Roads to Santiago

Nooteboom, Cees. Roads to Santiago: a Modern-Day Pilgrimage Through Spain. Translated by Ina Rilke. Harcourt Press, 1992.

Reason read: there is a festival in Madrid in May.

Prepared to be swept away by Nooteboom’s luxurious descriptions of Spain. Everything seen through his lens is treated with lavish prose. I could see the styles of Roman and Gothic architecture as if I were standing in front of each structure. Renaissance and Baroque art come to life with vivid reality. I now want to visit the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela with its pillars marked with fingerprints. While Nooteboom subtitles his book “a modern-day pilgrimage” we look in on the 8th century in a time of Beatus, King Silo, and the Carolingian Empire. Nooteboom draws parallels between Antigone of Sophocles and the Spanish state after Euzkadi ta Askatsuna targeted violence. We dance between historical and modern Spain with personal anecdotes thrown in for good measure. Aside from the beautiful writing, Nooteboom included stunning black and white photographs. Too bad they are not in color.
Sadly, I cannot quote anything from Roads to Santiago without contacting the authorities first. I don’t have time for that.

After reading Picasso’s War it seems impossible that some people would long for the days of Francisco Franco.
As an aside, I always like drawing comparisons to Natalie Merchant. Any mention of Andalusia or Majorca make me think of her music as she has songs about both.

Author fact: Nooteboom has written a great deal over the years. I am only reading Roads to Santiago for the Challenge.

Book trivia: Is there a different subtitle? I must be reading a different edition. From Book Lust To Go it should be “Detours and Riddles in the Lands of History of Spain” and not “A Modern-Day Pilgrimage Through Spain.”

Playlist: Handel’s “The Messiah”.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about Roads to Santiago.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the incredibly simple chapter called “Spain” (p 220).


From Mumbai to Mecca

Trojanow, Ilija. From Mumbai to Mecca. Translated by Rebecca Morrison. Armchair Traveller, 2007.

Reason read: May was the month I used to walk sixty miles for a grassroots nonprofit to raise money for cancer research and holistic patient care. Read Mumbai to Mecca to remember the journey.

Those of us curious about what happens during a Hajj, the pilgrimage to the holy sites of Islam, can be thankful Trojanow made the journey. He writes with such beauty and grace, it is easy to get caught up in his descriptive words. Take the ritual of wazu, for example. There is a precise way to wash before any kind of prayer. At the end of the complicated process, one is supposed to feel calm, as if in a meditative state before prayer. I felt almost zen-like just reading about the process. I enjoyed learning about the Mumbai tea ceremonies and had a good laugh when Trojanow lost his sandals after a prayer session. Like any good travelogue, there is a decent mix of historical and personal.

As an aside, okay, I admit it. as I read about Trojanow losing his sandals, I was thinking of the episode when Carrie lost her $400 shoes when she attended a no-footwear party for a friend.

Favorite lines: It is too bad I need to seek permission to quote anything from Mumbai to Mecca because Trojanow is witty and lyrical, all at the same time. There were dozens of lines I liked and half a dozen more I would have shared here.

Author fact: Trojanow is a German citizen and I am reading two other books by him.

Book trivia: in Book Lust To Go Ilija Trojanow’s book is cataloged as having a subtitle: A Pilgrimage to the Holy Sites of Islam. My copy doesn’t have the subtitle and depending where you look, inside cover or spine, the title is either From Mumbai to Mecca or just Mumbai to Mecca.

Nancy said: Pearl said From Mumbai to Mecca is bound to be a classic.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “A is for Adventure” (p 3).


Picasso’s War

Martin Russell. Picasso’s War: the Destruction of Guernica, and the Masterpiece that Changed the World. Dutton, 2002.

Reason read: the bombing of Guernica happened on April 26th, 1937. Read in honor and memory of the lives lost that day.

On May 11th, 1937, only two weeks after the insurgent Nazi Condor Legion bombed Guernica, Spain, Pablo Picasso commenced painting his famous masterpiece. While Picasso’s War celebrates Picasso’s work of art, “Guernica,” it also paints a biography of Picasso, the passionately flawed man. Picasso who couldn’t stay faithful to one woman; Picasso who saved everything ever given to him. As an aside, these two details make me believe I would have never gotten along with him. As a painter, his art was as polarizing as cilantro. In 1981 the famous painting still had to be protected from terrorists with armed guards.
Coincidentally, Martin was standing in from of “Guernica” on September 11th, 2001.
As an aside, I love books that make me want to explore more. I looked up Picasso’s cartoons “Dream and Lie of Franco” because of Russell’s book.
The biggest surprise for me was learning of Herbert Southworth, an unsung hero of the Guernica saga. He had a clerical job at the Library of Congress and he was convinced he could get to the bottom of who actually bombed Guernica. Despite denials, he needed to convince the American public of Franco’s threat to Democracy.

Author fact: Martin also wrote Beethoven’s Hair which was a bestseller. I am only reading Picasso’s War for the reading Challenge.

Book trivia: I wanted photography in Martin’s book. If nothing else, just a picture of Picasso’s famous Guernica for reference.

Playlist: Beatles and Joan Baez.

Nancy said: Pearl said Picasso’s War was “wonderfully readable” (Book Lust To Go p 90).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Guernica” (p 89).


Travels in a Thin Country

Wheeler, Sara. Travels in a Thin Country: Journey Through Chile. Modern Library, 1994.

Reason read: Chile’s independence was gained in April 1818. Although the official date of celebration is September 18th every year. Note: I could have started this earlier because Wheeler’s birthday is in March.

I think our desire for travel can be summed up by one of Wheeler’s first sentences in Travels in a Thin Country, “Our collective ignorance appealed to my curiosity” (p 3). It’s the reason most of us want to travel, to abolish an innate ignorance of the world around us. I admired Wheeler’s bravery for jumping into a journey down Chile’s entire length, all the way to the Antarctica end, without a solid plan in place. Her travel is motivated mostly by the seat of her pants and held up by the kindness of strangers. Interwoven in the adventure is a strong sense of political and cultural history of the region. I wanted photography to back up Wheeler’s gorgeous descriptions of the people and landscapes she traveled through. On a personal note, I found it vaguely romantic that Wheeler tried to travel in a jeep for nearly her entire journey. Her trusted loyalty to Jeep could have been a commercial.

As an aside, I had to look up where in New York Southampton is located even though I had a grandmother who lived on Long Island. Because Wheeler said upstate New York she had me doubting my geography. How sad is that?

Favorite lines, “we rubbed our favorite arguments threadbare” (p 189) and “there were two men in the bar, drunk beyond all sense of time and place” (p 261).

Author fact: I’m sorry that I looked up Wheeler on the web. I found several sites that made mention of the abuse she allegedly suffered at the hands of her husband all because she admitted she had an affair. For me, that painted an unfair picture of Ms. Wheeler. Unfair, because the entire time I was reading Travels in a Thin Country, as she was describing the travels to different places with different men, sharing jeep rides and tents, I had to wonder if she was sleeping with them along the way. As the pages went on, I couldn’t help but notice that most of her traveling companions were men even if women were in the picture.

Book trivia: Travels in the Thin Country is Wheeler’s second nonfiction. I am also reading Terra Incognito, Too Close to the Sun, and An Island Apart for the Challenge.

Playlist: Ry Cooder, Edith Piaf, Fine Young Cannibals, Pink Floyd, Violetta Parra, Beethoven, Claudio Arrau, Talking Head’s “We’re on the Road to Nowhere,” “Jingle Bells,” “The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music,” “Bach’s St. Matthew Passion,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and “Take Heart, Joe, My Love,”

Nancy said: Pearl called Travels in a Thin Country a treat and the best travel account she could find of Chile.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “It’s Chile Today” (p 144).


Everything but the Squeal

Barlow, John. Everything but the Squeal: Eating the Whole Hog in Northern Spain. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

Reason read: March is food month.

The challenge for John Barlow in Everything But the Squeal is to consume every single part of the pig from tail to snout and everything in between; a veritable “porco-graphic tour” as John states. He faces every consumption with humor and more than a little snarky defensiveness, “when they’re starving , pigs will occasionally eat eat other, but so do we when our airplanes crash in inhospitable places” (p 21). This is also a travelogue as John has promised to eat the pig geographically as well, “in situ” as he put it.
More than a travelogue about eating pork, Everything But the Squeal is a memoir about marriage and family. What more tolerant vegetarian wife would tote their newborn son around northern Spain while her husband goes on a quest to devour an entire pig? But wait, there is more. Everything but the Squeal is historical, describing the past cultures of the Galacian people. It’s an abbreviate biography of Manuel Fraga (Minister of Tourism in 1962 and founder of the Popular Party in the 1980s). It’s even a love letter to his son. The direct comments he makes to Nico are endearing.
Here is how a documentary can ruin your eating habits. After watching “My Octopus Teacher” I no longer can stomach seeing any cephalopod on a menu. Here’s how words can ruin your eating habits. I won’t eat Slim Jims because I do not understand what “mechanically separate chicken parts” means. Thanks to Everything But the Squeal I now have to be on the lookout for MRM – mechanically recovered meat… um…whatever that means…and I won’t even describe the pig slaughter scene.
A byproduct of reading Everything But the Squeal was a slow picking up of tidbits of the language. I learned that morrina means a profound longing for the native land; something that is more powerful than a teenager at boarding school suffering from homesickness.
As another aside, I think I want to try my hand at making Galacian Red Sauce. I am sure there is more to it than evoo, paprika, garlic, onion, bay leaves and lemon, but you had me a paprika and sold me on lemon. As another aside, I don’t think I have ever been confronted with the description of offal as often as I have this month.

Quotes to quote, “The delights of home are never stronger than when you’re not there” (p 93). Obvo.

Author fact: Barlow has written other books. Everything but the Squeal is the only one on my Challenge lust.

Book trivia: Barlow talks about taking pictures but doesn’t include them in the book.

Playlist: “Y.M.C.A.,” “Brazil,” Grateful Dead, Barbra Streisand, Julio Iglesias, and Jerry Garcia.

Nancy said: Pearl called Everything but the Squeal “mouthwatering” (Book Lust To Go p 219).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Spain” (p 218). Can’t get any simpler than that.


Eat Pray Love

Gilbert, Elizabeth. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. Viking, 2006.

Reason read: March is Women’s History Month. Celebrating Gilbert this time.

Does everyone picture Julia Roberts when they hear the words eat, love and pray in that order? I know I do. I haven’t even seen the movie and yet that is exactly what goes through my head. Admittedly, before I even started reading the book I had a preconceived notion of what the storyline would be: a woman of means takes a year off from her crash-and-burn American life to find herself in the beyond beautiful countries of Italy, India and Indonesia. She spends four months in Italy eating her way through the wine-soaked landscape. She spends another four months in India meditating and losing the weight she gained in pasta. After paying a bribe, she spends the last four months of her year away on the Indonesian island of Bali being courted by the culture and in the end, a man. A year of seemingly easy leisure produced Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. But. But! But, my cynicism ends there. Gilbert is a skilled storyteller. Even if my synopsis is pretty accurate, Eat, Pray, Love is a highly entertaining read. I enjoyed every second of it.

Author fact: I have two other Gilbert books on my challenge list: Stern Men and The Last American Man.

Book trivia: Confessional – I have been calling this book Eat, Love, Pray for months now. I can’t even get the title right.

Best line ever, “…showing you the way, scaring off thieves and demons, brining you confidence and protection” (p 148).

Playlist: Count Basie, Eagles, Neil Young, Ray Charles, Stevie Nicks, Stevie Wonder, and Kenny Roger’s “Coward of the Country,”

Nancy said: Pearl said Gilbert became famous for writing Eat Pray Love.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter “The Maine Chance” (p 136). As an aside, Eat, Pray Love shouldn’t in this chapter. It has nothing to do with the state of Maine.


Kafka on the Shore

Murakami, Haruki. Kafka on the Shore. Translated by Philip Gabriel. Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.

Reason read: I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of a book whose author is someone I identify with. Murakami is a runner. I’d like to think I am, too.

Kafka on the Shore is a mystery. Exactly who is Kafka Tamura? In the beginning of the story all we know is that Kafka isn’t this boy’s real name and he is a teenage runaway. Why he left his father is a mystery. All we know is that life with dad was terrible. Somewhere out there is an adopted sister (six years older) and a mother; both who have been missing for years. Is there a connection? Why did his mother disappear with the adopted daughter and not take her natural born son? Who is Crow? An imaginary friend who lives in an alternate metaphysical reality?
Nakata is an aging simpleton. His backstory is even more of a mystery. As a child he was involved in the Rice Bowl Hill Incident of 1944. A group of school children were allegedly hypnotized after seeing a silver duralumin object glint in the sky. Most of the children woke up soon after the incident but Nakata stayed in a coma. As an adult, Nakata finds cats with master skills and is able to predict weird phenomena like fish and leeches falling from the sky. Word of warning: Nakata gets involved with a strange character. His scene with the cats is highly disturbing to an animal lover. but then again, I am the kind of person who needs to change the channel because I can’t bear those uber-long ASPCA commercials with the sad music.
At some point these two characters come together metaphorically, but their journey to this point is like a winding labyrinth full of unusual characters like Johnnie Walker and Colonel Sanders and a stone Nakata must talk to. Kafka on the Shore will take you through a modern Oedipus Rex tragedy.

As an aside, I liked the characters of Oshima and Hoshino. Oshima drives Kafka two and a half hours over the mountains to a place to stay saying, “it’s a straight shot, it’s still light out, and he has a full tank of gas.” Only, in reality it is a five hour drive, it won’t be light out when he gets home and that tank of gas will be long gone. Hoshino goes to remarkable lengths to help Nakata with his mysterious quest, even quitting his trucking job to be a chauffeur. That is the true definition of a selfless friend.

Lines I liked, “He wasn’t sure why, but striped brown cats were the hardest to get on the same page with” (p 71), and “Why do hundred of thousands even millions of people group together and try to annihilate each other?” (p 359).

Author fact: I have three other of Murakami’s books on my Challenge list: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and A Wild Sheep Chase but there are plenty more out there.

Setlist: Cream’s “Crossroads,” Duke Ellington, Beethoven’s “Ghost,”, Beatles’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” , Berlioz, Beach Boys, Hayden, Led Zeppelin, Liszt, Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” and “Sexy Motherfucker,” Radiohead’s “Kid A,” Rolling Stones, Rubinstein, Heifetz and Feuermann Trio, Schumann, Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, Wagner, Schubert’s Sonata in D Minor, Wagner, “Si, Mi Chiamano Mimi,” Mozart’s “Posthorn Serenade,” “Edelweiss,” and “As Time Goes By.”

Nancy said: Pearl said the plots to Murakami’s novels are not easy.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Japanese Journeys” (p 116).


Rebecca

Du Maurier, Daphne. Rebecca. Harper, 1938.

Reason read: as a “romance” I chose Rebecca for Valentine’s Day. For the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge, I chose it for the category of a book where a house is featured predominantly. Manderley is that house.

I took Rebecca to Florida for a five day trip and in that short time I devoured the entire book from start to finish. I can see why it has never gone out of print. Rebecca is a true psychological thriller that doesn’t need blood and gore to make it creepy. Even though the ghost of Rebecca never makes an appearance, you can feel her presence in every scene. In a nutshell, a young and inexperienced traveling companion falls in love with a much older widower while vacationing in Monte Carlo. Before meeting him, she heard all the rumors about how his wife tragically drowned in a sailing accident less than a year prior. She has heard all about his palatial estate, Manderley, handed down from generation to generation. Rather than travel on to New York as a companion, Mr. de Winter asks our unnamed heroine for her hand in marriage. And so begins the adventure. No one really likes the new Mrs. de Winter and Rebecca’s ghost seems to be everywhere thanks to Mrs. Danvers, the former Mrs. de Winter’s personal assistant. Danny just won’t let Rebecca die. While Rebecca does not make an appearance anywhere in the novel, her presence is felt everywhere.

As an aside, I wish Daphne Du Maurier was still alive to answer questions about Rebecca. Actually, I have questions about both the book and the character. The first Mrs. de Winter fascinates me.

Author fact: Du Maurier won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century with Rebecca.

Book trivia: My edition of Rebecca included a note from the editor, an author’s note, and the original epilogue.

Nancy said: in Book Lust Pearl said Rebecca is an annual read for some fans. In More Book Lust Pearl mentioned liking the opening line to Rebecca.

Setlist: Destiny’s Waltz, the Blue Danube, Merry Widow, Auld Lang Syne, Good Save the Queen.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here to Stay” (p 203). From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Lines That Linger; Sentences That Stick” (p 140). Lastly, from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cornwall’s Charm” (p 71). You can always tell when Pearl likes a book. She mentioned it either a bunch of times in one Book Lust or it makes its way into all three.


In My Father’s Court

Singer, Isaac Bashevis. In My Father’s Court. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1966.

Reason read: January is the month most people embark on keeping a journal. Read In My Father’s Court in honor of memoirs.

In his “Author’s Note” Singer explains his thoughts behind In My Father’s Court. He wanted readers to know he thought of it as memoir; “belles-lettres about a life that no longer exists” (p xi). I would say In My Father’s Court is a sentimental collection of essays about memory. It is the first of his many autobiographical writings. Looking back at one’s childhood is sometimes painful, sometimes awe inspiring, but always full of nostalgia. Singer is sweet remembering his family’s history.

Line I liked, “There are in this world some very strange individuals whose thoughts are even stranger than they are” (p 3). Amen to that.

Author fact: Singer is a Nobel prize winner.

Book trivia: In My Father’s Court was first published as a series of connected stories.

Playlist: “The Sons of the Mansion,” and “Welcome, O Bride.”

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about In My Father’s Court.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Polish Up Your Polish” (p 181).


Shtetl

Hoffman, Eva. Shtetl: the Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

Reason read: in honor of Hannukah.

Inspired by a documentary Hoffman saw on Frontline, this is the biography of Bransk, a Polish town that no longer exists thanks to the thoroughness of the Nazis under Russian rule. One of the most difficult segments to read was the recounting of young Bransk boys conscripted into the Russian army. They were religiously converted away from their birthright and upon returning home, shunned by their own people.
As an aside, I am afraid of cult figures and the power they can wield over seemingly intelligent people. I was surprised to learn of a man in the 1750s by the name of Jakub Frank who claimed he was the Messiah. He wanted to rule all of Poland and had a strong sexual appetite for young girls and orgies.

Quotes to quote, “I believe that if we are to understand what happened in Poland during the war, we must begin by acknowledging, from within each memory, the terrible complexity of everyone’s circumstances and behavior” (p 6).

Author fact: Hoffman grew up in Cracow, Poland.

Book trivia: Shtetl was written after Hoffman saw a documentary by the same name of Frontline in 1996.

Nancy said: Pearl admires Hoffman’s writing and reads everything she publishes, but for the Challenge I am only reading Shtetl. Pearl would have bought Shtetl for someone exploring Jewish roots.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Polish Up Your Polish” (p 181) and from More Book Lust in the chapter called “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 114).


My Soul to Take

Sigurdardottir, Yrsa. My Soul to Take: a Novel of Iceland. New York: William Morrow, 2006.

Reason read: Denmark’s Parliament granted Iceland independence in December 1918.

The tiny Icelandic town of Snaefellsness is not known for a high crime rate, so when two people are murdered in a similar fashion, the whole town buzzes with alarmed alertness. Why would anyone torture both victims with pins in their feet before killing them? More questions: what does a dead fox have to do with one of the victims? Does the New Age health resort in an old farmhouse have anything to do with either victim? What secrets are hidden in this renovated farmhouse? Thora Gudmundsdottir, lawyer to the owner of the resort, must defend Jonas as the main suspect, but that’s not why she was initially called to Snaefellsness. Her client was planning to sue the previous owners of the farmhouse because they didn’t disclose it was haunted. The ghosts of children are said to moan and wail on the property.
Sigurdardottir is crafty. The introduction of World War II Nazi flags and swastikas gave the plot a darker (and unnecessary) tone. The themes of incest and rape are enough.

Confessional: because Icelandic names do not roll off the tongue so easily for me, and there a lot of them, I needed to keep notes on who was who for most of the story. I found myself asking, “will this person be important later?”

Author fact: Sigurdardottir also writes books for children.

Book trivia: My Soul to Take is book #2 in a series featuring lawyer/single mother, Thora Gudmundsdottir. True to form, I read Sigurdardottir’s books out of order. She also wrote Last Rituals which I should have read before My Soul to Take.

Playlist: “Eye of the Tiger” and “Final Countdown,”

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about My Soul to Take but I should note I missed the word “series.” Ugh.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Iceland” (p 99). Doesn’t get any simpler than that.


Echo Maker

Powers, Richard. Echo Maker. London: Picador, 2007.

Reason read: November is National Writing Month. I chose Echo Maker for the category of National Book Award Winner.

What would you do if your only brother, the younger sibling you have protected since birth, has a terrible automobile accident that leaves him utterly convinced you are not kin; that you are an imposter? According to him you are a replica, a fake, a fraud, a well trained actor down to the very last identifying detail. Maybe even a highly technical robot with lifelike emotion and memory? Mark’s neurological condition is called Capgras and he swears Karen is a copy of his flesh and blood sibling. Despite facing haunting hometown memories and more than six months of Mark not recognizing her, Karen separates from her job and sells her home in order to become his legal guardian. Even world-famous neurologist and best selling author, Gerald Weber, is stumped by Mark’s condition. He comes to study Mark not only to answer Karen’s cry for help, but to stroke a faltering ego. The introduction of Dr. Weber allows author Powers to include such psychological disorders as Fregola Syndrome, Synesthesia, Pleiotropy, Agnosia, Dyscalculia, Tinnitus, Acrophobia, Sundowner Syndrome, Amnesia, Charles Bonnet Syndrome, Aphasia and Klurer-Bucy Syndrome. It gets a little heavy at times. Then there’s too-good-to-be-true Barbara. She arrives on the scene as an aide in the hospital but something seems off with her as well. People cannot help but fall in love with her without really understanding why. If Mark’s medical condition wasn’t enough of a plot, Powers has thrown in a political and ecological battle over a preserve with tourist-drawing cranes which migrate to the area every year. Are the cranes and Mark’s accident connected?

Confessional: I would have liked Dr. Weber’s story to start earlier in the book. He arrives on the Nebraskan scene after Karen invites him to study her brother’s case. From there, he is intertwined with the saga but it would have brought more context to his involvement if the reader had been able to follow his journey sooner than meeting Mark.

Lines to like, “Home was the place you never escaped even in nightmare” (p 8),”Disaster trumped the past and gave her temporary asylum” (p 46), and “She curled into the threat of doing this again” (p 58). I could go on and on and on. Echo Maker has dozens of great one-liners.

Playlist: Brahms, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Schubert…and I am sure there were more. For the first time in my life I lost a library book. I have no idea what happened and it confounds me.

Author fact: I have a total of nine works to read by Richard Powers. I have finished three with six to go.

Book trivia: This should have been a movie. It was almost a Pulitzer winning book.

Nancy said: Pearl called Echo Maker brilliant and thought provoking.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Nebraska: the Big Empty” (p 148).


Amigoland

Casares, Oscar. Amigoland. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009.

Reason read: November 1st is Day of the Dead in Mexico.

Welcome to the elderly world of brothers Don Fidencio and Don Celestino. Sustaining through years of stubborn memory are so long ago fabled events that the brothers cannot come to an agreement of truth. At the center of their debate is the brothers’ grandfather and a terrific century-old tale of kidnapping, murder, scalping, a ranch called El Rancho Capote, and a bear in a circus. The story is so fantastic, and each memory is so faulty, it has taken on a life of its own. So much so that Don Celestino’s much younger paramour (and housekeeper), Soccoro, convinces the brothers to take a trip to Mexico to settle the debate once and for all. Soccoro and Don Celestino spirit Don Fidencio away from his nursing home without medications, identification, or money. The both heartwarming and heartbreaking problem is time is running out for both cantankerous men (Don Fidencio is over ninety). The moral of Amigoland is when you tell a story long enough it becomes fact, even if your memory is faulty.

As an aside, I would not know anything about the game of Bunco (mentioned in Amigoland if it weren’t for a friend of mine. She plays Bunco with a group of women once a month.

Author fact: Casares is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop

Book trivia: Amigoland is Casares’ first novel.

Playlist: Narcisco Martinez

Nancy said: Pearl called Amigoland “warm and funny.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Postcards from Mexico” (p 183). As an aside, Pearl could have included Amigoland in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Maiden Voyages.”


House of the Spirits

Allende, Isabel. The House of the Spirits. New York: Everyman’s Library, 2005.

Reason read: read in honor of the ghosts…just in time for Halloween.

The House of the Spirits begins with a letter to a hundred year old grandfather. Meet the del Valle family. Clara del Valle has paranormal powers as every magical realism book must have. Clara predicts her sister’s death by poison and is traumatized into muteness by the autopsy (wouldn’t you if you saw your sister cut open?). The generational story goes on to include more crimes against humanity in the form of adultery, rape, whippings, curses, maiming, and murder. Balanced with all that grief is an undeniable love story. Passion abounds between the harshness.
As an aside, my favorite character of them all was Rosa de Valle. Born with green hair she is thought to be a mermaid and was murdered early in the story.

Author fact: Allende write a letter to her 99 year old grandfather and The House of the Spirits was born.

Book trivia: I always find it really interesting when novels (or art of any kind) that end up being huge successes are at first rejected. Allende and Van Gogh have that in common.

Nancy said: Pearl said The House of the Spirits offers “a picture of Chile that’s suffused with love (and a bit of magic)” (Book Lust To Go p 115).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Magical Realism” (p 148) and from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “It’s Chile Today” (p 114).


White Tiger

Adiga, Aravind. The White Tiger: a Novel. New York: Free Press, 2008.

Reason read: There is a festival in October that celebrates women called the Sanjhi Festival.

Much like Between the Assassinations, The White Tiger takes place over the course of seven nights. Balram Halwai, also known as the White Tiger, is writing a nightly letter to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao prior to the Premier’s visit. Does Balram want the Premier to see India for what it really is or is there a different motive, one that is more personal? The reader isn’t 100% sure until the end. In these letters Balram explains his life and how he escaped servitude as a rich man’s chauffeur to become a cocksure and wealthy businessman. He makes no excuses for his methods for success or the sacrifices he (and his family) had to make. Even from a young age Balram knew he was destined to make his way out of the slums of India, even if it meant murder and corruption and betrayal.
As an aside, I am intrigued by Balram’s frequent references to his favorite poets: Muhammed Iqbal, Rumi, Mizra Ghalib, and a fourth whose name he can’t remember. The known three are actual middle eastern poets.

When stand-alone novels have a ring of familiarity across them I question if the author is striking the formulaic bell.

Edited to add the one quote I liked: “Strange thoughts brew in your heart when you spend too much time with old books” (p 218). Yup.

Author fact: Adiga also wrote Between the Assassinations which I read in 2017.

Book trivia: White Tiger was adapted for film in 2021. Of course, I haven’t seen it.

Playlist: Sting, Enya, Eminem.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned The White Tiger winning the Man Booker Prize in 2008.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia: India” (p 213).