It's been interesting to see the wide variety of responses to Ilan Stavan's Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Early Years, around the Internet. I one of tho...moreIt's been interesting to see the wide variety of responses to Ilan Stavan's Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Early Years, around the Internet. I one of those who enjoyed both the historic perspective and the personal passion that Stavans brings to the book. My full review may be too long to post here but interested readers can find it at this url: https://www.examiner.com/african-amer...
The Shadow of the Wind and the Power of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's Literary Magic
It would be easy to say that The Shadow of the Wind, at its core, is a com...more The Shadow of the Wind and the Power of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's Literary Magic
It would be easy to say that The Shadow of the Wind, at its core, is a compelling historical drama that explores the mystery of why someone is making it his business to seek out and destroy the final remaining copies of books by a writer who never achieved much success with them in the first place. But that would be too much of an understatement and far too inaccurate. The story begins when an antiquarian bookseller introduces his ten-year-old son, Daniel Sempere, to “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books,” a gargantuan warehouse of seemingly endless shelves of books no longer read and in danger of eternal obscurity. Daniel is allowed to wander through the corridors and choose a book that he must “adopt,” and promise “that it will never disappear, that it will always stay alive.” He chooses The Shadow of the Wind, written by Julián Carax, and with that one choice his life changes forever.
In addition to falling in love with the novel, Daniel also falls in love with the mystery behind the life of the man who wrote it. Far from being the celebrated author that he presumes Carax is, Daniel learns that despite the brilliance of his work and the fact that he published as least three novels, Carax is about as uncelebrated and obscure as a writer can get. Even Daniel’s father, who owns the bookshop where Daniel works with him, knows nothing about the author, despite the fact that he apparently was born in their very own hometown. Daniel’s fascination with Carax seems peculiar because he is only ten when he reads The Shadow of the Wind, described as “a ghostly odyssey in which the protagonist struggled to recover his lost youth, and in which the shadow of a cursed love slowly surfaced to haunt him until his last breath.” But whether the boy’s fascination is weird or not, it develops over the next decade into a full-blown obsession that impacts every aspect of his life, and evolves even beyond that into something more like divine destiny.
The Shadow of the Wind (Zafón’s novel, not Carax’s) is set in mid-1900s Barcelona, Spain, with flashbacks to earlier days and visits to Paris as well. With its sometimes brooding dark skies, rich cultural landscape, and classic architecture, the setting includes elements of the Gothic that serve Zafón’s story well. In fact, from the moment readers walk with Daniel into the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, we enter a labyrinth, which following pages reveal as a major motif and literary technique applied throughout this absorbing masterwork. Daniel’s description of Carax’s novel turns out to be an accurate one of Zafón’s as well: “Step by step the narrative split into a thousand stories, as if it had entered a gallery of mirrors, its identity fragmented into endless reflections.”
With each year that passes as Daniel grows from boyhood into adolescence and young adulthood, he collects an assortment of clues about Carax and meets a number of characters worthy of supporting roles in a novel by Charles Dickens or Ralph Ellison. A beautiful blind woman who breaks his heart, a homeless man who becomes his best friend, a corrupt policeman who becomes his worst enemy, and a reclusive author who takes on the identity of one of his own most terrifying characters: these are just a few of the people who come to play definitive roles in his quest to solve the enigma known as Julián Carax. Each has a story that guides the reader into one branch of the novel’s labyrinth even as it leads you into the next. We also begin to see the “endless reflections” hinted at in the above quote as Daniel discovers scenes and developments within his life beginning to mirror those in Carax’s.
Just as characters in a New Millennium novel might do, those in The Shadows of the Wind sometimes debate the prophesized demise of literature due to the development of technology. In contemporary times, educators and parents debate the popular tendency to access information via the Internet rather than acquire knowledge via the study of books; in the era of Daniel Sempere and Julián Carax, those who took their daily instructions for living from the printed word questioned the impact of such innovations as the radio, movies, and television. When Daniel asks his friend Fermỉn whether he likes the cinema, he describes it as, “…a way of feeding the mindless and making them even more stupid. …The cinema began as an invention for entertaining the illiterate masses. Fifty years on, it’s much the same.” Then he experiences a silver-screen epiphany in the form of Hollywood bombshell Carole Lombard and gains a deeper, albeit mostly erotic, appreciation for what he calls “the seventh art.” It makes you wonder what Fermỉn might have to say in this day and age when so many classics of literature, in addition to the ultra-modern graphic novel, have been successfully adapted to film.
If this novel truly is a triumph of the storyteller’s art as many have described it, then it is also one of the literary translator’s art. The original Spanish edition, titled La Sombra del Viento, came out in 2001, and translator Lucia Grave’s English version was published in 2004. Since then, Zafón’s work in general has been translated into more than forty languages and The Shadow of the Wind in particular has sold 12 million copies plus around the globe. One has to give props to the translators because, experts or not, it had to prove considerably challenging to capture the finer nuances of the author’s style, the subtleties of his humor, and the quiet brilliance of his universality.
Octavia E. Butler's PARABLE OF THE SOWER is one of those rare, dangerous novels that succeeds as both...moreA TERRIFYING YET INSPIRING VISION OF DAYS TO COME
Octavia E. Butler's PARABLE OF THE SOWER is one of those rare, dangerous novels that succeeds as both fascinating fantasy and uncompromising social commentary. Within its first dozen pages, we encounter members of a typical family, armed with guns, on their way to church, a headless corpse, a naked homeless woman, a community walled in by terror, and a young woman dreaming of stars.
The dreamer is 16-year-old Lauren Oya Olamina, the would-be sower and teller of this parable. The place is California. The year 2025. And nothing in the United States is how it once was. Lauren is a "sharer," or what some might describe as an empath. With her family destroyed by lawless ravagers, Lauren becomes the leader of a band of desperate wanderers. Despite constant violence, hunger, and the threat of firestorms sweeping across the land, they maintain their vows to protect each other and even find love among their numbers. Although barely existing at the bottom of hell, these characters levitate naturally toward a sense of family in order to survive and flourish. Racially, socially, and temperamentally diverse, they manage to achieve a strained but functional unity.
The late Butler's PARABLE OF THE SOWER, filled with deep thought and elevated feeling, highlights and magnifies the social ills of the years 2025-2027 to forge a mirror that reflects much of what too many people choose to ignore in contemporary times. Despite that, every page shimmers with hope and inspiration that makes this book one fantastic read.
by Aberjhani author of ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE and THE WISDOM OF W. E. B. DU BOIS
This story would have been exciting enough based only on the fact that Edward P. Jones so boldly took...more Edward P. Jones' Bold Vision of "The Known World"
This story would have been exciting enough based only on the fact that Edward P. Jones so boldly took the antebellum novel to a place it has never gone before; namely, to black slave-owner Henry Townsend's plantation in Manchester, Virginia. There, the "Known World" is wholly different from what one might expect. But this seemingly obviously absurd anomaly of U.S. history, wherein black masters owned black slaves, doesn’t stop with that rarely discussed fact. It is further illuminated by Jones' flights into the fantastic with observations of sentient lightning, children with the personalities of bitter grandparents, and, comically enough, freak chickens.
Mixed within this potent literary brew are some of the most original and dynamic characters, male and female, ever to step into the pages of American fiction. In fact, one of more remarkable features of Jones’ amazing novel is his portrayal of how specific individuals sometimes managed to exploit the institution of slavery in order to indulge their own private needs, quirks, or agendas.
It's true that the alternating biblical density and epic expansiveness of details and events with which Jones builds his narrative can at times prove challenging. However, this same aesthetic ultimately delivers a triumphant satisfaction. Jones' Pulitzer--and any other awards received for this novel--was well earned and deserved.
by Author-Poet Aberjhani author of "Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance" (Facts on File Library of American History) and "The Wisdom Of W.E.B. Du Bois" (Wisdom Library) (less)
This AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SANTA CLAUS, like the technologically-pioneering film FORREST GUMP, achieves the fanciful illus...more THE MAGIC OF SANTA CLAUS REVEALED
This AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SANTA CLAUS, like the technologically-pioneering film FORREST GUMP, achieves the fanciful illusion of allowing our legendary hero to interact with some of the more outstanding names in world history. During a career of gift-giving that spans centuries, Santa not only meets, but adopts as helpers such extraordinary historical personalities as: Attila the Hun, St. Francis of Assisi, Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Dickens, Teddy Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, and Benjamin Franklin.
The magic begins in the year 280 A.D., in a country called Lycia (modern-day Turkey) where a child is born to an elderly couple who never expected to have one. Readers follow the child Nicholas from orphan-hood, to the high office of a church bishop, to his miraculous rebirth as the very spirit of Christmas giving itself. Many of the finer moments in Jeff Guinn's book come during Santa's encounters with and his recruitment of historical figures. Among the first is King Arthur, whose "kingship," says Santa, was more legend than fact, presenting Arthur here more as a humble war chief than anything resembling royalty. Santa's knack for debunking one myth while extending his own is a feature that allows readers to suspend disbelief and revel in the enchantment of this autobiography. Even such hilarious scenes as Teddy Roosevelt pleading with Santa to let him join his band of craftsmen and gift-givers becomes believable.
This enthralling blend of fact and fiction is an obvious fun read for the Christmas holidays but also an enjoyable one for any other time of the year.
by Author-Poet Aberjhani author of "The Wisdom Of W.E.B. Du Bois" (Wisdom Library) and "Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance" (Facts on File Library of American History) (less)
Invisible Man, Shadow and Act, and Going to the Territory, all books by that quintessential twentieth century lit...moreTHE ENIGMATIC GENIUS OF RALPH ELLISON
Invisible Man, Shadow and Act, and Going to the Territory, all books by that quintessential twentieth century literary artist Ralph Waldo Ellison, remain towering masterworks of American literature for their penetrating explorations of racial identity, cultural complexity, and historical consequences in the United States. With Senator Barack Obama’s historic bid for the White House evolving daily into the possibility of an historic win, Ellison’s brilliantly charged writings, which first catapulted him to fame in the 1950s, are perhaps more relevant now than ever before, making Arnold Rampersad’s detailed biography of the great writer one of the best reads around during these very exciting times.
Biographies of high-achieving African Americans have too often in the past fallen into one of two categories: those that romanticized their subjects as cultural heroes and those that condemned them as embarrassing villains. Fortunately, in Rampersad, we have a biographer who assigned himself the demanding task of providing as full and honest a portrait of his subject as he could. He does so with balanced assessments of both the publicly applauded Ellison who became a permanent fixture in world literature the moment he won the National Book Award for Invisible Man in 1953, and detailed sketches of the more private Ellison, who bemoaned his lack of children and wrestled for almost half a century with his inability to follow his initial literary victory with a second completed novel.
As one might expect from any capable literary biographer, Arnold Rampersad provides readers with a highly engaging dramatic account of Ellison’s beginnings in Oklahoma City and his subsequent rise from demoralizing poverty and tragedy to international literary stardom. Much of the story of Ellison’s youth and his struggles to give birth to his identity as a writer is already well known, both from Ellison’s essays and Lawrence Jackson’s biography of the author: Ralph Ellison, Emergence of Genius. Even so, Rampersad’s own eloquent placement of Ellison within the greater contexts of American social history, and within such specific cultural movements as the Harlem Renaissance, shine an even more revealing light on the author.
Moreover, high school and college students grappling with assignments to write papers on Invisible Man can duly thank Rampersad for his lucid dissection of the surrealistic, historical, and political elements that make the novel the uniquely brilliant American coming of age tale that it is.
Because Invisible Man is a celebrated novel that has sold untold millions of copies in different languages around the world for more than half a century, the stories of cultural politics and extramarital dalliances surrounding its celebrity author may not stun readers too much. What might, though, while reading along, is the realization of just how much cultural and political influence Ellison came to wield based on the strength of that one mighty novel and a couple of volumes of essays. With his role as a founding participant in such organizations as the Commission on Educational Television, which in time would lead to the development of public broadcast stations, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Ellison occupied a position in which he could make or break the careers of various writers with his registered approval or disapproval of them. Oddly enough, despite the fact that he benefited greatly from the influence of such Harlem Renaissance giants as Richard Wright and Langston Hughes, he was not as inclined as they to champion younger upcoming black authors based on notions of racial solidarity or mentorship.
Nevertheless, Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Ronald Reagan, both of whom awarded him presidential medals, so respected Ellison’s intellectual prominence that they invited him on a variety of occasions for both social and more official purposes to the White House. Such was his stature that he attended when he felt it important to do so but not when he believed other issues (such as a gathering of literary peers as opposed to one of political statesmen) mattered more.
Of all the mysteries that may be attributed to the life of Ralph Ellison, possibly none are so beguiling as that of his second novel. As early as 1953, the public began to speculate on and query Ellison about his follow-up novel to Invisible Man, and that speculation continued right up until his death on April 16, 1994. First haunted by the pressure of completing a novel as successful as his first had been, Ellison’s 365-page work-in-progress was destroyed by a fire in 1967. Although he managed eventually to re-write more pages than he actually lost, the remaining four decades of Ellison’s life seemed almost dominated by one of the most enduring and over-publicized writing blocks in history. Yet, as Rampersad illustrates, his prominence did not diminish but continued to increase with teaching positions, speaking engagements, appointments to influential boards, and the ever-growing canonization of his one indisputable fiction masterpiece: Invisible Man. A version of his second novel, Juneteenth, edited by his friend John F. Callahan and reportedly culled from more than 2,000 pages, would not be published until 1999.
The serious literary author in 2008 still obtains some degree of notable status when he or she wins a significant award but their influence is generally restricted to academic environments, Internet literary communities, or various geographical regions. It would be virtually impossible for a modern author to achieve the level of prestige and actual power Ellison commanded based on his intellectual gifts and pronouncements alone. (And yet such an observation makes one pay serious attention to the role bestselling books play in the careers of political leaders like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.)
For that reason, Ellison’s life is indeed one worth celebrating for many decades to come and Rampersad’s biography of that life is a book that has earned its rightful place among the best and most important in the genre.
an excellent title to delve into for national poetry month, and for that matter the rest of the year as well.[return][return]aberjhani[return]author o...morean excellent title to delve into for national poetry month, and for that matter the rest of the year as well.[return][return]aberjhani[return]author of "i made my boy out of poetry"[return]and "encyclopedia of the harlem renaissance"(less)
Critics were divided over whether THIS IS MY BELOVED, by Walter Benton, was pornography or literary art when it fi...moreA Perfect Antidote for Wartime Blues
Critics were divided over whether THIS IS MY BELOVED, by Walter Benton, was pornography or literary art when it first came out. That question really should have been answered by these lines from the very first poem in the book: "Because hate is legislated...written into/ the primer and the testament,/ shot into our blood and brain like vaccine or vitamins...I need love more than ever now..."
There's no doubt that Benton, who was born in Austria and lived later in the United States, was writing as an individual. However, considering that World War II was approaching its bloodiest worse when the book was first published in 1943, it's quite likely he was also speaking metaphorically on behalf of all humanity. Has anyone yet discovered a better antidote for the disease of international war than universal love?
Similarly, the great jazz and pop singer Arthur Prysock recorded what is now a classic spoken word version of the book (please see related CD review at Creative Thinkers International) in December 1968 when the Vietnam War had the world in tears. Small wonder, then, that a new generation marked indelibly by the Iraq War in 2007 is claiming both the book and CD version of "This Is My Beloved" for its own. In times like these, so much of what it has to say is exactly what we need to hear.
Jean-Dominique Bauby's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is a small book composed of many big wonders. Primary among th...moreA Small Book with a Big Soul
Jean-Dominique Bauby's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is a small book composed of many big wonders. Primary among this book's extraordinary qualities is the fact that Bauby, a former editor in chief of the world-famous French Elle, was able to "write" it at all. after suffering a stroke to his brain stem and spending 20 days in a coma, Bauby regained command of a nearly clairvoyant intellect but lost all authority over his body. The sole physical function he retained was the ability to blink his left eye; by use of it, he developed a kind of sign language that allowed him to dictate letter by painstaking letter the brief and luminous chapters that make up "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."
Anyone could easily have forgiven bauby had he chosen to lapse into the kind of rage and unhinged sentimentality that characterize (although justifiably so) other memoirs based on extreme medical situations. However, he takes a wholly different route. Like "the invisible diving bell" that imprisons his body and the butterfly wings of memory and meditation that provide some relief, Bauby's prose floats back and forth between the severe and the sublime. astonishing above all else is the stream of humor that flows unforced and unfettered throughout the book, as when the editor insists on being allowed to drool while dressed in cashmere rather than in hospital garb.
From musings on the glamour of his former life to the simple pleasures of a leisurely bath, this book contains much irony and healthy doses of cynicism. It displays as well the brilliant dignity of one damaged soul's refusal to fade into nothingness before having its final say. Despite Bauby's death two days after the french publication of his book, his voice will boom through these pages for many years to come.
Aberjhani author of I Made My Boy Out of Poetry and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance(less)