misery, sat down among us. And with the great grief and pity that they had in seeing us in such straits, they all began to cry so loudly and so earnestly that the wailing could be heard very far away from there. They did this for more than half an hour. To be sure, seeing that these men so lacking in reason and so primitive, in the manner of beasts, were so grief-stricken over us, only increased the agony and the reflections about our wretched situation in me and others in my company." (Cabeza de Vaca, 121)

This book was a sheer pleasure. A classic of Spanish-American colonial literature, the work is the first-person account of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, the treasurer on Pánfilo de Nárvaez' expedition to conquer Florida in 1527 for the then king Carlos V of Spain. After a series of misfortunes and nine years spent wandering in lands that now belong to the United States and Mexico, Cabeza de Vaca reappeared on the other side of the continent in 1536 as one of only four survivors (three Spaniards and one slave from Morocco) of the mission. Six years later, he wrote this testimonial for his king to convey everything that had happened during the years when he passed "through the many and very strange lands where I wandered lost and in animal hides" (76).

I don't want to enter into the debate about the truthfulness of Cabeza de Vaca as a narrator here (those wanting to know more should see editor Juan Francisco's Maura's trenchant comments in his introduction to this edition), but even a simple summary of the "ingredients" of his story would include matters like hurricanes, attacks directed at or received from various indigenous groups, portrayals of starvation and even of cannibalism, a period of enslavement for the Spaniards, other periods of living in peace with the "Indians," various drownings, etc. An incredible story or just difficult to believe? Everybody will have their own response to that, but Cabeza de Vaca never once fails to surprise us throughout the length of his narrative. In addition, many of the narrated scenes seem to come from authentic experiences such as the one about the Indians in the quote above. Grade: totally entertaining--five out of five stars!

  • Cabeza de Vaca, Álvar Núñez. Naufragios (edición de Juan Francisco Maura). Madrid: Cátedra, 2003. (

lunes, 4 de agosto de 2008

The Temptress

The Temptress (2005 DVD)
Directed by Fred Niblo
USA, 1926
Silent with intertitles in English and subtitles in French and Spanish

A lightweight but entertaining tale of l'amour fou based on a work by Vicente Blasco Ibañez. While gender studies students should have a field day discussing whether Garbo's title character comes off as the heroine or the villainess of the film, others can just sit back and smile as a parade of men in awful moustaches practically piss all over themselves succumbing to the lovely Elena's devilish charms. Real-life madrileño Antonio Moreno is a bit of a weak link as the brooding engineer that the Temptress supposedly falls in love with enough to abandon her cushy life in France to follow all the way down to rugged Argentina (were you to borrow a vintage monocle from the good count Ferdinand von Galitzien, it would still be difficult to detect any traces of actual emotion in Moreno's wooden performance!), but the move from Paris to the Cono Sur at least allows for some great civilización y barbarie moments featuring guitar-playing gauchos, an uptight Frenchman trying mate for the first time, and the introduction of Roy D'Arcy as scene-stealing pampas villain Manos Duras (the guy responsible for the whip marks on injured engineer Robledo below). Manos is just a minor character in the movie's awkward and heavyhanded debate over whether Elena or men are ultimately to blame for the sexual obsession she inspires all around her; however, he gets off the best line in the movie after blowing up a dam in her honor:

"Beautiful Lady:

My songs could not touch your heart--perhaps a symphony in dynamite will be more to your taste?

Your admirer,

Manos Duras"

Garbo (left) and Moreno (shirtless and charisma-less, right)

viernes, 1 de agosto de 2008

Book around the World Challenge

Dear Readers:

Book around the World is another reading challenge sponsored by Bonnie Jacobs. In her introduction to this one, Bonnie notes that "The world has many countries, some big and some small, and I want to find the best books about each country. The book should help us learn something ABOUT that country and not just be one written by somebody who lives there. Let's 'book around the world' and find at least one excellent book for each country in the world."

While I think this is another cool idea, I definitely won't be in any hurry to complete it given the massive number of countries involved and other reading plans I have in place (at least in my mind!). Thankfully, there is no time frame to consider. José Saramago's 1989 The History of the Siege of Lisbon for Portugal is the nearest "sure thing" I have to a country choice at this point; however, other ideas and review links will show up below. For more info on joining the challenge, click here for instructions.
  • Brazil: Machado de Assis, Dom Casmurro (review)
  • Chile: Roberto Bolaño, Estrella distante [Distant Star] (review)

Book around the States Challenge

Dear Readers:

Although I'm still playing catch-up on the first reading challenge I joined this year, that's not going to stop me from joining another: the no-timetable, do it whenever you please Book around the States challenge hosted by Bonnie Jacobs. The goal as described by Bonnie is as follows: "The United States is a union of 50 states, and I want to find the best books about each state. The book should help us learn something ABOUT that state and not just be one written by somebody who lives there. Let's 'book around the states' and find at least one excellent book for each state of the union."

I actually spend more time with international history and literature than I do with domestic stuff these days, so this challenge may be a good way to incorporate some new authors/places from closer to home into my reading diet as it progresses. First up on the list (probably): Ned Sublette's 2008 The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square (my choice for the state of Louisiana). Other selections by state, both tentative ideas and actual review listings, will be posted below eventually. In the meantime, those interested can click here to learn how to join the challenge, which started last summer but is ongoing.

State by State Selections
NEW YORK: Paul Auster, City of Glass (review)