I feel rather underwhelmed by this book, my first by Allende. This is a story about the making of Zorro, and it has all the incidents that we might exI feel rather underwhelmed by this book, my first by Allende. This is a story about the making of Zorro, and it has all the incidents that we might expect in such an account. Shoshone shaman grandmother who concocts magic potions; mute Indian sidekick/ milk-brother; Barcelona fencing master who is also the head of a secret society; lovely but fickle love interest; evil, sneering antagonist; fat Sergeant Garcia; gypsies; and even pirates. Everything that should make this a fun, swashbuckling ride that Zorro should be are there, but Allende writes of them in the driest, most uninvolving way possible. The prose is bland, cliche-ridden, and the characters, including Zorro himself, are scarcely more than cardboard cutouts. The bits of history that the author slip in to provide background to the story are somewhat interesting, but this is not a history book. Zorro should be the literary equivalent of a rousing, action-adventure matinee offering; in this respect this book fails miserably. Or perhaps I was expecting too much from the union of a character who is essentially a pulp fiction creation and a respected South American author. I expected better of Zorro, and I expected better from Allende. ...more
What I learned from this book (in no particular order):
1. Brief, nameless lives are of no import whatsoever…to Galactus.
2. True gangsters live lives pWhat I learned from this book (in no particular order):
1. Brief, nameless lives are of no import whatsoever…to Galactus.
2. True gangsters live lives phony rap acts can only rhyme about.
3. Never write checks with your mouth that your ass could never hope to cover.
4. Trujillo, El Jefe, the Failed Cattle Thief, and F***face: they all refer to one man. A VERY bad man.
5. Some men are so very bad that not even postmodernism can explain them away.
6. Trujillo is the creator of the first modern Kleptocracy. He is also the USA’s favorite anti-commie boy in the Caribbeans.
7. Fuku killed Kennedy, not Lee Harvey or the ghost of Marilyn f****** Monroe, and also caused the US to lose to a Third World country, Vietnam. It is divine retribution for USA invading the Dominican Republic --- TWICE.
8. Weighing 307 pounds and talking like a Star Trek computer won’t get you any hot morena. And you can’t blame it on Sauron either.
9. It’s very un-Dominican for a dude to never have much luck with the females. The average Dominican male has four kids with three different women. No Dominican male has ever died a virgin.
10. Overheated libido is a Fuku on all Dominicans, be they residing in New Jersey or the Dominican Republic.
The secret of this book’s success is the lyrical, scatological, and at times hypnotic narrative voice that convincingly tells the story of multiple generations of Dominicans, both in New Jersey and their homeland. The multi-generational immigrant saga with all its trials and tribulations is nothing new, and so is Oscar, the stereotypical fat nerd who could never get the girl. Magical realism (which is used sparingly --- and successfully --- in this novel) has been a familiar device for Latin American novelists since the 60’s. What makes the book is the voice; street-wise, angry, swaggering, funny, sad and poetic. It makes the story compulsively readable and renders the poignant climax believable.
I wish that there were a glossary at the back of the book for all the Spanish, though. No doubt the Spanglish successfully conveys the Dominican-American patois spoken by the characters, but as a non-Spanish speaker I also feel that I’m missing chunks of the dialogue and thus some of the nuances of the story.
I often read about how The House of the Spirits is comparable to One Hundred Years of Solitude; aside from them both being written by Latin American aI often read about how The House of the Spirits is comparable to One Hundred Years of Solitude; aside from them both being written by Latin American authors, they are also multigenerational family sagas steeped in the turbulent history of their respective countries, flavored with that Latin American specialty --- magical realism. But despite those superficial resemblances, they are completely different beasts.
Magical realism is perhaps one of the most difficult literary sleight of hand to perform --- an overuse of it can turn a decent story into a gimmicky fable where pointless supernatural events replace narrative and character development. Marquez is a master of the genre, and even he is not always entirely successful. Fortunately, Allende employs the device in a restrained way, keeping it more like an ambient sound in a symphony of family drama and history. The drama is enjoyable enough and there are parts that make for compelling reading, but for most of the book, the writing rarely rises above the pedestrian, although still well above the paint-by-number dreariness of Zorro. The characters, some of which are interesting enough, are ultimately too two-dimensional to generate genuine pathos, especially considering the tragic aspects of the story. There is also a jarring switching between third-person omniscient and first-person narratives that does no service to the overall story. So, to sum up, this book is no masterpiece, but it is probably worth your while, especially if you are a fan of family sagas replete with illicit, breathless romances and epic political happenings in a faraway country. ...more
Taken before the Intelligence and Security Committee Tuesday 15 July 1958
Mr. Paul Andespoilers!
Uncorrected Transcript of Oral Evidence
Taken before the Intelligence and Security Committee Tuesday 15 July 1958
Mr. Paul Anderson, in the Chair Mr. Jonathan Blakeley Mr. Richard Cunningham QC
Witnesses: MR. JAMES WORMOLD, O.B.E., former SIS operative in Havana, Cuba, 1955-1957; and MRS. BEATRICE WORMOLD (NEE SEVERN), formerly a secretary at the SIS headquarters.
Q1 Chairman: Mr. and Mrs. Wormold, may I welcome you to this hearing, which purpose is to examine the veracity of the contents of Dossier No. 1801 dated 24 October 1957 (hereinafter referred to as the Dossier), issued by the SIS or otherwise popularly known as the MI6. This Committee hopes that both of you will be able to shed light on certain events described in the Dossier, which have been challenged by other sources. Everything that transpires in this hearing shall be treated as a matter of national security and be held in the strictest confidence. Let me start with the first question: Mr. Wormold, is it true that you were recruited by an SIS agent, who went under the name of Hawthorne, in Havana during the winter of 1955?
Mr. Wormold: It is true, sir.
Q2 Chairman: Please describe the recruitment process.
Mr. Wormold: I was drinking with my old friend Dr. Hassellbacher at Sloppy Joe’s. Agent Hawthorne was there. He corralled me into the Gents and suggested to me that I should join the Secret Service.
Q3 Chairman: Any particular reason why the deed was done in the Gents?
Mr. Wormold: Uh --- I don’t know, sir. He said that it’s more secure in case anyone barged in. He kept the tap running while speaking to me, to confuse the mike, he said. I said I didn’t want the job, but he insisted. Then he shoved me into a closet and walked away.
Q4 Mr. Cunningham: Did he give you any reason for your recruitment?
Mr. Wormold: Yes, sir. He said that I was a patriotic Englishman who had been living in Havana for years, besides being a respected member of the European Traders Association. He also said that they must have their man in Havana, and that submarines need fuel and dictators drift together. I didn’t quite catch his drift then, sir.
Q5 Mr. Cunningham: What kind of business did you run in Havana, Mr. Wormold?
Mr. Wormold: I ran a vacuum cleaner shop, sir. We carry the finest, most modern machines such as the Atomic Pile Suction Cleaner, the Midget Make-Easy Air Powered Suction Small Home Cleaner and the Turbo, which is the no. 1 brand in Cuba for four years running. We are Phastkleaners’ sole agent for the whole of Cuba.
Q6 Mr. Blakeley: The Dossier describes you as a “well-connected merchant king with a substantial machinery importing business.” How many persons were employed in your business, Mr. Wormold?
Mr. Wormold: One, sir. It was just a small store.
Mr. Blakeley: Interesting. The Dossier also describes you as “stable”, and “uninterested in women.”
Mrs. Wormold: (snickers)
Chairman: Mrs. Wormold, we respectfully ask you not to speak until requested to do so.
Q6 Mr. Cunningham: Mr. Wormold, you initially refused the job, why did you change your mind?
Mr. Wormold: It was because of my daughter, Milly. She was just sixteen at that time. Convent schoolgirl, very good girl. She wanted to buy a horse and rode in the Country Club. The horse alone costed 300 pounds, sir, and the Country Club was even more expensive. Not to say of the bridles, saddles and riding lessons. And I wanted to have enough money to retire in England and take her with me. There was this native person called Capt. Segura who had designs on her.
Q7 Mr. Blakeley: Isn’t he the head of police in Vedado?
Mr. Wormold: The one and the same. Do you know what people in Havana call him, sir? The Red Vulture. He tortured prisoners. He had a wallet made of human skin. This person wanted to marry my daughter. You see, I had to get her out of Cuba. Pronto!
Mrs. Wormold: He is such a good father!
Chairman:: Mrs. Wormold ---
Mrs. Wormold: Not to speak until spoken to. Understood.
Q8 Mr. Cunningham: The Dossier records that you received a lump sum payment of 1,000 pounds in April 1956. Could you confirm what the funds were used for?
Mr. Wormold: To join the Country Club and recruit several sub-agents.
Q9 Mr. Cunningham: Engineer Cifuentes, Professor Luis Sanchez and Lopez. Who’s Lopez?
Mr. Wormold: My employee at the store. He wanted an additional 25 pesos per month. The other two names were from the Country Club’s roster. I had to justify the payments.
Q 10 Mr. Cunningham: I see. And the transfer of 1,500 dollars in June 1956 was for what purpose?
Mr. Wormold: To procure intelligence reports and drawings of the secret military installations in the mountains of Oriente Province.
Chairman: These are the drawings, gentlemen. According to the Dossier, these depict the parts of a massive weapon of mass destruction, very possibly nuclear.
Mrs. Wormold: Actually, those were the drawings of the parts of the Atomic Pile Suction vacuum cleaner.
Q11 Chairman: Is that true, Mr. Wormold?
Mr. Wormold: Uh yes, sir.
Q12 Chairman: Who made them, Mr. Wormold?
Mr. Wormold: I did, sir. I took the Atomic Pile apart and drew the parts. Then I altered the scale to make them seem gigantic.
Mr. Blakeley: He had even drew a little man with a bowler hat next to the drawings --- see?
Chairman: How did these absurd drawings got through the experts at the SIS?
Mr. Blakeley: To be fair, this particular drawing here does look like some kind of a massive cannon bore.
Mrs. Wormold: It’s a drawing of the Atomic Pile’s nozzle. I love it that Jim could be so devious!
Q13 Chairman: Since you seem to be exceedingly eager to speak, Mrs. Wormold, let’s commence with your part. Who sent you to Havana?
Mrs. Wormold: Miss Jenkinson, sir. The head of the secretarial pool at the SIS HQ. Agent Hawthorne specifically requested a Spanish-speaking secretary for the assignment.
Q14 Chairman: Did you speak Spanish? Did you have any other abilities that might have been useful there?
Mrs. Wormold: No Spanish, but I’m half French. At the SIS, they think that all Latin tongues are the same anyway. I could encode and do microphotography. I also have a good knowledge of electrodynamics.
Q15 Mr. Blakeley: What’s that?
Mrs. Wormold: Let’s just say that if you have any trouble with your fuse box at home, you can give me a call.
Mr. Blakeley: Er --- all right.
Q16 Mr. Cunningham: What happened when you arrived in Havana? Did Mr. Wormold’s activities as an agent seemed suspicious to you from the start?
Mrs. Wormold: We first met at the Copacabana --- it was so romantic --- all those palm trees, the Parisian songs, the cabaret…
Chairman: Please answer Mr. Cunningham’s questions, Mrs. Wormold.
Mrs. Wormold: Where were we? Oh yes, I was not suspicious at first. I thought that he was kind of bumbling, but what a sweet man! And then someone shot at Cifuentes and everything started to unravel. He took me to the Shanghai Theater to warn Teresa ---
Mr. Blakeley: One of the alleged sub-agents, a “nude dancer who is the mistress of both the Minister of Mines and the Director of Post & Telegraph.”
Mrs. Wormold: That’s the girl. We got her into Jim’s car and we rode to Professor Sanchez’s house to warn him too ---
Q17 Mr. Blakeley: Is this the incident described in the police report attached to the Dossier, in which Mr. Wormold was arrested for driving around with a naked girl and breaking into Professor Sanchez’s home?
Mrs. Wormold: Yes. It was quite funny, actually. It was a total farce. I wished that he had just told me, though. No need for all that merry go round --- right, darling?
Mr. Blakeley: Apparently, there were other murky incidents after that --- it’s rather difficult to understand what actually happened from the Dossier. But at the end Mr. Wormold successfully eliminated several suspected enemy operatives while providing us with an invaluable list of foreign agents.
Mr. Cunningham: May I point out that Mr. Wormold could not be charged under the Official Secrets Act as he hadn’t actually given any secrets away? He invented secrets, and such an act is not covered by the OSA.
Chairman: I think that I can speak for this Committee --- on the balance, Mr. and Mrs. Wormold’s actions had brought us more benefits than disadvantages, although it must be said that we have some concerns about the sheer amount of invention that was involved. But such is the nature of intelligence work. It is in our national interest that we concur with the conclusion of the SIS’ internal inquiry: Mr. Wormold deserves his O.B.E., and Mrs. Wormold does not deserve to be sent to Jakarta.
Mr. Blakeley and Mr. Cunningham: We agree.
Mr. Wormold: May I say something, sir?
Chairman: Certainly, Mr. Wormold.
Mr. Wormold: This is the lesson that I’ve learned from all of this. The cruel come and go like cities and thrones and powers. They have no permanence. But the clown whom I had seen last year with my daughter at the circus --- that clown is permanent, for his act never change.That is the way to live: the clown is unaffected by the vagaries of public and the enormous discoveries of the great.
Chairman: Umm, yes. Quite an interesting sentiment. Is that all?
Mr. Wormold: One more: thou shalt not invent a weapon of mass destruction where there is none.
Chairman: I agree. May I thank you on behalf of the Committee? You both have been most helpful.