Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Book Review: The Southern Tiger by Ricardo Lagos

from here
I've been far too long in hitting publish on my review of Ricardo Lagos' Southern Tiger, because I've struggled to unify what I have to say about the book's three acts.

What do you know about Chile under and after the reign of Augusto Pinochet? Too much or too little.

I came to Lagos' book knowing these things:
1) Pinochet ruled Chile in the modern autocratic fashion, by pretending to have been elected;
2) He came to power in the '70s, backed by the US amid a string of disastrous Cold War medling with South American politics, and he ruled into the late '80s;
3) He died in 2006, having never been punished for the war crimes he committed against the people of Chile.

The first third of Lagos' book was exactly what I had hoped for from the former opposition leader and Chilean president- an insider's account of the movement to oust Pinochet, and pride for the peaceful and democratic process that followed that transition. Lagos presents himself as (and may feel himself to have been) a key leader in the opposition, but his positions in the first post-Pinochet coalitions make him look more an observe of history, rather than a shaper of history. Still, that transition seems so much more remarkable as I watch the violent aftermath of the Arab Spring, of the collapse (re-collapse?) of the Congo, of the drug lords turning Mexico into a failed state to expedite their with the United States. Souther Tiger may suffer, after all, from a politician's gloss on history, but that doesn't diminish, for the me, the importance of that history.

The final third of Southern Tiger was just as eloquent- an idealogical manifesto for the future of Chile and the world, with (of course) Lagos' socialist slant at its core.

The middle section, though... I just lost interest. My limitation are no small part of the problem- reviewing Lagos' time in government after Pinochet was just too much inside baseball. With no prior knowledge of Chile's domestic struggles or dreams, I have no way to contextualize, no way to appreciate Lagos' achievements, nor do I have any knowledge of his failings. But the story also lacked a grand vision, a unifying arc to make Chile's struggles compelling to a foreigner.

Ultimately, Southern Tiger was a political memoir, neither the best nor the worst I've read in that genre. A fine enough book, but the wrong book for me.

Book 42 of my book-a-week challenge.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book Review: Mary by Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov's Mary is the story of a man with the opportunity to be reunited with an old flame. Nostalgia is a difficult emotion to build a book around. Our fond remembrance of our past, or at least my remembrance of mine, is built around a thousand little moments gone forever.

I am not nostalgic for a holiday. I have no fond memories of this or that Thanksgiving, a wonderful New Year's Eve or a splendid Fourth of July. I have memories of those events, some are even good. But the holidays and big events are simply built up too far. I dislike most of them before they are over; and I can't think of one I'd wish back.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Book Review: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

from the author's website

In undertaking a my little New Year's resolution to read 52 book, I expected a fair number of lousy books. And I've learned that writing about several weeks worth of mediocre or merely good one can sap some of the joy from writing. I'm sure that's why bad reviews are often funniest- what else is there really to say?

But writing a review is easy when the book is brilliant. And Heidi W. Durrow's The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is brilliant. The semi-autobiographical 2010 debut novel is about a girl of mixed race, her mother Danish and her father an African American GI, struggling to find her place in the world. Race is the most obvious theme here, closely followed by alcoholism, sexuality, and despair. In most of its handlings of these themes Girl feels like a first book- too often ham handed in tackling the issues head on.

Still, it's hardly a surprise that Barbara Kingsolver chose Girl as the winner of the 2008 PEN/Bellwether prize for a novel addressing social issues; the novels chapters rotate narrators in precisely the way of Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Review: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

from here
It's been a year of dystopia for me- from the five star (a couple books of Vonnegut, Habibi, and BFG) to the mediocre (World Made by Hand,  Hunger Games).

So, on a recent road trip, I brought along the audio-book of Brave New World.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Happy Friday

Best buddy Adam's in town, I'm way behind on blogging and National Novel Writing Month, and next week I'm getting my wisdom teeth pulled out.

Warren Zevon it is:

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

It's a funny thing for me, that I love the real world, but I spend most of my time in worlds of fiction through books and movies and theatre. What I love, I suppose, is the depiction of the real world.

It's a very meta-literary distinction, which probably goes a long way towards explaining why I enjoyed Alison Bechdel's new graphic novel memoir Are You My Mother?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Happy Friday

I've got friends up the East Coast who are still in the dark. Other friends are going to the chapel and gonna get married. Bright wishes for both groups.

If you need me, I'll have my feet up by the fire with a book or two.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Notes on Surviving a Hurricane

from here
Take the candles out of their hiding spots, all of them. Pull the tea lights from the back of the cabinet with the blue table cloth. Spread the table cloth across the dining room table and array the lights.
Take the thin tapers from behind the liquor bottles- take out the whiskey and the rum while you're there.  Pour. Fill as many candle holders as you own with tapers, and leave the rest on the mantle.
Set multi-wicked jar candles in the bathrooms and along the hallways leading from the dining room to the bathroom.

Light them all while the power is still on. Let them make up for the missing warmth.

Let each sputter lead to another and wait for the freight train wind lashed with rain, the approaching sirens. Breath, quick sharp shallow huddled. Breath, the sirens are not for us. As iron skinned engines doppler into the distance, thankfully count problems like blessings. Count problems like candles, like lit wicks burning down, that must burn down and die.

Place buckets beneath anything that leaks.