domingo, 30 de noviembre de 2008

A Year without Books

I doubt I could go a month without buying any new books much less an entire year, but I've been seriously thinking about coming to grips with my book-buying habit over the last couple of weeks. Key word: "thinking."

The "problem": My to be read pile is out of control, and I keep buying new books faster than I can read the old ones. The "solution": I vow to buy only one new book a month until this time next year (gifts for others and any texts I might need for classes would be exempted, natch), until I make a serious dent in ye olde TBR mountain ("vague promise with lots of built-in wiggle room" critique duly noted), or until I otherwise come to my senses (the smart money for those inclined to a friendly wager)...whichever comes first.

While you, the predominantly anonymous lurkers who nonetheless constitute the very heart and soul of Caravana's extremely sophisticated circle of mostly silent friends, ponder the weight of this publicly announced yet still intimately personal decision, please permit me to draw your attention to the latest three additions to my home library pictured above: all re-reads lost over the years but just purchased again tonight to help get me through this long, cold first month without new books!

sábado, 29 de noviembre de 2008

La sinagoga de los iconoclastas

La sinagoga de los iconoclastas [La sinagoga degli iconoclasti] (1999 libro de bolsillo)
por J. Rodolfo Wilcock
Italia, 1972
ISBN 84-339-3009-5

Leí este libro para un curso sobre la literatura latinoamericana después del boom, pero no estoy seguro todavía si es una novela, un libro de cuentos, o qué. Ningún problema. Wilcock, un argentino que se trasladó a Italia cuando tenía unos treinta años, ha escrito algo que se parece a un museo zoológico de locos, soñadores, y otros fracasos humanos. Aunque no puedo decir si Sinagoga es el eslabón perdido entre Borges (Historia universal de la infamia) y Bolaño (La literatura nazi en América) hasta que lea las otras dos obras bajo consideración, agradezco la audacia y la idiosincrasia de la visión de Wilcock. En vez de un hilo narrativo "normal", dentro de estas páginas hay 35 biografías más o menos inventadas. Aunque todas no son igualmente interesantes, la inmensa mayoría de ellas contiene momentos de genialidad y un mordaz sentido del humor. Véase la entrada sobre Aaron Rosenblum, el utopista que quiso "devolver el mundo a 1580" (p. 23), o la entrada sobre John O. Kinnaman, el excavador que visitó Sodoma en busca del féretro de la mujer de Lot pero sólo encontró "una cantidad considerable de columnas y pirámides de sal" y la casa de Abraham con su nombre grabada en la superficie de una piedra (p. 87), para dos ejemplos que son atípicamente "típicos". Divertido.
  • Wilcock, J. Rodolfo. La sinagoga de los iconoclastas. Barcelona: Editorial Anagrama, 1999.
J. Rodolfo Wilcock

La Nación (BsAs) tiene dos artículos interesantes sobre Wilcock:

lunes, 24 de noviembre de 2008


Missing (2008 DVD)
Directed by Costa-Gavras
USA, 1982
In English and Spanish with English subtitles

Bad acting and a soap opera-like storyline mar what should have been a riveting film about the real life murder of American journalist Charles Horman during the coup in Chile in 1973. John Sheah and Sissy Spacek are basically either annoying or unbelievable in their roles as the young husband and wife who became separated as a result of the military's "mopping up" operations after the coup, a major distraction since the movie's message about the US government's complicity in both the coup and in the cover-up of Horman's death is often powerful and provocative. Jack Lemmon puts in a much more credible performance as Horman's father, a man with wealth and connections who comes down to Chile to try to figure out what might have led to his son's disappearance, but even he's saddled with some seriously creaky dialogue and a director who seems to prefer histrionics to emotional subtlety--a shame since the constant gunfire in the background and the shots of bodies lying bloodied and dead in the streets offer compelling audiovisual witness to just how powerful this movie could have been. (

Spacek and Lemmon

NB: Disc Two of this edition of Missing, which includes interviews with both the cast and crew and with various others with firsthand knowledge of the events portrayed in the film, will be reviewed here separately sometime soon.

viernes, 21 de noviembre de 2008

Juan José Saer, una vez más

Luego de leer Cicatrices de Juan José Saer, decidí informarme sobre el escritor santafesino. Si pueden recomendarme otro libro suyo que les haya gustado, lo tomaré en cuenta. Mientras tanto, aquí les comparto tres artículos relacionados de gran interés saeriano.

martes, 18 de noviembre de 2008


Cicatrices (2007 libro de bolsillo)
por Juan José Saer
Argentina, 1969
ISBN 978-950-731-375-2
  • "Hablan de vicios solitarios, y de vicios que no lo son. Todos los vicios son solitarios. Todos los vicios necesitan de la soledad para ser ejercidos. Asaltan en soledad. Y al mismo tiempo, son también un pretexto para la soledad. No digo que un vicio sea malo. Nunca puede ser tan malo como una virtud, trabajo, castidad, obediencia, etcétera. Digo sencillamente cómo es y de qué se trata". (Cicatrices, p. 138-139)
En este triunfo de la narrativa posboom, el argentino Juan José Saer ha logrado escribir una novela que es innovadora y entretenida a la vez. En el primer de mayo, un tal Luis Fiore asesina a su mujer con dos tiros de escopeta. ¿Qué motivo habrá tenido? El texto intenta explicarlo por medio de cuatro episodios relacionados, todos narrados en primera persona. El joven alcohólico Ángel, empleado de un diario y lector entusiasta de El largo adiós de Raymond Chandler, empieza las oraciones en un capítulo titulado "Febrero, marzo, abril, mayo, junio". El jugador Sergio ("Marzo, abril, mayo") y el juez Ernesto ("Abril, mayo") siguen, llamando la atención a sus propios problemas y fracasos con referencias literarias a Dostoievski y Oscar Wilde. Al final de la obra ("Mayo"), el asesino él mismo habla sin la menor señal de remordimiento o vergüenza: sólo cansancio. Aunque Cicatrices juega con la expectativa que el último relato va a poner en orden todas las preguntas y respuestas sobre el homicidio, Saer rechaza una solución sencilla a favor de un desenlace con más complejidad e incluso caos de lo que se esperaba. Genial. (

Juan José Saer

(Note to other Orbis Terrarum Challenge readers: Although there's a French translation of Cicatrices available, to my knowledge there's no English version of it as yet. Sorry. )

sábado, 15 de noviembre de 2008

Salvatore Giuliano

Salvatore Giuliano (2004 DVD)
Directed by Francesco Rosi
Italy, 1961
In Italian with English subtitles
  • A lawyer: "Murder, kidnapping and blackmail--now it all becomes political."
  • Gaspare Pisciotta, Giuliano's right-hand man: "I collaborated with the police. We were all informants. Outlaws, police and the Mafia--they were an unholy trinity."

Best movie I've seen in quite a while. Somewhat like a Sicilian Rashomon, Rosi's penetrating inquiry into the July 1950 slaying of the notorious bandit/freedom fighter Salvatore Giuliano delights in posing more questions than it ever seems willing to answer. Sporting multiple points of view in a documentary-like style enlivened by nods to neorealism, film noir, and the courtroom drama, the film provocatively uses the main question about Giuliano's death only as a launch pad to move on to the larger truths and ambiguities beyond the mystery of who killed him. Shifting back and forth in time to throw light on Giuliano's background as a black marketeer, Sicilian separatist, and career criminal beloved by some for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, Rosi uses an arresting non-linear narrative to craft both a biography of a phantom and a vision of a postwar Sicily fought over by rival factions.

While the whodunit aspects of Rosi's work would be interesting enough in themselves, the visuals here are at least equally impressive. Shot entirely in and around Giuliano's "kingdom" of Montelepre and surrounding towns, the rocky Sicilian landscapes make it easy to understand the otherness of the island in relation to mainland Italy (shades of Di Lampedusa's The Leopard). Local actors, almost entirely non-professionals except for those in two key roles, also lend a certain gravitas to the us vs. them tensions between the small town Sicilians who supported Giuliano and the carabinieri from the north assigned to hunt him down. In one scene, a patriot gives an impromptu speech about Sicily and freedom after being inspired by the scenery in front of him. In another, a machine gun battle at night takes place with the only source of lighting being flashes of erupting gunfire. With consummate artistry and unusual restraint, Rosi laudably leaves it up to the spectator to decide if these are competing views of Sicily or just another sign of the disintegration of Sicilian culture also evident in Salvatore Giuliano's "betrayal." A tour de force. Rating: 5/5 stars. (

jueves, 13 de noviembre de 2008

You Call That a Dog?

¿"Orejas" o "Machu Picchu"?

¡Me encanta esta historia! Y me gusta el cachorro también.

Year 1

  • Caravana had its one year blogoversary last Friday. I celebrated the festive occasion with a chile relleno, unfortunately one much less authentic than the one pictured above, and a post written in disappearing ink. In other words, a typical day.
  • With Year 1 now completely in the bag, please permit me to draw your attention to the following two changes. First, I've decided to move some of the movie review posts over to Gambling with Countess Dusy Told from here on out. I'll continue to post announcements about any French, Italian, Portuguese, or Spanish films here, but the books and non-Romance languages movies will be separate for a little while. Second, I'm hoping to post more often in Spanish this year to brush up on my language skills. I'll probably have a flexible "policy" in regard to my challenge book reviews, but I wanted to "warn" all two of our regular readers and any/all random strangers about this in the meantime. By the way, thanks to everybody who visited last year!

sábado, 8 de noviembre de 2008

La Roue

La Roue (2008 DVD)
Directed by Abel Gance
France, 1922
Silent with English intertitles

miércoles, 5 de noviembre de 2008

All She Was Worth

All She Was Worth (1999 paperback)
by Miyuki Miyabe [translated by Alfred Birnbaum]
Japan, 1992
ISBN 978-0-395-96658-7

Moving on from a postmodern mystery about confused identity to a more traditional mystery about identity theft, we arrive at Miyuki Miyabe's fine All She Was Worth. I can't remember where I first read about this book (originally published under the title of Kasha), but its absorbing story and steady increase in suspense make it easy for me to understand why it was selected Best Mystery and Best Novel of the year in Japan for 1992. Ostensibly a missing persons story about the sudden disappearance of a beautiful fiancée named Shoko Sekine, the novel derives much of its interest from its peek at the way rampant credit card abuse and identity theft in Japan have made the professional business world and the criminal underworld true partners in crime. Miyabe's characters, from Tokyo police detective Shunsuke Honma's thoughtful family man/grieving widower to the enigmatic woman eventually suspected of usurping Shoko Sekine's identity by means of a horrific crime, are compellingly drawn, and Miyabe manages to tell a tale that touches on brutal credit card collectors, extreme poverty, and the sex slave trade without resorting to the sometimes sensationalistic excesses of her U.S. genre writer counterparts. Perhaps best of all, All She Was Worth concludes with an exquisitely open-ended finale way more subtle and profound than the norm in these types of things. A very nice discovery: 4/5 stars. (

Miyuki Miyabe and friends

The New York Trilogy, I: City of Glass

The New York Trilogy: City of Glass (2006 paperback)
by Paul Auster
USA, 1985
ISBN 0-14-303983-0
  • "What interested him about the stories he wrote was not their relation to the world but their relation to other stories." (City of Glass, p. 7.)
I read this novella as my New York state selection for the Book around the States Challenge, but I'm not totally satisfied with the choice. Sort of a metaphysical detective story, City of Glass is at its best playing with genre and authorial identity. The plot, offering a few novel twists on the narrative front, is promising. An author named Quinn, a writer of detective fiction hiding behind the Poe-like pseudonym of William Wilson, becomes involved in a mystery of his own when he receives a late night telephone call from a stranger who mistakes him for a detective named Paul Auster. Deciding to impersonate this fellow named Auster (himself also later revealed to be an author within the claustrophobic recesses of the work in question), Quinn takes the case on and descends down deep into the abysses of an NYC labyrinth of alienation and anomie as he trails his suspect across the uncaring Manhattan streets. Allusions to Borges, Don Quixote, and other metafiction exemplars help enrich the writer/reader relationship here, but the deconstruction/reconstruction of Quinn's identity crisis that takes place in the latter half of the story is just not all that exciting compared to the Cervantes-inspired paradigms that came before it. Imaginative but a bit of a letdown. (

martes, 4 de noviembre de 2008