Recently I’ve read somewhere that all coming-of-age stories are sort of “Catcher in the Rye”. Indeed “Blackbird” reminded me on the “Catcher” (it was...moreRecently I’ve read somewhere that all coming-of-age stories are sort of “Catcher in the Rye”. Indeed “Blackbird” reminded me on the “Catcher” (it was mentioned in the book as well) but with one huge difference: I hated “Catcher in the Rye”; I’ve found Holden Caulfield as THE most irritating fictional character I’ve ever met. The conclusion might be that I hated “Blackbird” and its main character Johnnie Ray Rousseau as well. On the contrary: While I was reading “Blackbird” I couldn’t get rid of the feeling (as blasphemous as it probably is) that “this must what “Catcher in the Rye” supposed to be!”
It’s a YA novel with such a likable main character. Jonnie Ray is obsessed with pop culture and therefore I had a feeling that this book is an homage to music and film (or should I say movie?) industry of the mid 20th century. Of course that can’t be since the novel has been published 23 years ago. But the music references (after all the novel itself has been named after the song of The Beatles) made me doing little search since my knowledge wasn’t that high leveled.
“Blackbird” is so sentimental novel; the plot is simple but the language is beautiful. I was bursting out laughing in the public transport (and earned several strange who-still-reads-book-anyway looks); I simply love Duplechan’s sense for humour (which tells lot about me since the book is from 1986). I’ve read about the novel that it has character which I can’t agree more. He [Johnnie Ray:] is so sincere when he talks about his emotions about people that he loves and about those he fantasize. His descriptions of longing, first touch and then sex are so real so honest, never augmented and never sensationalistic as if it was allowed you to peek thru the keyhole. They are just they really are. You can really recognize the feeling. Of course regardless of sexual orientation.
I almost forgot to mention that Jonnie Ray is homosexual which is not big deal but then one should keep in mind when the novel is published and the plot is settled in the mid 1970s in rigid Baptist American small town where “black boy can’t kiss a white girl” (parents would immediately send her on the other coast) and that image of small American town I liked a lot [not the town but the way it has been described:]. The way society handled with teen pregnancy, homo (and hetero) sexuality, religion, teen suicide, queer bashing, child abuse, has been described fantastically. It’s sad that those methods and that way of public thinking can be still found nowadays.
This was fast and easy read in which I really enjoyed. Little Sister’s Classics. is doing great job re-publishing novels that have left traits in gay/lesbian literature when it wasn’t easy publish books that have any drop of homoeroticism. Of course from present perspective you can even ask yourself why it was big deal to publish novel like this or even skip the fact that main character is homosexual (like I almost did with this one) but I presume than the they were pioneers. I really like appendixes that are included in these new "Little Sister’s Classics" editions with letter correspondence between author and publisher, reviews in newspapers when the novel has been published and interviews with the author. It helps a lot to the reader to create full picture about the time when novel appeared. (less)
I must say that at the beginning I was a little bit baffled with this book. I mean when G.G. Márquez says how I’m holding "The most beautiful novel pu...moreI must say that at the beginning I was a little bit baffled with this book. I mean when G.G. Márquez says how I’m holding "The most beautiful novel published in Spain since the Civil War." I expected I’d be blown away from the page 1. I expected novel profound as an ocean and equally demanding to sail thru... so I was floating page after page after page waiting for a storm and in my expectations ignoring the landscape that has been enfolding before me... until I finally notice that because of the forest I don’t see a tree.
This is one beautiful story about a simple girl during a horrible time; story about Natalia [Colometa:], a girl who works in a pastry shop and loves her job; I dare to say not very bright girl; quite naïve; girl who doesn’t have ability to articulate her feelings in the that profound way I was expecting before opening this book. Even when she talks about unimaginable things; you have a feeling that behind each word is an entire abyss; you can sense its depth but never see it. You expect scream every second but don’t hear it; you feel the horrors but yet Colometa is playing her role of a cork perfectly:
"To me a cork was like a stopper...I was like a cork myself. Not because I was born that way but because I had to be. And to make my heart like stone. I had to be like a cork to keep going because if instead of being a cork with a heart of stone I'd been like before, made of flesh that hurts when you pinch it, I'd never have gotten across such a high, narrow, long bridge."
On the backstage of the novel is Spanish Civil War and of course its horror can bee seen everywhere but this is not story about the war. It’s story about simple little things of ordinary people; about their everyday struggle to survive; about their sacrifices; about they ways to turn yourself into a cork to stay alive yes, but much more to stay sane.
When I started to read this novel I talked with my dear friend José Antonio from Barcelona and he said that “Rodoreda is considered by many as the best writer in Catalan ever and her “Plaça del Diamant” [the original title of the novel:] is a symbol (also against Franco’s regime) with its Colometa and her fight to survive during such a horrible time” oh and he also reminded me that Plaça del Diamant actually exist in Barcelona (it’s in the barrio de Gracia de Barcelona.)
Speaking about Franco and Spanish Civil War there is a great Translator’s (David Rosenthal) Note where he wrote small history about Rodoreda and her destiny as a writer who writes in Catalan during Franco’s regime. Of course I knew that then all other languages except Castellano (known as Spanish) were forbidden: Catalan, Gallego, Euskadi. What really stricken me is that Catalan, and probably books in other languages, were burned, newspapers suppressed and offices were hung with signs saying: NO LADRES, HABLA EL IDIOMA DEL IMPERIO ESPAÑOL which means: “Don’t bark, speak the language of the Spanish empire”. Of course Rodoreda has left Spain and moved to France.
Another curious thing is that shortly after I finished reading this novel I meet two new friend from Barcelona and just like José Antonio, they were full of admiration toward Mrs. Rodoreda and her work But then in the same time I’ve met two more friends from Spain, but they were from Madrid. They never heard about Rodoreda nor about the book. How strange (and sad) that something which means so much to so many in one part means nothing in the other part of the same country. (less)
Since I live in the country whose citizens until recently needed visas to go in majority of countries (mostly the ones that, as Recacoechea called the...moreSince I live in the country whose citizens until recently needed visas to go in majority of countries (mostly the ones that, as Recacoechea called them “First World Countries”) I’m very familiar both with the value of having visa in your passport and all hell you have to survive to get one. Especially if you’re asking visa for the first time because once refused, you’re marked not only for getting visa for that specific country but for many others as well. So it was painfully familiar and so alive the fear of the main protagonist when talking about possible rejection in the embassy and its consequences.
I was reminded on my own experience when I was about to get my first Schengen visa. It was in Spanish embassy and it supposed to be pro forme, nothing complicated: I had all my papers (all in perfect order), I was fellowship holder by Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had letter of recommendation from the Institute Cervantes (as their student), had invitation letter from the University in Santander-Spain, had letter that confirms that all mu costs (accommodation, food, classes) are covered with the scholarship, had round trip plane ticket Belgrade-Barcelona… so the only missing paper was personal letter from the King Juan Carlos himself! Anyway that wasn’t enough. They were asking me papers that didn’t exist. And huge amount of them. To cut the story they finally gave me visa one hour before my flight! I was in the embassy with all my stuff no knowing will I spend the night in my bed in Belgrade or in Barcelona. That was one of the most humiliating experiences in my life. I told to myself that I’ll not let this to happened again and luckily all following experiences with visa were not nearly like that one.
The other thing Recacoechea is mentioning in his novel is that even if you manage to have visa in your passport that doesn’t mean that the clerk/policeman at the airport will let you in the country. They have all right to tell you “No. Go back!” I did have not one but two visas in my passport, the first one was flawed so they gave me second one and cancelled the one with mistake. OF COURSE I was suspicious… I was trying to explain her (the officer at the airport) the obvious but that was never-ending fight until I said that I’m Fellowship holder of Institute Cervantes. Then she slowly raised her eyes with facial expression I doubted she could even have, she stamped my passport, all of a sudden my Spanish is beautiful, she expressed hope that I’ll enjoy my visit, advised me what should I see before continue my journey to Santander, and she hoped that will not be my last visit to her country. She made me mute (I must have looked like retarded) and I was IN!
Anyway “American Visa” is genre I don’t usually read. It’s sort of detective story (although without detectives lol) influenced by Chendler, main characters’ favourite author but nevertheless it was very interesting and hard-to put-down story (not the same with writing this post since I finished with this book several months ago). This was first Bolivian novel I’ve ever read and I was quite surprised how urban and modern it is. I guess I expected some sort of South American exotic story but what I got was even better; bunch of all sorts of souls on high altitude: prostitutes, thieves, murderers, transvestites, corrupted politicians, high class and the ones at the very bottom. And then there’s the main character, a teacher who’s trying to reach USA and join his son and is capable to do whatever it takes to reach that goal. And it does taking a lot if you live in the country that economy is based on cocaine. You must wonder yourself whether you should feel sympathy toward him or just morally disqualifying him. I guess the environment can transform people into something they never thought they can be. And I’m sure, nor would they want to be.
It’s an interesting story, quite intense about one personal story but also about one country hidden high in the clouds and forgotten by the rest of the world.(less)