I really loved Quim Monzo's Guadalajara, the previous collection of stories published in translation, so I was really excited to come across this oneI really loved Quim Monzo's Guadalajara, the previous collection of stories published in translation, so I was really excited to come across this one at the library. I ended up a little disappointed. These stories are good, and some of them are very good, and many of them play with the form in interesting ways— but in general, these were much less fun (and much less funny) than those in Guadalajara. They did not have the same sense of playfulness as the stories in the other collection, the feeling that Monzo has more ideas than he knew what to do with. I think if I had read this collection first, I would have enjoyed it more, but as it is I came away just a bit let down. ...more
This is a weird book— weird enough that it is difficult to say what it is "about," either in terms of the plot or in terms of the themes. On the one hThis is a weird book— weird enough that it is difficult to say what it is "about," either in terms of the plot or in terms of the themes. On the one hand, the devil and three of his lieutenants arrive is Moscow and reek havoc; as a sort of sideline, they reunite a woman with her lost love, at a price that is unclear. On the other hand, there is the story on Pontius Pilate as he makes the decision to allow Jesus (who, in this version, may or may not have any kind of supernatural status) to be executed, and the personal aftermath of that decision. (One of the many remarkable things about the book was how sympathetic a character Pilate is; Bulgakov makes him into, basically, a man with a job he hates who makes what he sees as the professionally safe decision, and regrets is instantly and forever.) The two stories are related in terms of the larger plot of the novel, but they never quite pull together to, for example, make one into an allegory for the other. There's a lot going on here, and a lot about early Soviet life that probably went right over my head, but it's also a lot of fun and unlike any other book I know of. My only real complaint was that the translation struck me a lot of the time as quite awkward; knowing no Russian, I have no sense at all of what the original was like, and so maybe this is faithful to Bulgakov's style, but my intuitive sense was that the English was not quite accommodating the Russian idiom....more
I'm honestly not sure how I feel about this one. The central character is compelling and sympathetic, with a totally distinctive voice that, appropriaI'm honestly not sure how I feel about this one. The central character is compelling and sympathetic, with a totally distinctive voice that, appropriately, is both childlike and not, by turns and sometimes simultaneously. And the world in which he lives is also a strange and well-rendered mix of horrifying and comforting. But I think the book's short length (70 pages) works against it; Tochtli is only dimly aware of how weird and unsafe his world is, and somehow I felt hat more time was needed to fully elaborate the contradictions that mark that world. I didn't need him to "come of age," exactly, in either the figurative or literal sense, but at the end of the book things seem, in every way that matters, identical to how they stood at the beginning, and that left me feeling a bit unsatisfied. Still, I would read Villalobos's next novel (which is apparently being translated right now)....more
This one took a little more effort to get into for me (an odd thing to say about such a short book), but the final section is really remarkable. AiraThis one took a little more effort to get into for me (an odd thing to say about such a short book), but the final section is really remarkable. Aira is a writer who keeps my interest even if I don't love everything he does, because even when it doesn't quite work his stuff remains interesting....more
I had a bit of trouble deciding how to rate this; there were things I liked a lot about it, and things that very much annoyed me. The style is florid,I had a bit of trouble deciding how to rate this; there were things I liked a lot about it, and things that very much annoyed me. The style is florid, sometimes to the point of seeming like parody, and while reviews have commented on the way that Dekobra keeps the tone light, even in the more harrowing scenes, I found that juxtaposition jarring rather than charming. I also found the character of Lady Diana annoying much of the time. All that said, at bottom it is quite a good spy-ish (not actually about espionage, per se) adventure story, and very firmly rooted in the inter-war period at the birth of the Soviet Union. That setting is compelling, and it is rendered well here, with only a touch (it seems to me) of exaggeration....more
**spoiler alert** This is a difficult book to give a rating to. It is certainly not the fastest read, and the style can definitely be disorienting-- b**spoiler alert** This is a difficult book to give a rating to. It is certainly not the fastest read, and the style can definitely be disorienting-- but the latter, I think, is intentional. The technique of interspersing conversations and events from different time frames does make it hard to track exactly what happened when, but I don't feel that one NEEDS to use a highlighter or index cards to keep track of all the characters and story lines; I don't think it matters all that much. I thought that Llosa's intention was precisely to convey the way in which memory is interfered with by the present, and often by one's reluctance to remember.
Anyway, it was a little tough to get into for me, but once I did I enjoyed it, and looked forward to it every night. That is important. The problem, though, is that I am not entirely sure what I am left with upon finishing the book. It was sad, though it is mostly a kind of gentle, regretful sadness; one senses from Santiago, especially, a feeling that the way things turned out is unfortunate, but that there was no way they could ever have been different. (He is a frustrating character because I at least could not help thinking that some things certainly COULD have turned out differently). Ambrosio comes off a bit more clearly as a victim of his fate, though it is also clear that his strangely periodic cowardice is partly to blame. Even characters who, in some sense, have a great deal more power do not really seem to be in control of anything; Cayo Bermudez seems to feel that he is simply riding the wheel of fortune through an upswing (and he is apparently right about that).
I am also not sure how I feel about the sexual politics of the book. One COULD possibly read it as suggesting that homosexuality is self-destructive. I don't really think that this was Llosa's intention; another possible reading is that one cannot help the nature of one's desires, even when they are imprudent.
The book left me with a lot of questions-- not about plot points, but about authorial intentions. I think that open-endedness is intentional-- it is what Barthes would call a "writerly" text-- but it means that I am not entirely sure how to feel about the book....more
Really not sure what to think about this one. It is, however, one of a small class of books that, even while I did not necessarily enjoy them or haveReally not sure what to think about this one. It is, however, one of a small class of books that, even while I did not necessarily enjoy them or have a clearly defined reaction to them, make me want to read more by their author anyway....more