National Hispanic Heritage Month – Junot Díaz


Junot Díaz | Goodreads

This post is part of a feature at Jorie’s Reads by Starry Night Elf called “Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month.”

Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao changed my perception of something which seemed so scholarly – footnotes. My goodness, I’d never seen anything like it – little contradictions and factoids to add to the story of the woeful ghetto nerd Oscar. Within a page, I got narrative and the Dominican Republic’s volatile history. His work pointed me towards other books about the DR. I felt I had an idea and that’s mostly due to Díaz.

Goodreads states:

Junot Díaz is a contemporary Dominican-American writer. He moved to the USA with his parents at age six, settling in New Jersey. Central to Díaz’s work is the duality of the immigrant experience. He is the first Dominican-born man to become a major author in the United States.

Díaz is creative writing professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in 2008.

In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, Díaz has received a Eugene McDermott Award, a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, a Lila Acheson Wallace Reader’s Digest Award, the 2002 Pen/Malamud Award, the 2003 US-Japan Creative Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was also awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2012. He was selected as one of the 39 most important Latin American writers under the age of 39 by the Bogotá Book Capital of World and the Hay Festival. In September 2007, Miramax acquired the rights for a film adaptation of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

After reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, this book became a staple on my Top Ten Tuesday posts 🙂 … I also pushed through his previous work Drown, a collection of short stories (not my favorite prose) simply because they were written by Díaz. Lucky for me, Yunior, Díaz’s narrator, was there, too.

His latest – This is How You Lose Her – is on my TBR pile. Why? Well, his blend of facts and narrative bring forth a gloriously clear picture of what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen. Thus, I couldn’t celebrate without mentioning Díaz.

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Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth


Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri | LibraryThing

Lahiri, J. (2008). Unaccustomed earth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 9780307265739

Reasons for Reading : I’m not a big fan of short stories. However, as I’ve enjoyed Lahiri’s The Namesake, I pulled Unaccustomed Earth off the shelf at the HCPL branch where I work.

Summary: Lahiri tells eight stories of first generation Bengali Americans.  All these stories deal with the ups and downs of families and relationships.

Unaccustomed Earth is broken into two parts. Part I is comprised of the first five stories. Among them are “Unaccustomed Earth,” “Hell-Heaven,” “A Choice of Accommodations,” “Only Goodness,” and “Nobody’s Business.” The book is the namesake of “Unaccustomed Earth” tells of Ruma, a young mother in Seattle. When Ruma hosts her visiting widower father, she prepares for him to live with them. While her father tends to her garden and bonds with her son, he has his own ideas about what he wants to do. “Hell-Heaven” confronts the topics of social strata in both old and new worlds.  “A Choice of Accommodations” shares the nearly failed attempt of a husband to turn an old high school friend’s wedding into a romantic weekend for his wife. Lahiri tells of a sister who doesn’t know what to do about her alcoholic brother in “Only Goodness.” Part I ends with “Nobody’s Business,” a lovesick grad student watches his lovely Bengali roommate’s life implode.

Part II is called “Hema and Kaushik.” These three stories – “Once in a Lifetime,” “Year’s End,” and “Going Ashore” focus on two characters – Hema and Kaushik. Teenage Kaushik and his family stay with young Hema’s family. While they go on to lead very seperate lives, circumstances reunite them twenty years later.  

What I Liked : Lahiri’s writing style compels me to continue reading her work. I found myself empathizing with the jerkiest of jerks and understanding their plights. Lahiri’s talent shines from within Unaccustomed Earth.

What I Disliked : By the time I’m absorbed and enthralled in the story, it has ended! I especially wanted to read more about Hema and Kaushik.

Four Out of Five Pearls

Song: Nicola Conte – Dossier Omega – YouTube

Setting: Cambridge Massachusetts, Seattle, India, Italy, Thailand

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Christopher Moore’s Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d’Art


Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d’Art by Christopher Moore | LibraryThing

Moore, C. (2012). Sacre bleu: A comedy d’art. New York: William Morrow. 9780061779749

Reasons for Reading : I posted Christopher Moore’s Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d’Art on my TBR list. Check out my reasons for reading there.

Summary: News of the suicide of volatile artist Vincent van Gogh rocks Parisian baker and artist Lucien Lessard and his good friend  Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Compounding issues is the sudden reappearance of Lucien’s MIA girlfriend, Juliette and the nasty little guy who’s known as The Colorman. Lucien and Henri take the reader for a ride on the crazy train, encountering figures in the French art scene along the way.

What I Liked : Author Christopher Moore is uproariously humorous. There were numerous “ROL” (read out loud) moments throughout this novel. Characters such as fictitious Lucien and Juliette appealed greatly. The physical book is gorgeous with images discussed in the narrative and has blue typing.

What I Disliked : Some curse words here and there don’t bother me but the language used by various characters was beyond nasty. Also, I thought sometimes Moore crossed the line between amusingly irreverent and crazy wicked. One point late in the novel made a reference to bestiality that had major cringe factor.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Song: Bobby Vinton Blue Velvet – YouTube

Setting : Paris, France with stops in the French countryside, Italy, England, and the US

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For more on Christopher Moore’s Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d’Art, check out the following sites:

Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller Series


The Lincoln Lawyer | Front Row Reviews

Connelly, M., & Grupper, A. (2005). The Lincoln lawyer. New York: Time Warner AudioBooks. 9781594830884

Connelly, M., & Giles, P. (2008). The brass verdict. New York: Hachette Audio. 9781600244018

Connelly, M., Giles, P., & Connelly, M. (2010). The reversal. New York: Hachette Audio. 9781600247255

Connelly, M., & Giles, P. (2011). The fifth witness. New York: Hachette Audio. 9781600247224

Reasons for Reading On my way home from England, I saw bits and pieces of Brad Furman’s The Lincoln Lawyer starring Matthew McConaughey. I enjoyed what I saw enough to request the audiobook via HCPL, I have since read all of the Mickey Haller series – thus far.

Summary These books are told by attorney Michael “Mickey” Haller, a street-wise defense attorney who practices law from the backseat of a Lincoln Town Car. Haller offers his services to the greater Los Angeles area, meeting clients wherever they may be. He’s on speaking terms with both of his ex-wives and aims to be a better father to his daughter Hayley. The series highlights Haller’s more unusual and that is true in the first book – The Lincoln Lawyer. Throughout the series, Haller faces his growing discomfort with representing the truly guilty.  

Review I really like the Mickey Haller/Lincoln Lawyer Mysteries by Michael Connelly.  While I may not always care for Haller, he seems realistic and he describes much of what goes on in trials in layman’s terms.I haven’t read of the Harry Bosch books that Connelly writes but I’m currently reading Nine Dragons where Haller makes a small appearance. So far, I liked The Reversal the best as there isn’t just one reversal at play in this book.

Four Out of Five Pearls

Song: ‪2Pac – California Love [HD] – YouTube

Setting :  Los Angeles, mostly

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For more on Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller Series, please check out the following links:
 

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy


Millennium Trilogy Bundle (3 volumes) by Stieg Larsson | LibraryThing

Larsson, S., Vance, S., & Random House Audio Publishing. (2008). The girl with the dragon tattoo. New York: Random House Audio. 9780307577580

Larsson, S., Keeland, R., & Vance, S. (2009). The girl who played with fire. New York: Random House. 9780739384176

Larsson, S., & Keeland, R. (2010). The girl who kicked the hornet’s nest. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 9780307269997

Things reached such a point that I felt I was the only one who hadn’t read the Millennium Trilogy. Spotting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on the audiobook shelf at one HCPL, I decided to give the late Stieg Larsson a chance.

Mikhail Blomkvist, an iconoclastic publisher of Millennium, loses a libel suit in 2002 to billionaire Hans-Erik Wennerström and is sentenced to three months in prison. A little time passes when Blomkvist receives an invitation from Henrik Vanger, the retired CEO of the Vanger Corporation. Blomkvist doesn’t realize that Vanger commissioned an investigation into Blomkvist’s personal and professional history. This was carried out by Lisbeth Salander, a surveillance agent with Milton Security. Vanger requests an investigation into the 1966 disappearance of his grand-niece, Harriet. Salander is an eccentric genius with relatively few scruples. When Blomkvist and Salander collaborate, the bad guys better bar the door.

That’s how all the fun starts. I won’t spoil the latter two novels but I will say The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo lays the groundwork for the others. These must be read in order. Larsson developed compelling characters and situations which forced me to rubberneck. Normally, I prefer cozier mysteries but I had to see the story lines to their ends. Blomkvist came across as a James Bond type (Daniel Craig plays both 007 and Blomkvist, is this a coincidence?) while Salander isn’t terribly likeable. Still and all, I cared about these two. Blomkvist’s attorney sister, Annika Gianinni, was perhaps my favorite character; she truly shines in the third book. While much violence takes place within the Millennium Trilogy, Larsson did not support it. In fact, I’d say he was rather anti-violence. Another difference with this trilogy is that I liked the final installment, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, best.

A couple of personal preferences I’m compelled to mention: 1) Larsson wove much intertextuality into the series. I believe if I’d read these books prior to this series, I’d have a deeper appreciation. 2) I wish I had a better idea of Swedish geography. These places were lost on me. 3) Okay, I was overwhelmed by all of the Swedish names, especially since I listened to the first two books. 4) I thought it was cool when I read about Ikea and Securitas. 5) Yes, I want to see the movie!

Four Out of Five Pearls

Song: ‪How Soon is Now? – The Smiths – YouTube

Setting :  Sweden – mostly

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For more on Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, please check out the following links:

Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat


The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa | LibraryThing

* A 1001 Books Book

Vargas, L. M., & Grossman, E. (2001). The Feast of the Goat. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 9780374154769

I eventually picked up The Feast of the Goat for a few reasons – my latent interest in turbulent Dominican history, the book’s listing as a “Core” 1001 Books Book, and writer Vargas Llosa’s recent status as a Nobel Prize Laureate. Ironically, I finished the book around the fiftieth anniversary of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina’s assassination. So, I pulled this book off one of HCPL’s shelves.

Vargas Llosa offers three distinctly different storylines throughout the book –  the fictitious Urania Cabral in the 1990s, Trujillo’s assassins, and then Trujillo/El Jefe/The Goat. on his last day – 30 May 1961. The author alternates between these three points of view.

Storyline 1 – In the 1990s, successful attorney Urania returns to her native Dominican Republic for the first time in years. She visits her invalid father, the once powerful Secretary of State Agustin Cabral. Agustin fell out of favor El Jefe. Urania angrily recalls her last days in the DR with Agustin. Later, Urania relates her nightmarish coming of age to her aunt and cousins. The Cabral family was created by Vargas Llosa.

Storyline 2 – the assassins lie in wait on 30 May 1961 for Trujillo. These real-life killers are Antonio Imbert Barrera, Antonio de la Maza, Salvador Estrella Sadhalá – “Turk,” and Amado García Guerrero – Amadito. Each one bears the scars for want The Goat dead. Vargas Llosa based his characters on actual people.

Storyline 3 – Trujillo lives out his last day. El Jefe reminisces about his despotic career, his family, tough relations on the world stage, and his regular deflowering of young girls. Vargas Llosa took an actual dictator and made him even more villainous.

Vargas Llosa recreates the last days of the Trujillo Regime quite vividly. The feelings of desperation, hopelessness, and machismo pervade. The truest rendering of characters were the ones the author made up – the Cabrals. I found the “real people” rather suspect.

I’m happy I read this book because I could see connections to the writings of both Junot Díaz and Julia Alvarez. I wonder if Díaz used the name Cabral as a tribute to The Feast of the Goat. However, I found some parts – especially those from The Goat’s point of view, tedious and disgusting. I felt a need to wash out my eyes or something. Also, I liked that Urania found some peace in sharing her experience with the women of her family.

Three and a Half Out of Five Pearls

Song: YouTube – Antonio Morel y Su Orquesta feat Macabi “El Chivo”

Places : The Dominican Republic, The United States

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Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits


* 1001 Books Book

Allende, I. (2005). The house of the spirits. New York: Dial Press. 9780553383805

Allende, I. (1985). The house of the spirits. New York: A.A. Knopf. 9780394539072

Having enjoyed Allende’s writing in the past, I checked out The House of the Spirits from HCPL. Before I proceed, I must state that I’ve never read anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. From what I’ve seen online, this will color the reader’s opinion of The House of the Spirits.

This work is the saga of the Truebas, a family living in an unnamed South American country (presumably Chile). It follows the Trueba family for  four generations against a backdrop of political definition, struggle, and upheaval of the twentieth century. There’s also a talk of The Politician (Salvador Allende) and his fall from power.

Allende tells the story through two different voices – a third person narrator and Esteban Trueba, the elderly patriarch. The latter was engaged to Rosa del Valle, also called Rosa la Bella. When Rosa dies from an accidental poisoning, Esteban throws himself into the reconstruction of his family’s hacienda, Las Tres Marias. Esteban takes out his rage on the peasants, raping many of the females.

The matriarch of the House of Trueba is Clara del Valle, who is introduced in the first line of the book. Clara possesses all sorts of ESP and she’s sister of Rosa the Beautiful. Inadvertantly, she predicts the death of Rosa. When this happens, Clara falls silent for years. She only communicates through writing while maintaining a family history.The next time Clara talks, she announces that she’ll marry Esteban Trueba.

When they do marry, they reside in the house on the corner. Soon, they have children (Blanca, twins Jaime and Nicolas) in this house. The house  where many gather around Clara. This group includes both living and dead folks. Among the living are the Mora Sisters and the Poet (thought to be Pablo Neruda).

I was amazed by this work. As I’ve mentioned in reviewing Island Beneath the Sea, Allenda is a gifted storyteller. These characters are so real that I can almost see them. The magical elements almost offer the book the feel of fairy tale. For example, Rosa the Beautiful has green hair and yellow eyes. Esteban and Clara’s granddaughter, Alba, also has green hair. Yet, Allende gets down to business such as Pinochet’s coup on September 11, 1973. Of all of her works I’ve read, this one is the best.

Four Out of Five Pearls

Places: Chile, Peru, Europe, United States, Canada, China

Literary Ties: Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

For more reviews of Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, please click on the following links: