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.”
Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate. Read by Kate Reading. Westminster, MD: Books on Tape, 1994.
Reason read: March is supposedly the best time to visit Mexico. Better go do it before there’s a wall between us!
Confessional: this is a reread. I already read it back in the 90s when it was first published. It’s such a short story I felt like reading it again.
In a word, sensuous. But, keep reading and other words will pop out: passionate, exotic, magical, romantic, mystical. The Boston Globe called it “deceptively simple” and I couldn’t agree more. The words flow off the page and into your brain effortlessly and yet they have the power to stick with you. [Case in point: Gertrudis catching fire and running naked through the yard only to be swept up by a man on horseback is a scene I have never forgotten.] But, to the plot: Tita is the youngest daughter and, by family tradition, must devote her life to caring for her mother for her entire life. She cannot wed, she cannot leave the home. Ever. Even when the love of Tita’s life proposes marriage she cannot accept. Instead she is forced to become the family cook, spending her days preparing meals for the rest of the family, including Tita’s true love who has married her sister. It onl;y gets more intriguing from there.
Lines to quote: whenever I listen to an audio book there often isn’t a good opportunity to find quotes. It’s rare that I’ll even remember the line later. Even rarer that I’ll find the page it was on. However, I liked this line so much I got the print version just so I could quote it properly. “Unquestionably, when it came to dividing, dismantling, dismembering, desolating, detaching, dispossessing, destroying, or dominating, Mama Elana was a pro” (p 97).
Author fact: Esquivel was a screenwriter first.
Book trivia: I think everyone has seen Like Water for Chocolate, the movie.
Nancy said: Nancy said Like Water for Chocolate was “charming.” (p 153).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Mexican Fiction” (p 153).
I’m really looking forward to spring. The chance to run outside (sorry, New Guinea) & a little more green in my life. Here are the books planned:
- Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel ~ in honor of the best time to visit Mexico (AB). I think this will only take a few days to read so I’m adding:
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (AB) as a backup ~ in honor of the Oscars (even though they just happened, embarrassingly so).
- Falling Angels by Barbara Gowdy ~ in honor of the time Niagara Falls stopped flowing, and,
- Treachery in the Yard by Adimchinma Ibe ~ in honor of Nigeria’s president as of 2015.
Both of these fictions are short-short so I should be able to read them in a day or two each.
- Breaks in the Game by David Halberstam ~ in honor of March Madness (basketball)
- The Big Empty edited by Ladette Randolph ~ in honor of Nebraska becoming a state in March.
- Red Bones by Ann Cleeves ~ to continue the series started in January in honor of Up Helly Aa.
- Endymion by Dan Simmons ~ to continue the series started in January in honor of Science Fiction month. This sucker is 600 pages long. Not sure I’ll finish it in time…
- Hall of a Thousand Columns by Tim Mackintosh-Smith ~ to continue the series started in February in honor of Exploration month. This is an ILL and it hasn’t arrived yet, so I’m not sure I will finish it in time.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Ma Speaks Up by Marianne Leonne ~ maybe. I “won” it in February but it hasn’t arrived yet.
- EDITED to ADD: I just got word I also “won” My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul. It isn’t expected to arrive for awhile so this is really an April book.
Kingsolver, Barbara. The Lacuna. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.
Kingsolver, Barbara. The Lacuna. Read by Barbara Kingsolver. New York: Recorded Books, 2009.
This was an anniversary gift from my beloved Kisa when it was first published. Kingsolver is my favorite author so I have been savoring it like fine wine.
Reason read: Two reasons. As I mentioned before, Kingsolver is my favorite author and March is the best time to go to Mexico. Or so they say…
Mexico, 1929. In the beginning American-born Harrison Shepard is a simple young boy just barely holding onto his Mexican mother’s apron strings as she drags him through one failed relationship to another in her never-ending quest for all-adoring lover. He is without friends or proper parenting. His closest companions are housekeepers and servant boys.
As Harrison matures he he finds work as a plaster-mixer/cook in artist Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo’s home. He befriends political figures like Lev Trotsky. He is now in a world where packing a machine gun along with food and a blanket for a picnic is nothing out of the ordinary. He writes everything down. From there, this coming of age tale turns political. America, 1941. Harrison finds his way to Asheville, North Carolina and goes on to be a successful author. Polio and Communism are the growing paranoias of the times. Harrison’s personality, unchanged since childhood, and his involvement with Rivera and Trotsky put him on a dangerous path of presumption and suspicion.
This is a tale of loyalty and love; a portrait of a quiet, unassuming man just trying to make it in the world.
Read it. Read it. Read it!
I could quote entire sections of The Lacuna but I will limit myself to just a few (while trying not to go overboard): “The ocean is the last dream in the morning before the noise from the street comes in” (p 49), “Yesterday’s heroes fall beneath the shoes of the city” (p 68), “You seemed to be excavating your soul to locate some kindness” (p 184), “Even morality is a business of supply and demand” (p 396), and – last one – “Years do not erase bereavement” (p 506).
Author fact:Kingsolver reads her own book. This is a special treat because the author knows her own story. She knows what emotion to put into a character’s mouth as the words come out. Later next month I’ll be listening to Spurlock read his own book, Don’t Eat This Book. Should be interesting.
Book Audio trivia: In addition to Kingsolver reading Lacuna there is music before each part of the book. I especially liked the instrumental before Part IV.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter “Postcards from Mexico” (p 186).
Lowry, Malcolm. Under the Volcano. Read by John Lee. Blackstone Audio, Inc., 2009.
Reason read: November 2nd is traditionally known as Day of the Dead or All Souls Day in Mexico. For the most part, Under the Volcano takes place in one day on November 2nd, 1939. Confessional: Then She Found Me ended a week early so I started listening to Under the Volcano on October 23rd 2015.
The very first thing you notice about Under the Volcano is the luxurious writing. Lowry’s use of language is like sinking in a deep bed of velvet. You fall in and keep falling until you can’t extract yourself from the words very easily. Listening to this an audio made it a little more difficult because of the various languages spoken and the switching of points of views. I can understand written Spanish much better than the spoken language.
The very first chapter sets the stage for the following eleven chapters. It is November 2nd 1940 in Quauhnahuac, Mexico and two men are reminiscing about the British Consul, Geoffrey Firmin. Chapter two takes us back exactly one year and we follow Firmin’s activities for one short day. Be prepared for a pathetic man’s sad Day in the Life. His ex-wife has just returned to Mexico from an extended stay in America in an effort to reconcile with Firmin but ends up having a better time with his half brother. All the while the Consul is drinking, drinking, drinking. It is tragic how he argues with himself about that one last drink. There are mysterious dogs, runaway horses, bullfighting, and of course, the ever present volcanoes. Warning, but not a real spoiler alert: this doesn’t end well for anyone.
Quotes I liked somewhere within the pages of Under the Volcano: “Genius will look after itself”. True. And, “Vandals in sandals looking at murals”.
Author fact: Under the Volcano seems very autobiographical in nature. Lowry was an alcoholic, lived in Mexico for a time and went through a divorce, all like his main character, Geoffrey.
Book trivia: Under the Volcano was made into a movie and was Lowry’s last novel before he died.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Postcards From Mexico” (p 186). Incidentally, it’s the last book of the chapter and to describe it Pearl calls it “uber viscerally painful” (p 186).
Greene, Graham. The Lawless Roads. London: Heinemann, 1960.
Graham Greene was a deeply religious man. When he was commissioned to write of the Mexican government’s forced anti-Catholic secularization and anti-clerical purges he traveled to the country to see for himself what effects this had on the people. Churches were being destroyed and clergymen were being driven into exile or brutally murdered at an alarming rate. As Greene traveled to the areas where the Catholic persecutions were the most violent Greene was deeply affected and reaches an almost despondent state. It is hard to tell if his depression was cause by an inability to connect to people and culture of Mexico (his Spanish was limited and their English was nonexistent), his on-going illness or the inability to open his mind beyond his own colonialism. In the end Mexico was a country he could barely wait to escape.
Best head scratching line: “Four one-armed men dined together, arranging their seats so that their arms shouldn’t clash” (p 9). Kisa and I do that, too. Only we sit that way not because we are missing arms but rather because he is right handed and I am left.
Author Fact: Graham Greene died in April 1991 which is the main reason why I chose to read Lawless Roads. Another reason is April is a good time to visit Mexico, if you dare.
Book Trivia: Lawless Roads was published as Another Mexico.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Postcards From Mexico” (p 185). Note: This is my first Book Lust To Go “accomplished” book. At least it’s the first one that wasn’t already read because of Book Lust or More Book Lust.
Fuentes, Carlos. The Old Gringo. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1985.
Everything about this story was deceiving. Despite the fact it was written in 1985 it has an old world language and culture to it. The time frame is supposed to take place in 1914 but to read it, it wasn’t full of new language trying to sound old, elderly, or even ancient. Despite the fact it is only 199 pages long it was packed with histories of places and people, cultures and religions. The language was both accessible and challenging. It reminded me of fun house mirrors. Not everything was as it seemed.
Ambrose Bierce is an American writer and soldier traveling to Mexico to die. He is known throughout the story as simply the Old Gringo. Once in Mexico he meets several characters with equally troubling, mysterious stories. Tomas Arroyo is a Villa general who gives the Old Gringo competition when vying for the attention of Harriet Winslow, another American who came to Mexico to teach English. All the characters have a past they can’t forget and a future they can’t escape. The Old Gringo tells the story of these personalities with the same passion used to describe the Mexican landscape. In the end, the Old Gringo does die, but it is worth the read because there is definitely more to the story than that.
Favorite lines: “But the old man wanted to make life difficult for himself” (p 10), and “If her soul was not different from her dreams, she could accept that both were instantaneous. Like a dream, her soul revealed itself in flashes” (p 48).
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter, “Mexican Fiction” (p153).