Rome and a Villa

Clark, Eleanor. Rome and a Villa. New York: Atheneum, 1962.

Reason read: Eleanor Clark died in the month of February. Read in her memory.

Even though the last time Clark visited Rome the year was 1974, you cannot help but daydream of traveling to the ancient city when you read Rome and a Villa. I started a mental checklist of everything I hoped to see, should I get there myself: the 124 steps of Santa Mana Aracoeli beside the Campidoglio, feral cats scattering in the rain, the Piazza Vittorio, the famous Trevi Fountain which was funded with a second tax on wine, and capable of moving 80,000 cubic meters of water per day.
Clark even opened my eyes to the Roman influences here in the United States: Penn Station in New York City; how it was designed with the Baths of Caracalle in mind.
Beyond architecture and tourist draws, Clark paints pictures of influential individuals like Julius Caesar and Hadrian. She meanders with her narrative and is sometimes difficult to follow, but worth it if you can stick with her.

Author fact: Clark was a native of Connecticut, right down the road from me. Her dust jacket photograph reminds me of a great-aunt I used to know.

Book trivia: Rome and a Villa was illustrated by Eugene Berman. They’re pretty spectacular.

Nancy said: Pearl said Rome and a Villa is for the traveler. I think it would be interesting to reread Rome and a Villa after a trip to Rome, just to compare notes.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Roman Holiday” (p 188).


Anna In-Between

Nunez, Elizabeth. Anne In-Between. New York: Akashic Books, 2009.

Reason read: Anna In-Between reflects on childhood. Every time my birthday nears, so do I. Read for myself.

Thirty-nine year old Anna returns to her parents’ home in the Caribbean islands. Anna has been in New York City as an in-demand editor for almost eighteen years, returning to her Caribbean home periodically for short visits. She returns, not because of a longing for her country, but only to check in on her aging parents. They appreciate the visits but feel Anna has lost touch with her roots. It is as if Anna cannot wait to bolt from her childhood memories, the color of her mixed-race skin, and her emotional parents.
On this particular trip, Anna discovers her mother has advanced stage breast cancer and is appalled her parents have been aware of the growing tumors all along. It is inconceivable they chose not to do anything about the disease growing in Beatrice’s breast. With Anna’s insistence of medical care ever increasing, Anna’s parents finally visit a doctor to begin treating the disease with chemotherapy. Anna’s mother, however, draws the line at traveling to the United States for necessary-for-survival surgery, strongly believing her dark skin will warrant sub par treatment.
Mother and daughter are locked in a cultural battle; mother accusing daughter of becoming too Americanized as if it were akin to catching a different debilitating disease. [As an aside, their fight reminded me of my own battles. My mother is convinced I no longer have the capacity to take care of my childhood home; as if the ways of Monhegan are too foreign to me as now I live with running water, working lights, and an automatic thermostat.] Anna In-Between is the dance of expectation. Mothers want so much for their daughters that reality seems like a constant disappointment, an “you can never do anything right” attitude. Been there! Beatrice is not entirely to blame in all this. Anna has her assumptions, too. She has so much pent up resentment towards her mother she thinks Beatrice blames her for a failed marriage, is disappointed in Anna’s less than impressive career, and is embarrassed by Anna’s less than impeccable appearance. It is hard for Anna to empathize; to see Beatrice as human when she feels like such a failure herself. I won’t spoil the plot, but I can say Nunez’s gift is a satisfactory non-ending with a healthy dose of hope. For Anna and Beatrice.
Interestingly enough, Nunez refers to the locale of Anna In-Between as “the island” as if she doesn’t want to put a pin the map of where the story actually takes place.

Author fact: Nunez was born in Trinidad.

Book trivia: Anna In-Between was reviewed by Edwidge Danticat. I just finished reading The Farming of Bones by Danticat last month.

Nancy said: Pearl said she has enjoyed the novels of Nunez and made mention of Anna In-Between (Book Lust To Go p 58).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean – Trinidad and Tobago” (p 58).


Beijing of Possibilities

Te, Jonathan. The Beijing of Possibilities: Stories. New York: Other Press, 2009.

Reason read: Okay, so I have a confession. I wanted to read this in honor of January being the month for the Chinese New Year (on the 25th), but as the loan was coming from the east coast, it took an inordinate amount of time to arrive. I didn’t think I would have time to read it before January 31st, so I changed the reason to China’s Lantern Festival, which is in February. Well, to make a long story short, I finished Beijing before January 31st, so I’m back to the original reason, the new year.

Beijing of Possibilities is comprised of twelve witty, sharp, and compelling stories all taking place in contradictory Beijing. Many of the stories address the conflict between old and new. Ancient tradition clashing with modern ambition. Beijing is a hotbed of contradictions. Each character exemplifies and amplifies what happens when cultural norm meets current forward trajectory of capitalism.
The brilliant thread running through most all stories: the ancient Monkey King and the modern Olympic pride of the city.

Author fact: Tel has written other collections of short stories, none of which are on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Quite unexpectedly I found black and white photographs in each story. What a nice surprise!

Nancy said: Pearl described the stories in Beijing of Possibilities as surreal with “Italo Calvinoist tendencies” (Book Lust To Go p 62).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “China: the Middle Kingdom” (p 60).


Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba

Gjelten, Tom. Bacardi and the Long fight for Cuba: the Biography of a Cause. New York: Viking Press, 2008.

Reason read: January 1st is Triumph of the Revolution Day in Cuba.

Think about this for a second. The Bacardi business started in 1862. When you think “rum” what brand comes to mind first? Exactly.
My favorite takeaway from Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba is how brilliant the Bacardi Moreau family has been at business marketing and self promotion. Early on they knew how to tap into supply and demand during Prohibition. They understood the importance of moral advertising in Puerto Rico, removing women from their posters, for example They knew when to exploit the World’s Fairs happening around the world in places such as Charleston, St. Louis and as far away as Paris. They were involved in any major event that would draw attention. [As an aside, I just finished watching the Tim Burton movie, “Big Eyes” and I couldn’t help but think of mastermind Walter Keane as he exploited his wife’s artwork anyway that he could.] Bacardi treated their employees well with profit sharing as early as 1916. When they couldn’t go to the marketing, the marketing came to them in the form of public figures, such as Ernest Hemingway who put the name Bacardi in his book, Islands in the Stream.
Deeply tied to the Cuban cause, as patriots the Bacardi struggled to make a real difference, but as producers of high quality libations, they flourished. Their drink, the daiquiri was a nod to Cuba Libre. But Cuba was not its own. In 1898 it was either Spain or U.S. flags that were flown. When Spain was no longer in control it was like making deals with devil. The U.S. swoops in and changes everything. Infrastructure is improved but the locals are confused. Then along comes Castro…even he cannot ignore the Bacardi name which causes major trouble for the Bacardi name. Let me stop there. Read the rest of this biography of a beverage.

Last comment: my favorite trivia is the fact that Emilio and Elvira wanted to bring back a mummy from Egypt for the Bacardi museum. It needed to be taxed as “dried meat” in order to make the journey back to Cuba.

Line I liked, “Then he would be left alone with his own soul” (p 79), “the people of Santiago had never before seen a Cuban flag flying over their own city hall” (p 91).

Author fact: Gjelten, at the time of Book Lust To Go’s publication was a reporter for NPR. According to NPR’s website, he’s still there.

Book trivia: I always love it when an author can include the pictures they describe in the text. Gjelten does this a few times and it is always wonderful to see what he captures his attention, to see the pictures through his eyes. Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba includes a good number of black and white photographs.

Nancy said: Pearl called Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba “fascinating.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean” (p 52).


Moonlight Downs

Hyland, Adrian. Moonlight Downs. New York: Soho Press, 2008.

Reason read: Believe it or not, I have no idea why I started reading this in January.

Emily Tempest is finally home after a long twelve-year absence. Half white and half Aboriginal, she must relearn her place in the landscape; to re-establish old relationships with the community and people she used to love. But, at the same time she is a pesky armchair detective, always poking her nose where it shouldn’t be. When a beloved member of the Moonlight Downs mob is murdered, Emily goes on the hunt to find his killer. It’s personal because Emily has an extra special relationship with the victim’s daughter.
Confessional: all throughout the book, when Emily was fearing for her life I thought it was an exaggeration until a few more people die. The amount of violence towards the end of the book was surprising.
Another confessional: you will appreciate Hyland’s glossary of Aboriginal words in the beginning of the book.

As an aside, I love it when there are little tiny overlaps in my books. I am reading about the Bacardi family in Cuba in another book. In Moonlight Downs a Cuban shows up in Australia.

Confessional: I kept a running list of all the characters I met in Moonlight Downs.

Best and only quote of the book, “As the fury subsided it made room for questions” (p 142).

Author fact: Hyland has lived and worked among the Indigenous people of Australia.

Book trivia: Moonlight Downs is the first Emily Tempest mystery in the series. It was published as Diamond Dove in Australia. As an aside, I am also reading Gunshot Road for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl included Moonlight Downs in a list of more Australian fiction that “absolutely shouldn’t be missed” (Book Lust To Go p 30).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Australia, the Land of Oz: Fiction” (p 29).


Son Avenger

Undset, Sigrid. The Master of Hestviken: The Son Avenger. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

Reason read: to finish the series started in October.

Undset’s fourth and final book of the Master of Hestviken series is about finding forgiveness within one’s true identity.
Olav Audunsson now has a daughter of marrying age. He is dismayed when her first suitor is a teenage boy exiled for accidentally killing a man. History repeats itself as Aslak’s dilemma mirrors Olav’s past mistake, but Olav does not want to acknowledge this in any way. Instead of compassion for Aslak’s situation, Olav convinces his daughter to marry another. In addition, Eirik, the amoral and reckless son Olav has taken for his own has returned to Hestviken. Eirik’s life is also following the same path as Olav’s in that his relationships are troubled. His standing as a moral member of society is compromised. Olav is helpless and can only watch as Eirik struggles to make his way in the world as a decent citizen. Olav, Eirik, and Cecelia all journey towards forgiving one another as well as themselves.

Author fact: Undset also wrote the memoir, Return to the Future, which is on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: The Son Avenger is the last fiction I will read of Sigrid Undset’s.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Son Avenger part of the Master of Hestviken masterpiece.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Norway: The Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162).


Saddest Pleasure

Thomsen, Moritz. The Saddest Pleasure: a Journey on Two Rivers. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Greywolf Press, 1990.

Reason read: In honor of Brazil’s first emperor. His coronation was on December 1st, 1822.

When we catch up to Martin Moritz Thomsen Titus in The Saddest Pleasure he is now sixty-three years old. Depending on which review you read, Thomsen either was asked to leave the Ecuadorian farm he co-owned with partner, Ramon, or he just up and left. Either way, in the beginning of The Saddest Pleasure he sets out to travel to Amazonian Brazil via two rivers. Along his journey he tries to reconcile difficult memories of a contentious relationship with his father, while wrangling with the effects of aging and mourning the loss of the farm he shared with Ramon. He seems sarcastically obsessed with being a farmer and very reluctant to admit he is a writer because farming seems the more noble profession. In fact, in my opinion, the entire book is more of a look back at the should haves, could haves, and would haves of his life. A lot of cantankerous regret is interspersed in the memory. He calls travel the saddest pleasure, but I would say the saddest pleasure was reading this book.

Line I loved, “I have lived too long with poor people to sit now in the middle of all this jewelry and the electronic crapola and the whores and the gangsters who want to own it, eating overpriced food, listening for eight hours straight to Muzak’s plastic masturbatory music not to feel a profound disorientation” (p 21).
Here’s another, “Starved for protein, crippled by malnutrition, they have lost about 20% of their intelligence” (p 84).

Author fact: Thomsen lived another ten years after The Saddest Pleasure. I surely hope he found happiness in that remaining time.

Book trivia: Some view The Saddest Pleasure as the completion to a trilogy about Moritz’s time in the Peace Corps. Living Poor was considered book one (also on my Challenge list), and Farm on the River of Emeralds was book two. Another interesting fact about The Saddest Pleasure is that it won the 1991 Governor’s Writers Award.
As an aside, my copy of Saddest Pleasure has an amazing cover illustrated by Alfredo Arreguin.

Nancy said: Pearl said she found Thomsen’s memoir “to be utterly enthralling” (Book Lust To Go p 43). She then went on to take up considerable real estate in the chapter quoting The Saddest Pleasure, as she admits, “the book is filled with quotable lines” (p 44). Yes, yes it is.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter simply called “Brazil” (p 43).