Mostly Fiction BOOK REVIEWS

 

Latin American Literature


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Ruins

by Achy Obejas
(3-11-09)
 
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Havana Lunar

by Robert Arellano
(3-7-09)

 
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Buried Strangers

by Leighton Gage
(1-31-09)

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Young Che

by Ernesto Guevara Lynch
(1-17-09)

 
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The Duppy

by Anthony Winkler
(04-10-08)

 
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The New Moon's Arms

by Nalo Hopkinson
(02-21-08)

Recently Published Books in Hardcover:

Havana Lunar by Robert Arellano - Inspired by fifty years of Cuban literary noir, from Cold Tales by Virgilio Piñera to Reinaldo Arenas' Before Night Falls, Robert Arellano's Havana Lunar intertwines an insider testimony on the collapse of socialist Cuba with a psychological mystery. (March 2009 in paperback) author page

The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes - Originlly published in Spanish as La muerte de Artemio Cruz in 1962; it is an imaginative portrait of an unscrupulous individual. The story also serves as commentary on Mexican society, most notably on the abuse of power--a theme that runs throughout Fuentes' work. (February 2009 in paperback) author page

Buried Strangers by Leighton Gage - 2nd in the Mario Silva series set in Brazil. (January 2009) author page

2666 by Roberto Bolano - Composed in the last years of Roberto Bolaño’s life, 2666 was greeted across Europe and Latin America as his highest achievement, surpassing even his previous work in its strangeness, beauty, and scope. Its throng of unforgettable characters includes academics and convicts, an American sportswriter, an elusive German novelist, and a teenage student and her widowed, mentally unstable father. Their lives intersect in the urban sprawl of SantaTeresa—a fictional Juárez—on the U.S.-Mexico border, where hundreds of young factory workers, in the novel as in life, have disappeared (November 2008)

The Bad GirlThe Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa - Ricardo Somocurcio is in love with a bad girl. He loves her as a teenager known as “Lily” in Lima in 1950, when she arrives one summer out of the blue, claiming to be from Chile but vanishing the moment her claim is exposed. He loves her next in Paris, where she appears as the enchanting “Comrade Arlette,” an activist en route to Cuba, and becomes his lover, albeit an icy, remote one who denies knowing anything about the Lily of years gone by. Whomever the bad girl turns up as—whether it’s Madame Robert Arnoux, the wife of a high-ranking UNESCO official, or Kuriko, the mistress of a sinister Japanese businessman—and however poorly she treats him, Ricardo is doomed to worship her. (October 2008 in paperback) author page

The Gifted Gabaldón Sisters by Lorraine López - Lopez's engaging novel chronicles how four sisters' lives are shaped by the early loss of their mother and their belief that they were granted magical abilities upon the death of an enigmatic loved one. (October 2008)

Three Musketeers by Marcelo Brimajer - Elisa Traum, a former Argentinian currently residing in Israel, returns to Buenos Aires after twenty years of absence to mourn two friends- two fellow Jews who together with him once comprised "the three musketeers." (October 2008)

Oscar WaoThe Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz - Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fukœ-the curse that has haunted the Oscar's family for generations... (September 2008 in paperback) author page

Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat - Edwidge tells of making a new life in a new country while fearing for the safety of those still in Haiti as the political situation deteriorates.  (September 2008 in paperback) author page

Blackout by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Rosa - With no witnesses and no weapon, it seems like the case of the one-legged homeless man found lying in a cul-de-sac on São João Hill, shot through the heart, will remain unsolved. But Chief Inspector Espinosa can’t shake thoughts of the hapless victim—who would target a penniless man who posed no physical threat? (August 2008) author page

Let the Wind Speak by Juan Carlos Onetti - Published in 1979, this was Argentine Onetti's first novel written after his exile in Spain. (August 2008 in paperback)

Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner - A vivid portrait of the American communities in pre-Castro Cuba -- nominated fo rthe National Book Award. (July 2008)

The Book of ChameleonsThe Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa - Félix Ventura trades in an unusual commodity; he is a dealer in memories, clandestinely selling new pasts to people whose futures are secure and who lack only a good lineage to complete their lives. In this completely original murder mystery, where people are not who they seem and the briefest of connections leads to the forging of entirely new histories, a bookish albino, a beautiful woman, a mysterious foreigner, and a witty talking lizard come together to discover the truth of their lives. (June 2008 in paperback)Read Review

A Handbook to Luck by Christina Garcia - Late 1960s. We meet three children: Enrique Florit, from Cuba, living in southern California with his flamboyant magician father . . . Marta Claros, getting by in the slums of San Salvador, forced to leave school to help support her family, her beloved older brother having already left home . . . Leila Rezvani, a well-to-do surgeon’s daughter in Tehran, her mother concerned only with appearances, her father an often foolishly vocal opponent of the Shah. We follow them across the next twenty years—the narrative moving among their lives. (April 2008 in paperback)

Lost City RadioLost City Radio by Daniel Alarcon - A powerful and searing novel of three lives fractured by a civil war set in a nameless South American country. (February 2008 in paperback)

 


 

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Related to this Bookshelf:

Thirty Years of Hispanic Literature in the United States
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

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About this Bookshelf:

Where magic is the reality of everyday life!My fascination with Latin American Writing started shortly after college while living with eight housemates in one of those grand old houses in Portsmouth, NH. As only energetic young people can do, we started a democratic non-profit theater organization to showcase locally written and otherwise little known one-act plays. I had my first directing experience with four friends and a play called "The Story of the Man Who Turned Into A Dog" by Osvaldo Dragun (Selected Latin American One-Act Plays by Francesca Colecchia). As much as I'd like to think that it was our talent and our unique set, I still believe the true credit for the strength of the play, goes to the writer.  This was Generic Theater's most frequently and longest run one-act play.  We presented it for years at many functions for fun and for fund-raising.

"The Story of the Man Who Turned Into a Dog" is about four actors who tell the story of a man they knew.  He needs a job, but every time he applies for one he is told that there are no jobs.  Not unless someone dies, retires or is fired.  And then the night watchman's dog dies. Our man applies for the job and gets it.  He talks his wife, Maria, into living with some friends since he now has a dog house to sleep in. It takes a bit to adjust to his new job. (The Man: "This dog house is too tight." The Boss: "Get on all fours and squeeze into it.  Come on try it, you can do it!"  The Boss: "Now when I walk by, you must bark. Come on try.") Maria visits him but she is more and more distraught by his behavior. ("You bit me!" "No, I was only trying to kiss you, Maria.")  Until finally, he is last seen running through town on all fours.  It's a simple story with a deceptively easy script, yet it's an enduring message.  I directed this play in 1981, just after one of the worst recessions.  But this is not about finding a job in a tough job market. It is about becoming your job.

My next major encounter with this style of writing, was when I automatically received the Book of the Month selection, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez.  Again, I was caught by the language, the vividness and the thinking.  Craving for more, I picked up a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude. I read One Hundred Years of Solitude twice right off.  I'm not even sure if I understood the term Magic Realism during those early days. I certainly did not understand it as a genre.  I just knew I had found something good and original that resonated with me.  

Magic Realism is commonly defined as blurring the distinction between fantasy and reality or treating the exceptional or extraordinary as common place. Here's some links that can give you a better feel:

About five years ago, I started to actively search out more material by Latin American writers. I am fairly lucky since there has been a surge (or maybe just recognition) of Hispanic writers being published.  After living in the Florida Keys, I have a keen fascination for Cuban writers (such as Margarita Engle, Carolina García Aguilera, and Cristina Garcia) thus you'll find my growing list of writers in this category as well.  Finally, I tend to agree with Zamoris and Faris that the Magical Realism genre goes well beyond just Latin American writers and thus in the future I may add some of my favorites that fit this category, but are not traditionally Latino.


 

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