Del Amor y Otros Demonios

Yes, the title is in Spanish and the review in English.  As I read the book in Spanish, but my audience is predominantly English-speaking, I’ve decided this is the best compromise.  So on to the good stuff.  Del Amor y Otros Demonios (Of Love and Other Demons) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez was an interesting read.  I haven’t read anything by him before but I am familiar with the magical-realism through my reading of Isabel Allende’s work. I enjoy this trademark of contemporary Latin American and I like how Marquez added in the historical Spanish-colonial layer to the novel.

DelSadly, most of my Spanish-major classes were about language acquisition and less about the literature.  I’m glad I took the plunge and read this one in its original language.  Not only was the story odd (I was warned Marquez likes it weird) but the historical background was intriguing as well.  What seems to be the main point of the novel is that love makes people do weird things and some of those weird things may get you accused of being possessed.  And being possessed during the Colonial era, could get you hanged or burned at the stake.

Marquez makes every one fallible including the nuns and priests who are in charge of deciding who is possessed or not have strange sides to themselves as well.  Two of my favorites were the Mother Superior, Josefa, and Cayetano, the priest who ends up being the center of the love story.  And that’s where it gets weird.  He ends up falling in love with a twelve-year-old who seems to be possessed.  While they don’t have sex there’s a lot of making out and groping.  Did I mention that Cayetano is 38.  And a priest?  Ultimately, all of the weirdness makes us sympathetic to the love stories and that may be why Marquez employs the weird factor.  Ultimately I think it just shows that in life, love doesn’t always make sense, and all that we call love isn’t actually love.

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The Color of Water

The penultimate read for my first Cannonball go-around was selected by an astute member of my book club.  As race has risen to the forefront of our culture once again, she thought it would be interesting to read and discuss a book about…race.  The Color of Water by James McBride is the biography/autobiography of McBride’s mother and himself.  I should mention that McBride’s mother is Jewish and McBride’s father is Black.  I was interested to see how he would develop the narrative and what point he was trying to make.

ColorInterestingly, he didn’t seem to have a bias in the narrative.  He just told about his mother’s and he’s experiences and leaves any conjecturing to the readers.  He arranges the book in a circle, of sorts.  He alternates chapters between his memories and his mother’s history.  He begins his experiences with his home life and going to school for the first time.  His mother’s experiences are told through her own voice.  It seems that McBride interviewed his mother to learn about her past and it’s her responses that are recorded in the chapters focusing on her life.  Towards the end of the novel, the two experiences link up and McBride continues telling the narrative on his own.

I like the alternating experience because I always believe people should tell their own stories.  I also feels like it gives a more intimate feel that he takes the time to speak with his mother about her past, rather than turn her history into facts and details.  And I liked how he shows the link between our past and our present and ultimately how the two create our future.  McBride’s purpose for writing the novel seems to be his way of working out what his future will look like.  He describes that he was always confused why his mother didn’t look like his friends’ mothers.  He would ask her why she didn’t look Black and she always deferred.  He then asked what God looked like and she said he was the color of water.

This answer not only becomes the title of the book but a complicated answer to help him on his journey of finding out who he was.  Interestingly enough, his mother converted from Judaism to Christianity before meeting McBride’s father.  They met at the church they were attending and the rest, as they say, is history.  However, converting to a new religion doesn’t erase your past.  And this was something that McBride was always curious about but could never get his mother to talk about.  Once he finally convinced his mother to open up, he went back to her hometown and tracked down some of the people from his mother’s past.

There’s no real ideological conclusion to the novel.  No big insight on race.  But I think maybe that’s what McBride is trying to say.  That just like families, we can’t choose what race we are, but we can choose who we are as individuals; our race shouldn’t define us.  While he identified with the Black community, his mother never truly left her Jewish roots behind.  She just decided that it wouldn’t define her and she would make herself at home in the Black community and become part of the neighborhood.

I wish we could live in a society where your race doesn’t determine how people treat you, what type of education you receive, or how well you will do in your job.  While we’ve made strides to de-emphasize race, we still have room for improvement.  I think it will take more people like Mrs. McBride who choose to not see people for their race but the people that they are.  If we all take this example, the world would be a better place.

Charles and Emma

This latest read surprised–for the better.  I try to not judge a book by its cover, but let’s be honest, we all do it.  When I saw that someone had written a biography of Charles and Emma Darwin, and one for young adults at that, I was skeptical.  Partly because I wasn’t sure how you focus on the relationship between the man who changed science and his wife while keeping it palatable for young adults.

DarwinBut Deborah Heiligman did it in Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith.  And I ate up all that she served.  The biography is quite layered.  First, there’s the man who was Charles Darwin who marries his first cousin Emma Wedgewood (I try to not dwell on the cousin thing too much).  Then, there’s the man who changed science and created a maelstrom of debate between the scientific and religious communities that extends to this day.  And to tell it all, Heiligman used the copious letters that were written between Charles, Emma, and all their friends and family.

Her main emphasis though is Charles and Emma.  And this works for the story she wants to highlight for readers as well as her audience.  Young adults are inundated with the textbook-biographies of people like Darwin, but they don’t actually “know” the people.  And I think we’ve done a disservice to young people when we strip these famous/infamous individuals of their humanity.  I believe that we remember people more for who they were, rather than what they wer.  If I had known the type of father, brother, son, and husband Charles was, I probably would’ve paid more attention in science class and would have engaged in the discussion of Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

What’s left a lasting impact on me is his struggle with God.  Due to only knowing the “textbook” version of his life, I had no idea that he struggled with acknowledging God, but realizing that the version of God he knew didn’t fit with the scientific evidence.  And this struggle ripples into his marriage.  Emma was a practicing Christian but was open-minded in her appreciation for Darwin’s scientific theories.  Her only concern was that due to Darwin’s lack of belief in God, that death would separate them for eternity.  Yet she never pressured Darwin to believe.

As a practicing Christian, I was saddened that Darwin felt he either had to follow science or his faith.  But Heiligman reveals the theology of the time and I’m ashamed to say that it was very limited.  This isn’t the forum to discuss Creation and Evolutionary theories, but I’m glad that Heiligman showed both sides of Darwin’s life–his struggle with God and his belief in his scientific evidence.  I think it’s good that people know that most things aren’t black and white and that some issues aren’t answered quickly.  I recommend this book if you’ve ever wondered what Darwin was like or wondered how he developed his theory.  It’s an enjoyable read and quite different from a textbook.  And there’s no quizzes at the end of the chapters.

Midwinterblood

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick makes me feel conflicted.  On one hand, I like the newness of the plot and the way that readers have a mystery to solve and clues for which to look.  On the other hand, it doesn’t feel like a cohesive novel and I’m left with asking, What is this book about?  That’s why I give this a four out of the five.  It’s not the writing that’s bad; it’s the organization and purpose of the novel.

MidwinterbloodMidwinterblood starts in the year 2073 with a man named Eric arriving on Blessed island in what we assume is off the coast of Norway (it’s Scandinavian in any case).  He notices several things that put him on edge, including Merle.  For some reason he feels he knows her, yet he’s never been to the island before and she’s never lived anywhere.  Just before it all hits the fan, she tells him, “I found you”.  And suddenly Eric realizes that he does know her because in a different life they were in love.

Boom.  End of section one.  What follows is a regression of time, from 2073 to 2011, to 1944, to 1902, to 1848, to the 10th century, to time unknown.  I can’t say a whole lot about the plot because with each time period we learn more about the story of Eric and Merle until the conclusion.  And this is what I liked.  When I’m engaged in a text trying to figure out what’s going to happen next or looking for clues, I feel like I enjoy the novel better.

With this particular work, I felt that I put in a lot of time trying to figure out the mystery and the denouement didn’t really give me any catharsis or satisfaction.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked the ending.  It did what it needed to and it was heartwarming without being too saccharine.  But I felt that I had put in more work than the ending really rewarded.  This is where I’m conflicted.  I want to say that this makes it a bad book, but in this case I can’t.  The ending doesn’t spoil the whole book.  It’s just more of a let down.

What redeems the ending is the writing.  Each anecdotal time period is so well written it could almost stand on its own as a short story.  And I do like the overarching plot.  While I don’t like a lot of sappy romance, I do appreciate a realistic love story (yes, yes, I do have some feelings running through my icy veins) and Sedgwick did a good job keeping the story from devolving into a Nicholas Sparks novel.  So overall all I can do is just give it four out of five stars and recommend the book to those that like a mystery, some romance, and a book that does something new with time and the way a novel progresses.  But don’t take my word for it!

Going Bovine

It seems fitting that the first week of the last month of the year I finish my goal of 52 books.  I can’t believe I finished and with change to spare!  And what a book on which to end!  Going Bovine by Libba Bray caught my attention, not only because it’s on the Printz award list which I’m STILL working my way through (what did I get myself into?!?), but also because there’s a cow carrying a garden gnome.  What’s not to like about that?

BovineThe book centers around Cameron who is suddenly diagnosed with a rare, incurable disease.  I won’t give it away, but yes, cows do have something to do with it.  The rest of the book is his journey to find the cure for the disease.  Or is it?  Bray does something I haven’t read that is to play with reality and take us on a psychedelic trip.  Granted there’s no shroons or LSD involled, but she certainly does take the reader for a trip.  Blending reality with the dream world, it’s hard to tell the one from the other by the end of the book.  But I have to say that I enjoyed it.

Not only was the trip itself fun, but the way in which we get these hints that the dream world is merely a mirror for the real one.  At least for me, I was engaged with the text looking for the metaphors and connections between the real and dream worlds.  It’s almost like, while I’m reading it, I’m also staring at the world around me like a tourist.

And then there’s the characters.  I didn’t really think I’d relate to Cameron or any of the others, but once again Bray demonstrates her writing acumen and gets us invested in the characters by novel’s end.  I was sad to finish the novel, but it’s like being sad at the end of a vacation.  You’ve enjoyed your time but you know you need to move on.

Even though it’s a young adult novel, I appreciated how “real” it felt.  There’s swearing, but it’s done tastefully.  Meaning there’s just enough f-bombs to make it feel like these teenagers might actually exist, but not so much that I start cringing.  And the choices they make are frustrating, but then I remind myself they are teenagers and it’s all better.  So if you’re looking for a book to “trip” with, I’d definitely pick up what Bray is dealing.