Snippet: April 23, 2015 – International Book Day

(c) La Vanguardia

A happy reading day to all of you! La Vanguardia newspaper offers this foto gallery from Barcelona. In case you aren’t familiar with the celebrations yet, please consult these older posts from 20142013, and 2009. If you happen to be in Barcelona, you can also visit the Arts Libris, International Contemporary Publishing Fair (official website).

Update: The anniversary of Cervantes’ burial (and Shakespeare’s death) is also the day when the Cervantes prize is given. El País had this article on the acceptance speech by this year’s winner, Juan Goytisolo. 102_3706 c sant jordi 15 102_3707 c sant jordi 15 102_3709 c sant jordi 15

World Book Night: Top 10 Books for Reluctant Readers

A Little Blog of Books

World Book Night 2015Thousands of volunteers and institutions will be getting involved with World Book Night tomorrow and giving away around 250,000 special editions of 20 different books to people in their communities. While World Book Day celebrates reading specifically for children, World Book Night was established in 2011 as an alternative celebration for adults. 35% of the  population in the UK never read for pleasure and World Book Night is about reaching as many people as possible who don’t regularly read, particularly in prisons, hospitals, care homes and homeless shelters. As well as improving literacy and employability, reading has profound positive effects including social interaction through participating in book groups, as well as general well-being and happiness.

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Portugal’s colonial past – Henning Mankell’s “Memory of a dirty angel” (2011) — and Patrick Deville

Henning Mankell’s Minnet av en smutsig ängel [Memory of a dirty angel] hasn’t been translated into English yet.

Oscar L. Vazquez wrote this review, entitled “A lost angel” on the Spanish version (“An impure angel”), on Amazon:

Forced by the misery that surrounded her, Hanna abandoned her family home in cold Sweden and, after a short marriage, lands in the capital of Portuguese East Africa where, after another short marriage, she becomes the richest widow of the whole colony. When she begins to administer her riches, she begins to see the reality that surrounds here, the abyss that exists between whites and blacks, the racism of the Portuguese, the secrecy of the Africans, the colonizers’ exploitation and incomprehension and the philosophy of the colonized. Though she is rich, she wants to leave this world that seems hostile to her and that she doesn’t understand; but during the short time she spent in Lourenço Marques, the dark continent had already conquered her.

Well-written and dynamic novel that shows us the life and impressions of a Swedish woman in the early 20th century in the Portuguese colony that later became Mozambique. The colony’s life, its population’s mentality -both white and black- of that time, costums and lifestyles. A gripping and intriguing plot that one enjoys until the end.

This is not an exhaustive account of Portuguese colonialist activities in Africa but a novel that encompasses a few months of 1905 and the reality of life in a colonial society of the time. Mankell took a small piece of information from the Mozambiquan colonial archives -there was a Swedish woman who lived in the colonial capital, owned a brothel and was the most important taxpayer of the time- and created a novel around it.

If you would like to have a bigger picture of colonialism in Africa in a novelized form, Equatoria (2009) by Patrick Deville (St. Brevin, 1975; Wikipedia) might be the right book. This blogger stumbled upon the review while reading the Mankell novel. These days it has come out in its Spanish version (Ecuatoria), and the publisher’s description reads like this:

The author of the fascinating Plague and Cholera [2012] gives us a choral epos that begins with the controversial inauguration in 2006 of the pharaonic mausoleum dedicated to the remains of the Franco-Italian count Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, founder of the Congolesian capital, Brazzaville, in 1840. The narration flows following the course of the rivers Ogooué and Congo, in a passionate literary adventure that spans two centuries of history: from 1872, when Brazza opens the way for the colonization of equatorial Africa where the novel’s characters move, until today. Deville seduces us with a journey to the heart of the darkness, that happens in the same place and time in which the Conradian story is born, colonial Congo at the end of the 19th century, and at the same time he shows us the somber imprint of the history of the African colonies in the 21st century.

The author colours with lucid humor and self-irony the history of those men who “were able to dream that they were bigger than themselves, sowed disorder and desolation around them, covered the adventurous enterprises with the cloak of the ideologies of their time, grabbing the one that they could carry like a torch.” Few authors manage like Deville to be at the height of the great classics and at the same time to be furiously contemporaneous.

Among the personalities that appear in the novel, there are Jules Verne, Pierre Loti, Henry M. Stanley, David Livingstone, Albert Schweitzer, Mobutu, Che Guevara… and it seems to be difficult to tell what is fact and what is fiction.

SOURCE: amazon.es (visited on April 21, 2015), Pocketförlaget (cover picture Mankell); Anagrama (Ecuatoria)

33 Barcelona Int’l Comic Fair: award winners

The Comic Fair (April 16-19, 2015) awarded different prizes. The “great prize” [lifetime achievement] went to Enrique Sánchez Abulí (1945; Wikipedia). The prize for the best international work of the year went to Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples for the Space Opera saga. Las meninas [allusion to Velázquez] by Santiago García (1968; blog) and Javier Olivares (Madrid, 1964; blog) was considered the best Spanish work. The prize for an emerging artist went to Miki Montlló (blog); best fanzine to Thermozero Cómics (web); the public’s award for the best work went to Ana Oncina (Elda, 1989; web) for Croqueta y empanadilla [fried tapas].

SOURCE: La Vanguardia, April 18, 2015, p. 41 [printed edition]

Snippet: María Dueñas’ “Temperance”

María Dueñas, La Templanza [Temperance], 2015, 544 p.

Publisher’s summary:

There was nothing that made Mauro Larrea think that the fortune he built up with years of tenacity and courage would collapse with one big setback. Suffocated by debts and uncertainty, he bets his last resources on a reckless move that opens before him the opportunity to resurface. Until the disruptive Soledad Montalvo, the wife of a wine trader from London, enters his life, wrapped in chiaroscuros to drag him to a future he never suspected. From the young Mexican republic to splendid colonial Havanna; from the West Indies to the Jerez of the second half of the 19th century, when the wine trade with England converted this Andalusian city into a cosmopolitan and legendary enclave. La Templanza visits all of these scenarios; a novel that talks about glories and defeats, silver mines, family intrigues, grapes, cellars and proud cities whose splendour faded with time. A history of courage in front of adversity and of a destiny changed for ever by the force of a passion. Only great stories awake great emotions.

After this description, you might understand why this blogger hasn’t read any of Dueñas’ two preceding novels (yet). This one has been on the list of best-selling books since its publication – which might have to do more with good marketing than with the book’s literary qualities.

SOURCE: Planeta

New York trilogies (not by Paul Auster)

La Vanguardia newspaper includes a Saturday supplement called “Qui” [Who] that is borderline “yellow press” and that contains a regular column called “trilogies de NY”, separated into three parts, in which one of their US correspondents, Francesc Peiron, or (normally) Jordi Graupera (Barcelona, 1981; PhD candidate), explains an experience from the “Big Apple” to their Iberian readers.

Graupera’s column on April 11, 2015, was entitled “The superstition of the straight line” and read more or less like this:

On a muggy June afternoon three years ago, when I lived in that part of Brooklyn that is closest to Manhattan, I got to know a taxi driver whom they had broken the heart. I came down Bedford Avenue, the main avenue of the Port Aventura [Catalan theme park] into which the Williamsburg neighborhood has transformed itself, trying to decide if it was better, judging by speed and perspiration, to take the subway or to stop a cab. I was slowly smoking a Marlboro, and as a consequence made indulgent calculations: in general the subway is quicker and cheaper, but the cab exalts the individual, goes on the ground and has got windows. — The heat is a cure for the superstition of the straight line, so when I saw it pass, dazzling yellow, unoccupied, I stopped it and threw away the cigarette. Entering the cab I encountered a young and skinny man, nerve fibered, who neurotically looked into all directions at the same time. He had a small bottle of hand sanitizer, fluoride spray and nuclear chewing gum on the passenger seat next to him. He looked as if he changed his underwear three times a day until he told me: “No need to throw away the cigarette.” And waving with a packet of Winston: “If you like we smoke together.” — Oh yes, smoking inside a cab. But in New York, you are especially struck by a cab driver who talks to you – and does so not to find out if you are a tourist to be fleeced. — He talked and talked. We smoked and smoked. And he didn’t charge me.

ALL THE MORTGAGES

He hadn’t told me his name yet but was already giving me details on how he had stored his furniture in the attic above the garage of his parents’ house on Long Island, far away from everything. We stood in a traffic jam on Williamsburg Bridge, he spoke very quickly, lighted one cigarette after another, and watched me through the rearview mirror with the corneas teeming with fear, the eyebrows up, the forehead wrinkled; the questioning look that you sometimes see in people who look at you to find out if you think that they have lost contact with reality. — He was 28 years old and had degrees in English and Creative Writing. He had never planned to be a cabdriver, but the former highschool classmate whom he was in love with had finally succumbed to his efforts just at the time when he finished the last semester of his studies. They decided to live together, but with the salary that she earned as a clerk at a real estate agency and the proofreading jobs he found they didn’t make enough to buy a bargain she had discovered at Astoria, Queens. Her uncle plugged him in at the taxi service for which he worked, and the recent graduate thought he could do it by the hour to accumulate some savings. They signed the mortgage and within less than six months, he was a cabdriver on the twelve-hour night shift. —Having arrived at the destination, he parked the cab, we sat down on the hood, and the smoke and the sun roasted our heads.

BLOGS WITHOUT END

She began to doubt because she had fallen in love with a university man, a writer, a bohemian who went to East Village readings, and she lived with a cabdriver from Queens. “I became a cabdriver to have a future with her, and this way I lost her.” One night he came home earlier to make her happy, and she wasn’t there. She f***ed her former boyfriend, a mechanic. He wanted to pardon her, but she didn’t want to be pardoned. He left her. He continued the cabdriving as they hadn’t resolved the mortgage yet. I was late, and I proposed to meet again another day. “I still write, I have a blog where I narrate what I find while cabdriving.” I wrote it down on a piece of paper, together with his e-mail address. I lost the paper, as always, and I only knew his first name. — Now and then I look for cabdrivers’ blogs. There are quite a few, some of them have made it into books. A lot of them end up as corpses of blogs, abandoned after desperate texts, of cabdrivers burnt out by traffic, costs, accidents. They are not amazed any longer by the secrets of the rear seat. None of them is him. The cabdrivers I meet talk with the hands-free in languages that I don’t understand. When they speak Spanish, they do so mainly with the wives, who sometimes are a the country of origin. They ask about the kids and the routines; they don’t smoke and they don’t look inside the rearview mirror. As all the stories that happen inside a cab, this one doesn’t have an end.

SOURCE: “QUI”, La Vanguardia, April 11, 2015, p. 5 (printed edition)