Coelho, Paulo. By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept: a Novel of Forgiveness. Translated by Al;an R. Clarke. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006.
Reason read: July is the month of summer romances…or returning to one. One of the most romantic places on earth, in my opinion, is Monhegan Island, Maine. Ten miles out to sea there is something about the smell of the salty ocean, the cries of gulls and crashing surf amidst summer wildflowers and dusky fireflies. Boats rock in the harbor shrouded by early morning fog. I was able to read the novella By the River… in two nights amidst all this on said island.
By the River Piedra romances its reader from start to finish. Protagonist Pilar is twenty eight years old and making her way through life as an independent and capable young woman in Spain. By coincidence she reunites with her boyfriend from eleven years ago. He has turned into a handsome spiritual guru who happens to be a much trusted healer. Together they rekindle their romance while on a journey to the French Pyrenees. Age and time have given them a fresh perspective on love, forgiveness, and spirituality.
Author fact: Coelho also wrote the more famous novel, The Alchemist, which is not on my list for whatever reason.
Book trivia: By the River Piedra… was an international best seller.
Nancy said: absolutely nothing.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Latin American Fiction” (p 144).
Meyer, Deon. Blood Safari. Translated by K.L. Seegers. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2009.
Reason read: Deon Meyer was born in the month of July. Read in his honor.
Young and beautiful Emma Le Roux thought she needed a body guard after at least two masked men broke into her South African home and tried to kill her. How does she know they wanted to kill her? They weren’t looking to steal anything and they weren’t typical vandals, so who were they exactly? What was their motive to harm her, someone with seemingly no known enemies? Was it a coincidence the violence arrived on her doorstep only after she starting asking questions about seeing her dead brother on television? In her mind she had a right to question what she saw for all she knew he had been dead for twenty years. According to to news program he was wanted for murder. Did Emma’s brother really brutally gun down four poachers? To find out the truth she enlists the help of Martin Lemmer, employed by the protection agency, Body Armor.
Lemmer, as he prefers to be called, is your typical strong, silent-type bodyguard. He has rules he refers to as “Lemmer Laws” that supposedly cannot be broken and yet he has a way of breaking them. The first Lemmer law is Don’t Get Involved with a client. He breaks that one almost immediately when he doesn’t believe Emma’s story and he lets his body guard down. Emma is nearly killed on his watch. Someone out there wants her dead in the worst way. Now Lemmer has gone from protecting Emma to seeking revenge on whoever hurt her.
As an aside, I couldn’t help but think of the viral honey badger video whenever a honey badger was mentioned. I couldn’t get the narrator’s voice out of my head!
Simple truth I had to quote, “The barrel of a gun changes everything” (p 19). Yes. Yes, it does.
Author fact: Meyer’s author picture on the back cover is interesting. He looks like he is dressed in a black turtleneck or high collared coat and yet he’s lying in the sand?
Book trivia: Blood Safari was translated from the Africaans.
Nancy said: Pearl said she couldn’t imagine Meyer’s Blood Safari taking place anywhere but South Africa because of the history of old wounds never healing. She also called Blood Safari “fast-paced and emotionally nuanced” (Book Lust To Go p 216)
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “South Africa (Fiction)” (p 215).
Rodriguez Julia, Edgardo. The Renunciation: a Novel. Translated by Andrew Hurley. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1997.
Reason read: Puerto Rico’s Hostos Day is in January; to celebrate the birthday of Eugenio María de Hostos.
The year is 1753 in colonial Puerto Rico. Bishop Larra, desperate to bring calm to a slave population on the verge of revolt, arranges a marriage between Baltasar Montanez, a poor slave leader and Josefina Prats, the wealthy and white daughter of the secretary of state. The idea is to make the destitute population believe they can too can marry their way into wealth and equality; to calm black indignation and for a while it seems to work. There is peace in the community because if Baltasar can marry up…. Until Montanez’s true personality comes to light. He is not the hero everyone thinks he is. [As an aside, I tracked all of the different words and phrases used to describe Baltasar: enigma, hero, declasse, upstart, benefactor, traitor, puppet, emancipated slave, peacemaker, verbsoe, rhetorical, slightly pompous, of great intelligence, well-pleased, cynical, intruder, black, cane-cutter, handsome, a figure of profound historical significance…I could go on.] Here is a commentary on not only Puerto Rico’s political climate in the eighteenth century, but a study in human nature. Was the marriage orchestrated by Bishop Larra? Was the bride’s father involved from the beginning? Who holds the lie and who lives the truth?
A word of warning. Obviously, as most arranged marriages go, Baltasar and Josefina’s marriage is not a sexual one. Her enjoyment comes from peeping through the keyhole to spy on Baltasar’s legendary yet unimaginative orgies.
Author fact: Julia has received a Guggenheim fellowship.
Book trivia: The Renunciation is Edgardo Rodriguez Julia’s first English-translated work.
Nancy said: Pearl called The Renunciation “difficult but exhilarating” and if you are interested in colonial Puerto Rico you shouldn’t miss it (Book Lust To Go p 57).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean: Puerto Rico” (p 52).
Pytheas of Massalia. On the Ocean. Translated by Christina Horst Roseman. Chicago: Ares Publishers, Inc., 1994.
Reason read: December is a good time to visit Greece, if you are so inclined to travel this holiday season.
Probably the biggest take-away I got from Christina Horst Roseman’s translation of On the Ocean was that Pytheas did not intend it as a sailing guide. What is amazing is that despite eighteen known ancient writers making reference to Pytheas over an 850 year-span, his original writings do not exist at all. It is obvious that On the Ocean was an important document but what happened to it? How was it not preserved in some way? In addition, Roseman states, “special problems are also raised by the work of two authors who probably made use of Pytheas, but in whose surviving work he is not named” (p 18). Wouldn’t that be considered plagiarism…if they had such a thing back then? A great deal of Roseman’s text is comparing what Strabo, Polybios and Pliny wrote as they were considered rivals of Pytheas.
Author fact: Roseman admits that through the years, because not a shred of Pytheas’s original writings exist, “assumptions have been accepted” about On the Ocean. I think that would be true of anything without substantiated proof. Rumor becomes real after awhile.
Book trivia: On the Ocean has an index of Greek words but no dictionary. There are quite a few passages in Greek without translation so right away I found it inconvenient.
Nancy said: not much aside from the writings of Pytheas don’t exist anymore.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Here Be Dragons: the Great Explorers and Expeditions” (p 111).
Ogawa, Yoko. The Housekeeper and the Professor. Translated by Stephen Snyder. New York: Picador, 2009.
Told from the point of view of the unnamed housekeeper, The Housekeeper and the Professor is a beautiful yet complex tale about an unlikely relationship. She is a single mother to a ten year old boy, cleaning the house of a once-brilliant professor. He is a mathematician who suffered a traumatic head injury that has left him with a memory that lasts only 80 minutes at a time. It’s an unusual predicament. The housekeeper must reintroduce herself to the professor every day she comes to cook and clean for the man. If she is at his tiny bungalow more than 80 minutes she must reintroduce herself in the same day. To try to compensate for his lack of memory, the professor has pinned notes about his life to help him cope. Included in his notes are details about the housekeeper and her son who the professor calls, “Root.” Despite the obvious obstacles the professor and the housekeeper develop a beautiful friendship. At the “root” of their relationship is ten year old Root, baseball, and the undying love for a left-handed pitcher.
Line that bothered me to no end, “He traced the symbol in the thick layer of dust on his desk” (p 1). This bothered me because the title of the book is The Housekeeper and the Professor. The housekeeper is speaking about the professor’s desk. Hello? Shouldn’t the desk be rid of dust if she is the housekeeper or does the definition of housekeeping differ in Japan?
As an aside, it was interesting to read two different books that have a left-handed pitcher in the plot.
Reason read: Emperor Akihot was born in the month of December.
Author fact: Ogawa also wrote The Diving Pool which is not on my list to read but seems like the better book because the back of The Housekeeper and the Professor has praise for The Diving Pool.
Book trivia: The Housekeeper and the Professor is short, only 180 pages long.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Japanese Journeys” (p 117).
Sijie, Dai. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. New York: Random House, 2002.
This is the story of two Chinese teenage boys exiled to a remote mountain village for “re-education” during the 1970s; during the Cultural Revolution. In Part I in between bouts of grueling hard labor in the mines they meet the beautiful daughter of the local tailor. She is “the little Chinese seamstress” of the title. In Part II Luo and the unnamed narrator have a friend they call Four-Eyes. A myopic boy who has a mysteriously suitcase full of banned books. When Four-Eyes begrudgingly gives them a decrepit copy of Balzac the boys are hooked. Luo takes the forbidden story to the Little Chinese Seamstress and woos her with words. In Part III the boys grow careless with their knowledge of the forbidden books, the little Chinese seamstress becomes pregnant and life for all three changes.
Quotes that grabbed me, “The flirtation turned into a grand passion” (p 110), “After all, how could I die now, without having known love or sex, without having taken free individual action against the whole world…?” (p 114) and “The medical intervention was a success” (p 173).
Reason read: According to a bunch of travel sites September in China is beautiful. In honor of beautiful China in September…
Author fact: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is Dai Sijie’s first book.
Book trivia: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress became a national bestseller and in 2002 it was adapted into a movie.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “China Voices” (p 54).
Undset, Sigrid. Kristin Lavransdatter: the Bridal Wreath. Translated by Charles Archer. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1922.
The first thing I have to point out is there were two things going against this book (for me, anyway). One is sheer size. The entire novel is a trilogy, well over 1,000 pages. Add another sixty pages if you want to include the author’s notes. And the print is small. Real small. The second “negative” is that it is a translation, originally written in Norwegian. It seems I never do well with translated works. It’s almost as if the translator, no matter how hard he or she tried, lost something essential to the flavor of the book. I can’t explain it other than something always gets lost in translation. I know that’s cliche of me to say, but in this case I mean it literally, 100%. Note: I just found out that there is another, more recent translation that seems to be superior to the one I read. Darn.
Having said all that I should also point out (again) Kristin Lavransdatter has three volumes: The Bridal Wreath, the Wife and the Cross. I decided to read The Wreath in June, The Wife in July and The Cross in August. My chances of actually finishing the thing are much better when broken out this way. Another confession: while this might be a lengthy tale it’s also very good and easy to read.
I read this book because a) June is the best time to visit Norway and if you haven’t guessed by my tirade, the author is Norwegian; and b) June is the best month to get married (or divorced) in and Kristin is about the marriage of Kristin…eventually. The book starts with “The Bridal Wreath.” Kristin is a very young child traveling with her father across Norway. In true 14th century fashion Kristin is betrothed to a wealthy, reputable man in a neighboring town. As Kristin grows up she becomes increasingly rebellious, so much so that when she is nearly raped her community has doubts about who is telling the truth. As a result her family decides to send Kristin away to a convent to hide out until the rumors die down. While at this convent she falls in love with the dashing Erlend, a man who has reputation problems of his own. Excommunicated by the Catholic church because of an affair with a married woman, Erlend manages to seduce Kristin as well. Before they can be married Kristin becomes pregnant. The title of this section of Kristin Lavransdatter is in regards to the wreath wears on her wedding day. It is supposed to signify virginity but Kristin wears it with shame, too embarrassed to tell anyone it is a lie.
Author fact: Undset was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928.
Book Trivia: Kristin Lavransdatter was made into a movie in 1995.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging Up the Past Through Fiction” (p 79)’, and Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Norway: The Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162).
Camus, Albert. The Stranger.Translated by Matthew Ward. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.
The quick and dirty about The Stranger: Meusault kills a man while on a weekend vacation with his girlfriend. Part I entails the events leading up to the murder and Part II is post-murder arrest and trial. The interesting component to the story is Meursault’s (although not surprising) attitude towards the crime. From the very beginning Meursault has an apathy towards life in general. When he is confronted with a marriage proposal or a job offer he feels nothing. He barely shows emotion when his mother dies. It’s as if he doesn’t care about anything and yet, curiously, he keeps an old scrapbook where he collects things from the newspapers that interest him. He doesn’t seem to understand love/hate relationships like the one his neighbor has with his dog of eight years. Meursault’s attention span is also something to note. He is often distracted by lights being too bright, the ringing of bells and the chatter of people around him. the presence of light is particularly interesting since it is the sun that “causes” Meursault to murder.
When Meursault murders a stranger for no apparent reason the fact he did it is not up for debate. It is the reason why that is questioned. Calling Meursault The Stranger is a contradiction because he is not a stranger in the traditional sense. He is not a loner or outcast. He has friends, coworkers, even a girlfriend. What Meursault is a stranger to is expected societal behavior, like mourning the loss of a parent or having feelings for someone he is in a sexual relationship with. Nothing that happens around Meursault has an emotional impact on him.
Favorite line: “I had the whole sky in my eyes and it was blue and gold” (p 19).
Book Trivia: The Stranger has inspired musicians and made its way into pop culture. It was made into a 2001 movie.
Author Fact: Camus won a Nobel Prize for literature in 1957.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “North African Notes” (p 159). The Stranger takes place in Algiers.
Kazantzakis, Nikos. Zorba the Greek. Trans. Carl Wildman. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1952.
I will be the first to admit it wholeheartedly. I did not enjoy Zorba the Greek. There, I said it. I am beginning to feel I have a built in prejudice against translated stories because this is not the first time I have said this. Something gets lost in the translation. I am sure of it. Not only that, but this time I was bored. Supposedly, Nikos Kazantzakis’s Last Temptation of Christ is more exciting. I can only wait and see.
Lines I did happen to like, “And I’m making it snappy so I don’t kick the bucket before I’ve had the bird!” (p 36), and “The mischievous demon in the wine had carried her back to the good old days” (p 37).
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter “The Alpha, Betas, Gammas of Greece” (p 9).
Puertolas, Soledad. Bordeaux. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1998.
Despite being under 200 pages this took me a long, long time to finish. Maybe it’s the fact it was originally written in Spanish (Soledad Puertolas is one of Spain’s most acclaimed writers). I’m thinking maybe something got lost in the translation. That’s always possible. I found the whole storyline to be choppy, disjointed, even abrupt in some places. It was if Puertolas took three short stories and tied them together by location. On the surface all three chapters focus on a single character located in the same city. They all have Bordeaux, France in common. It’s the villa that apparently ties these stories together.
First, there is Pauline Duvivier, an lonely elderly woman asked to do a favor outside her comfort zone – something scandalous involving adultery and blackmail. As the reader you really don’t get the whole picture. Then, there is Rene Dufour. He is unlucky in love, worse in relationships of any kind. You can’t help but feel sorry for him and wondering what’s wrong with him. The last character, Lilly Skalnick, is a young American traveling through Europe. She’s just as lost as the rest of them. As each character is introduced and explored it is hard to ignore the social portrait being drawn. Every character is lost, lonely, searching for something or someone to satisfy an unknown longing.
Favorite lines: “Her father’s death had left her alone with herself, and she lamented then not having known that that life was, perhaps the one she would have chosen” (p 7), and “His blueish-gray eyes didn’t seem to place much trust in the wisdom contained in books” ( 84).
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter, “Latin American Fiction” (p 144).