If you know me even a little from some of my reviews, you'll have noticed how passionately connected I feel to Russian and other Eastern European workIf you know me even a little from some of my reviews, you'll have noticed how passionately connected I feel to Russian and other Eastern European work and literature. Still, as much as Bulgakov and Petrushevskaya capture my mood and existential stance towards the world, there's a ... spirit, born of my native tongue (Romanian) that no Slavic language can touch completely.
There is just something so sonorous, so poetic, so voluble and ecstatic about Romance languages that, even in the midst of melancholy, renders a hopeful and fervently passionate tone. Which is I think why I've always been pulled to authors who write in Spanish (mostly, Latin American but also, in this case, a Spaniard)-even in translation, the musical quality of their work is preserved somewhat (although obviously not completely, which is why I really need to up my Spanish game already).
[Before preluding with all that, I was afraid perhaps my interpretation was purely personal; I am no linguist by far. An admittedly superficial search led me to this article on the Encyclopedia Britannica, "In comparison with Germanic languages, for instance, [Romance languages] seem musical and mellifluous—probably because of the relatively greater importance of vowels... On the whole, the vowels are clear and bell-like and articulation energetic and precise,... [this, along with intonation patterns] seem to some to denote excitability and emotional expressiveness."
That discussion just makes so much sense with my experience (take my name as a case in point about how much Romanians love vowels), and illuminated for me much of the ... romanticism of Spanish-language work that I identify with on a primal level. For, as American poet Wendell Holmes writes, "Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow"]
Ok, so the point? (this is the first review I am writing after the last day of school; behold my manic excitability manifesting as loosely-related tangents. Oh, how I love GR that way :))
The point: The Sky Over Lima is an evocatively poetic, lyrical retelling of the stranger-than-fiction true story of the two-year correspondence between Spanish Nobel laureate Juan Ramón Jímenez and two young poets (José Gálvez and Carlos Rodríguez) writing as an imaginary woman, Georgina Hübner. Even if there's not much of a story, the book is worth reading simply as an immersion in a lulling, comforting, beautiful world of words.
The plot: Eager to read Jímenez’s work, which was unavailable in Lima in the early twentieth century, José and Carlos appeal to Jímenez directly; imagining they will receive a more favorable response by signing their letters as a woman, they write Georgina into being.
Less a novel, this work is rather a gentle, beautifully crafted, humorous and incisively profound essay on love, identity and writing. There is not much of a plot—chapters meander leisurely through the young poets’ lives, and we learn a bit about their background here, a bit about their struggle to make Georgina come to life there, while being immersed in lovely elucidations about the craft or writing. In fact, The Sky Over Lima is literally a fictionalized account of the common trope, “letters to a young poet”—I would categorize it as a book proffering writing advice, in a “novel” format.
The following quote is perhaps one of my favorites, capturing as it does Gómez Bárcena's incisive analytical prowess that paints such vivid contours around his poetry: on their efforts to create Georgina (and on, interestingly, Germanic languages, such as English):
"To improve their efforts, they consult a book entitled Advice for a Young Novelist, a seven-hundred-page tome that is rather short on advice and long on commandments and whose target audience seems to be not a young writer but an elderly scholar. The author, one Johannes Schneider, repeatedly employs the words dissection, exhumation, analysis, and autopsy. One could not ask for greater honesty, as indeed the book undertakes with Prussian rigor the task of dismembering World Literature, until everything extraordinary and beautiful in that genre is writhing under its scalpel."
In addition to the theme of writing, The Sky Over Lima explores questions of love and identity; for, in writing and baring their soul to an anonymous ‘other’ through heartfelt letters, all three poet protagonists in this novel are essentially finding themselves, falling in love with their own realizations and words. In fact, "in real life", Ramón Jímenez acknowledged the deception that had been perpetrated on him, but still declared himself grateful for what it taught him about himself. For, after all,
"Love is a discourse, my friend, it’s a serial novel, a narrative, and if it’s not written in your head or on paper or wherever, it doesn’t exist, it remains only half done; it does not become a sensation that saw itself as an emotion."
Overall, I highly recommend this debut novel by award-winning Spanish author Juan Gómez Bárcena (who has also published an as-of-yet-untranslated-into-English collection of short stories), especially if you are a patient reader who enjoys beautiful writing and a resonant atmosphere. For me, this work felt a bit too leisurely, too lacking of a concrete drive to sustain my undivided attention. Still, I would absolutely read Juan Gómez Bárcena again and look forward to more of his works.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own....more
I love being virtually scared - I'm a huge fan of horror movies, (carnival/Halloween) haunted houses, caves/dark creepy places, and the like. BUT notI love being virtually scared - I'm a huge fan of horror movies, (carnival/Halloween) haunted houses, caves/dark creepy places, and the like. BUT not at all a fan of walking rickety suspension bridges or major turbulence on a flight. So basically, I relish and am excited by fear when I also feel somewhat in control, when I can "simulate" being afraid in an environment that otherwise feels safe (the psychology of this seems pretty obvious though I'm not sure that seeking these sorts of experiences is preparing me for anything; still, of all the ways I could be exhibiting my control-freakishness, enjoying scary books is one of the least stressful to my system...)
Anyways, so: my favorite kind of scary is completely empty and action-less, a fear of the... void/ nothingness (death?) Annihilation powerfully induces such a state: nothing really happens, there's not much dialogue or communication (there are barely a handful of anonymous characters), we don't even find out much about the surreal world that is the setting of the novel. Still, I found it to be one of the most chilling books I've ever read-VanderMeer so skilfully builds psychological suspense by steadily revealing the scope of a horrifying mystery (but not its core).
Also- thank you to my dear friend Emily for pointing this out - I didn't see this before her comment (see below) but this is SO TRUE: the mystery herein may be especially fascinating for those who are drawn to science, for it's structured like any good scientific investigation (and its drive arises out of the same flavor of curiosity). I was listening to this TED podcast the other day, in which oceanographer Robert Ballard discussed humanity's propensity for knowing 'what is behind that door', for quests driven by curiosity (this quality may have killed the cat but it certainly is one of our most fruitful and fascinating features). Annihilation is exactly this: a journey into an infinite maze of doors, propelled by the pure desire to know; and, a mystery focused on place and discovery (not on characters or plot).
The story, loosely, is this: there is a zone, Area X, which is completely devoid of human life, and which has been reclaimed by nature. Expeditions have been sent there over the years, but all with tragic consequences for those involved (they failed to return, returned as shells of their prior selves and/or committed suicide, they killed each other on the expedition, etc). Annihilation follows a biologist, one of a four person team to journey to Area X and to attempt to discover its secrets. I'll avoid spoilers but let's say for now, there are no zombies or monster chases - yet still the book is utter madness, like a parasite rotting your brain - IF you fall under its spell.
Big IF there, because I can also see why this book may be considered 'boring' by some readers or nonsensical. If you like mysteries to eventually be elucidated, or if you prefer books in which events are clearly demarcated and in which a plot moves steadily forward, Annihilation is probably not for you. Also, I've read a bunch of reviews downgrading ratings based on 'poor' characterizations; true, in a way - this book does keep characters at arm's length, and the reader is never quite called to empathize with them. For me, this anonymity and detachment deepened the psychotic and unsettling mood, but it's also fair to say that if this description doesn't sound appealing to you, you may not enjoy this book.
Overall: 3.5, rounded up. Ultimately, Annihilation falters towards the end; yes, it's part of a trilogy, but I still expected some resolution/understanding, or at least the promise of a satisfying conclusion in Book 3. However, I fear that VanderMeer became a bit too infatuated with his own mythology and got carried away - he builds so much in so many directions that I just don't see how he'll be able to resolve it all in a coherent, holistic way. I hope I'm wrong, but reviews of #3 don't leave me too optimistic. Still, I definitely liked this enough to buy #2, so we'll see how that goes and reevaluate. ...more
To Do: Write scathing letter to editors at Simon & Schuster for even considering publishing such a filthy rotting piece of trash - FOR CHILDREN!!!To Do: Write scathing letter to editors at Simon & Schuster for even considering publishing such a filthy rotting piece of trash - FOR CHILDREN!!! FOR CHILDREN, I TELL YOU; work on this review.
So far, this comment takes the cake: "At first I thought Todd Strasser was a pseudonym for Donald Trump".... Well sadly apparently it's not just Donald Trump who's an uneducated simplistic moronic racist xenophobic jerk. ...more