Marianela, by Benito Pérez Galdós

40192889Marianela, orphaned at a young age, grew up receiving nothing but disdain from everyone. Of feeble constitution, she wasn’t fit to do any kind of mining work, the village’s primary activity, so she was regarded as little else than useless. She survived out of neglectfully provided charity, which never include any sort of education, so she grew up to be a very ignorant child, alien to any kind of scientific knowledge, building up her very particular superstitions from her own experiences of the world around her. A couple of years prior to the beginning of the story she became the companion of a blind young man, which became the only source of joy and feeling of usefulness in her life.

This young man, Pablo, is the only son and heir of a prominent man in the community. Despite his blindness, he was educated by his father, and even though part of the full comprehension of some part of the world is impeded by his condition, his high intellect overcomes his lack of sight.  One of his father’s acquaintances has a brother who happens to be a very prominent eye doctor, and there seems to be some hope that Pablo’s blindness could be fixed.

Pablo has Marianela in a very high regard. Knowing that he might be cured, he even hopes he could ask her in marriage, despite any social difference that there could be. His heart belongs only to her dear Nela, and nothing anyone said could make him  think that Marianela isn’t the most beautiful creature in the world. This breaks the girl’s heart, because the only thing she’s heard her entire life were comments on her ugliness and uselessness. She knows “for a fact” that none of the things that he believes, are real, and that once he’d gain his sight, she’ll have nothing to live for, because she’ll be, this time for certain, a useless creature.  

This book is, I believe, a classic in Spanish literature. I remember the first time I read it, I did  because it was on our high school reading list. And so it was on my mum’s, on her time. The fact that many of the available editions come with preliminary studies an/or activities, prove this point.

Through this edition’s preliminary study I learned that this novel is considered among the realist/naturalist tradition, something I never realized before, as I never considered this novel in context. However, it has a lot more moral content and less natural feeling that their French counterparts, at least the ones I’ve read (see here, here, here and here)

I was happy to re-read it again, as my first time coincided with my last. I do wonder, though,  why would they give this kind of tragic stories for kids in their early teens. I definitely didn’t appreciate its content back then.

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La canción de nosotros, by Eduardo Galeano

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Title translation (approx.): The song of us (maybe? When I was checking if this was a possible grammatical construction, I found out there’s already an English written book by that name)

Mariano is back. Back from where and back to where I don’t remember if it’s ever said*. Let’s just said he’s back from exile, and back to find and reconnect with the woman he loved (and still does) and was forced to left behind, Clara. After all he went through, Mariano is far from being the same person Clara met then, and they own themselves a deep conversation.

Ganapán and Buscavida**, in a way of having a goodbye party for the later, who is to leave the city soon, dreaming of having a better life somewhere else, just drunk all their remaining money. They wander around, trying to find a way to collect what’s necessary to buy Buscavida’s ticket, or some food. Ganapán is one of those who seemed destined from birth to poverty, and can hardly expect anything else. At least, he has his heart in the right place. Buscavida, not so much.

Rethinking this book now, I feel Mariano is like Ulysses coming back for Penelope, after having survived his odyssey. Ganapán is currently going through his own, one of a different kind, but struggling, nonetheless.

This was my first time reading something by Galeano. He was recommended to me before, and I have even buy some of his books for other people as presents, but never find myself reading any of them. I had to start somewhere, and this one came to my hands.

By the time this book was published, 1975, Galeano was exiled in Argentina while Uruguay was under a dictatorial government. While I was reading the chapters dedicated to the imprisonment, and the tortures, and even those fragments excerpted from the Inquisition’s archives (so hard to read), I couldn’t help but thinking how ominous they were to Argentina’s own near future (as in 1976 would start the last and most gruesome dictatorship of our history). I was also thinking how curious it was that, even when I was reading for pleasure, I ended up falling into a timeline coincident with my last non-fiction, graduation-project-related readings.

*although one can easily presume the story occurs in Montevideo, and Mariano’s back from Argentina, more presumably, Buenos Aires.

**theirs was my favorite arc of the book, mostly because it somehow made me think, in a way, of García Márquez’s magical realism, particularly their visit to La Perversa de París’ brothel and the characters they found there. And I absolutely adore their names, and almost every name in their arc, as they’re quite descriptive of the person baring them and any attempt on my part to anglicized them would be a complete disaster.  

Prohibido creer en historias de amor, by Javier Ruescas

36691791English translation: Forbidden to believe in love stories

“I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere. My family is wonderful and I love them very much, but sometimes I feel like they don’t know who I am.”

At 17, Cali belongs to a very unconventional family. Her parents record their everyday domestic life in videos they post on the Internet. Her siblings have their own channels with millions of followers, and her boyfriend is the country’s most popular YouTuber. Obsessed by popularity, no one in Cali’s life seems interested in the changes she’s experiencing inside, smack in the middle of adolescence.

Then she meets Hector, a mysterious street musician who plays the same song on the Metro every day. It’s the only thing he remembers from his childhood. He plays his song hoping that someone will recognise it and tell him where it comes from. In Hector, Cali unexpectedly finds someone who seems to understand her, as if they’d always known each other. By helping him find his origins, Cali will discover what she herself is made of. (from here)

I got the chance to read this one thanks to Edición Anticipada. Very few of them were given away for a review, and I was lucky enough to open their notification email just as I got it.

Javier Ruescas is one of the spoiled childs of the Young Adult genre in Spanish. Since his first book came out in 2009, he published 18 more, Prohibido… being the last one, which came out a couple of months ago.

I hadn’t read anything from Ruescas before, but I was aware of all the prattle about his work, so I gave in to it and requested the book.

The plot was predictable, as it followed what I think are very classic formulas and tropes of romantic stories: girl has a life that many dream of but girl is not happy with her life and nobody gets her feelings, but she can’t talk about them because she doesn’t want to hurt other people’s feelings, girl meets mysterious boy with a tragic past, mysterious boy annoys girl and, at first, girl can’t stand him but then girl bonds with him and eventually they fall in love and “solve” mysterious boy tragic past. In the meantime, girl finds an outlet for her frustration and improves her life. Add friends, family and whatnot. But, probably because it seizes all these overused and well known ingredients, ends up with a result that is not at all unpleasing.

The novel makes a lot of use of the “social media culture” (if there’s such a term), particularly that of YouTube, something the author himself is very familiar with. While it probably has a lot of resonance to the targeted audience, it does make me wonder how will the story age overtime.

In the end, to me it was like any generic rom-com: it was ok to fill a Sunday afternoon, absentmindedly, but I might won’t remember a thing of it at the end of the year.

The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel, by Maureen Lindley

6466895Peking, 1914. When the eight-year-old princess Eastern Jewel is caught spying on her father’s liaison with a servant girl, she is banished from the palace, sent to live with a powerful family in Japan. Renamed Yoshiko Kawashima, she quickly falls in love with her adoptive country, where she earns a scandalous reputation, taking fencing lessons, smoking opium, and entertaining numerous lovers. Sent to Mongolia to become an obedient wife, Yoshiko mounts a daring escape and eventually finds her way back to Peking high society—this time with orders from the Japanese secret service.

Based on the true story of a rebellious woman who earned a controversial place in history, The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel is a vibrant reimagining of a thrilling life—a rich historical epic of palace intrigue, sexual manipulation, and international espionage. (from Goodreads)

This book came to me from a friend, who was giving away some of her books.

I took in most of them.

Now I have books for at least two years worth of reading.

Anyway…

This novel is written as some sort of memoire, so it’s narrated in first person by Yoshiko, an historical character I’ve never heard of before. The story of the real Yoshiko seems vertiginous for a woman at that time and at that place (China/Japan/Mongolia), and the writer did a good job placing her as an exception and a person way ahead of her time, mostly due to her unusual upbringing and the facts that 1) she more or less received an education normally reserved for boys and that 2) she was forced to adulthood too early in her life. How much of this is actually based on historical facts, I can’t say. I chose to read it mostly like a work of fiction, as it was hard for me to wrap my mind around everything that was happening. What can I say? My lifestyle is quite unimpressive and my wildest adventures are always related to unfortunate commutes. That’s why I read so much…  

Is this a book I would have chosen in a bookstore for its cover or its argument? Probably not.

Did I like this book? Ehhh… I didn’t dislike it, but after a while the chapter’s cadence became repetitive, and every new element that came out to stir things up, got quickly absorbed into that monotonous rhythm. It’s just one of those books that leave me more or less indifferent, which is probably not a very nice thing to say about someone’s work, but that’s how I feel.

El último secreto de Eva Braun, by Enrique Amarante

38321143English translation: Eva Braun’s last secret

I read this book as part of Edición Anticipada’s program. These are books under Penguin Random House (in Spanish, I have no idea if they have something similar for other languages) that are offered to readers as an early edition to review. In this case, this was an ebook (I don’t think they do physical books anymore, despite what they say in their website).

The story goes about an ultra-secret plan, near the end of WW2, to bring Hitler to Argentina and launch the IV Reich from here. In this book, the whole suicide event is faked, and Hitler managed to escape in a submarine to the south Atlantic. I don’t know if you ever heard these kind of conspiracy theories, but they are familiar here, considering how many nazis actually managed to escape and perfectly blend in our society.

To be honest, I didn’t like this book, so I’m not very eager to talk about it. I asked it because I’m trying to get a little out of my comfort zone in my readings, and WW2 was never even close to that. I guess it is the pinnacle of my discomfort, dislike, uninterested zone. I actually had zero expectations and I began reading it with an open mind, but very soon I regret all my life choices. I really cannot say if I didn’t like the book because the subject was definitely not my cup of tea, or because I didn’t like the story itself.

Some of the things that were discouraging along the book were:

  • the gratuitous sex scenes that add absolutely nothing to the development of the story and that I found quite hard to believe could actually happen? I don’t know, I was never a spy, but really?;
  • the lack of interesting and believable female characters: I guess you could expect that in a book set in a military environment in those years, there weren’t too many women around, but the ones that appear here seemed to be all merely sexy decorations or femme fatales. I understand that it happens in the 40s and was a very different time, but ugh, so boring to read. These kind of things make me think this book is targeted exclusively to male readers, and even when that’s understandable, still, some women might have an interest in WW2, right?;
  • this is merely a formality, but at some point the notes lose correlativity and, considering that they’re at the end of the book and not at the end of the page, it made the whole reading process even more annoying.

There were so many other irritating things but, why would I keep complaining?

Inés of my soul, by Isabel Allende

11375476Born into a poor family in Spain, Inés, a seamstress, finds herself condemned to a life of hard work without reward or hope for the future. It is the sixteenth century, the beginning of the Spanish conquest of the Americas, and when her shiftless husband disappears to the New World, Inés uses the opportunity to search for him as an excuse to flee her stifling homeland and seek adventure. After her treacherous journey takes her to Peru, she learns that her husband has died in battle. Soon she begins a fiery love affair with a man who will change the course of her life: Pedro de Valdivia, war hero and field marshal to the famed Francisco Pizarro.

Valdivia’s dream is to succeed where other Spaniards have failed: to become the conqueror of Chile. The natives of Chile are fearsome warriors, and the land is rumored to be barren of gold, but this suits Valdivia, who seeks only honor and glory. Together the lovers Inés Suárez and Pedro de Valdivia will build the new city of Santiago, and they will wage a bloody, ruthless war against the indigenous Chileans—the fierce local Indians led by the chief Michimalonko, and the even fiercer Mapuche from the south. The horrific struggle will change them forever, pulling each of them toward their separate destinies. (from Goodreads)

I liked this book so much! In the last years I developed an interest for the Spanish conquest in the  American continent, but I haven’t read much since The Golden Empire: Spain, Charles V, and the Creation of America. Speaking of that book, even though it covers the Spanish advances throughout the entire continent, it’s mostly centered in what I believe where the biggest and most lucratives campaigns of Mexico and Peru. If I don’t remember wrong, Chile had a whole chapter, as it was quite related to Peru’s campaign, but it wasn’t as thorough as the main conquests.

I mentioned this because Allende’s book centers precisely in the conquest of Chile, filling that neglected aspect of the Spanish campaign. However, I must mark, unlike the 100% hard history content of The Golden Empire, Allende’s book is a very well researched fictional text.

Told from the point of view of Inés Suárez, a BAMF who is, apparently, usually overlooked by historians, it’s written as an autobiography. If you’re into strong female leads and historical fiction, this book will satisfy your wildest dreams (?), specially when you remember that the things that are told here actually happened (some of them, at least).

Once I finished the book of course I spent an entire afternoon (2 hours) reading in Wikipedia about all of these people. That’s how I found out that one of Valdivia’s BFF, Francisco de Aguirre, was the founder of Argentina’s eldest city to exist up to these days, Santiago del Estero. This is probably the most useless fact you’ll read today, but for the nerd that I am it was actually exciting.

Novel in nine letters, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

18941084Ivan Petrovich and Pyotr Ivanovich exchange letters that start in a certain amiable tone and end up in threats, while one complains about a certain young gentleman, introduced into their family by the other’s recommendation and the other reclaims some money lent which was never repaid.

I added this on the kindle app and when I began to read it I realized that I have read it before, and that I even had a physical copy in my bookshelves.

In my defense I can say that it was part of some compilation of works, so it was among other short stories and novels, so I never considered it on its own. I kept reading it, anyway, is no longer than 40 pages and epistolary novels are always fun.