Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

I just finished reading a book that I first encountered in high school, but never fully appreciated—largely because I just remember watching the movie as a way to fast-track discussions, as well as productions of other sections in my Sophomore year, each tackling a specific time period of the book. I am referring to “The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende.

“The House of the Spirits” tells the story of the Trueba family, which spans four generations. Their lives serve as a glass for us to peek through life in post-colonial Chile, coupled with traces of magic as part of the characters’ realities. Indeed, magic realism is a trademark of Latin American literature, but there’s more to this novel to appreciate.

One of the things that I appreciated most about the novel was how Allende managed to give life to ‘strong’ female characters—my use of the adjective is rather liberal, in the sense that each major female character that played a role in the novel manifested this differently.

Clara del Valle first displayed strength as a child, when she willed herself not to speak after predicting death in the family, which turned out to be her older sister, Rosa the beautiful. Clara spoke years after, only to announce her marriage to Esteban Trueba. While remaining faithful to her husband, Clara once again willed herself not to speak to him upon witnessing Esteban’s brutal actions to their daughter Blanca. Clara proved to be the life and anchor of the family, and even after her passing, her husband and granddaughter continued to rely on her, albeit privately, at the time when they most need it.

Blanca Trueba, Clara’s daughter, displayed strength of love. Among the Trueba women, she had faced the greatest adversity to be with the man she loved the most, and held on to such love (and perhaps, the belief that they would eventually be together) in all of twenty years.

Alba Satigny, Blanca’s daughter, was perhaps the most courageous of the women, owing to the time she lived in. Of all the women, it was she that experienced the most change, from a protected ‘countess’ to a woman actively doing her share in the country’s political upheavals, to the extent of being subjected to torture and rape.

While the situations may vary, more than the magic that runs in the old house in the corner, it is the strength and willfulness in these women that pushed the story forward (with all due respect to Esteban Trueba).

I can only wish I had read the novel much earlier to properly appreciate an exemplary piece of Latin American literature (I do think that the pulse of Philippine literature is not too far from Latin American literature, owing to similarities in political and social concerns, as well as Spanish influences—but this ought to be the subject of a different entry).

Edit: Well, what do you know? The timing of this entry couldn’t have been… divine? Chile has launched an inquiry into the death of former President Salvador Allende (widely believed to be The President in the novel). Now, there are also calls to open an inquiry into the death of Pablo Neruda (who is believed to be The Poet alluded to in the novel).

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Fluff.

Posted: May 7, 2011 in books
Tags: , ,

Yes, I’m perfectly aware it’s been quite a while since I wrote on this space, and yes, I have been reading. Following the heaviness of “Blindness”, I decided to shift gears to a couple of easy reads. In honor of Sophie Kinsella’s “Mini-Shopaholic” and Francine Pascal’s “Sweet Valley Confidential: 10 Years After” (books which I was excited to acquire), this post is entitled, “Fluff”.

Let me start with “Mini-Shopaholic”. It’s the 6th installment in the series, and by such time, you begin to ask yourself, “Why am I putting up with this?” Don’t get me wrong, Becky Bloomwood amused the heck out of me (and Luke Brandon forms a part of Mr. Perfect), but after the first three books, things have gone downhill. What used to be charming and funny was now downright annoying. The humor now feels contrived. I just hope this is the last in the series. Sophie Kinsella is much more enjoyable in her other novels.

As for “Sweet Valley Confidential”, it had to be consumed for the sheer nostalgia, and it went totally the route of “Gossip Girl”. Compared to this generation’s contemporary young adult literature, Sweet Valley was squeaky clean and aspirational. Now that the twins are 27, let’s just say they kind of got fucked up more at a time when they have got things supposedly figured out. I wouldn’t go into the details anymore, since the actual book will land my shore this month, but I just have to say WHAT THE DUCK WAS THAT?! Jessica ends up with… Elizabeth ends up with… And _____ ends up _____!

Yeah, the fluff post? It turned into a rant post.

On Blindness.

Posted: April 9, 2011 in books
Tags: , ,

What would happen if you and the rest of those around you were to go blind? Would you have lost your humanity as well?

Those two questions summarized for me what Jose Saramago’s “Blindness” was all about. Set in an unknown country at a time that is not far from the present, “white blindness” sweeps across this place, and those first few affected were quarantined, only to eventually be released into a society that has pretty much collapsed after acquiring the same affliction. It is an exploration of human reactions and choice and what one would do to fight for survival in the most desperate of situations.

There was only one character that was spared from the “white blindness” and this was the doctor’s wife. I particularly loved this character, because of her character arc as the story progressed. Assuming she was a nurturing wife who was compelled to take care of her blind husband, her first daring move was to pretend to be blind in order to be with him. She then progressed from being a woman in the background to being the leader of the group, by virtue of her sight. In between this progression was a woman’s sacrifice and bravery to stand up to against a group of blind men that provided food to the rest of the quarantined people in exchange for more than a few favors.

And while Saramago presents a hauntingly realistic description of human nature amidst a situation where panic, chaos, confusion, and the unknown abound, he also presents some rather philosophical perspectives on human nature, such as:

Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are.

and

Perhaps only in a world of the blind will things be what they truly are.

and

There’s no difference between inside and outside, between here and there, between the many and the few, between what we’re living through and what we shall have to live through… this must be what it means to be a ghost, being certain that life exists, because your four senses say so, and yet unable to see it…

and

The difficult thing isn’t living with other people, it’s understanding them.

and

I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.

I must admit, I don’t think Saramago is for everyone’s reading pleasure. He doesn’t employ the usual punctuation marks in the dialogue, and his writing style is pretty much made up of run-on sentences and very long paragraphs. That said, it probably takes a certain reading temperament to appreciate “Blindness”. Once you get past the style of how the letters are laid out on the page, it is quite a compelling read.

I’ve been meaning to read Saramago since the news of his passing was announced in 2010. I only had the chance to read one of his more famous works (after searching everywhere for a copy of the book!) when FFP had Blindness for its March Book Discussion. Thanks to Peter, though, I’ll probably be getting a few more Saramago titles in the future.

 

ETA: I also thought “Blindness” had a strong feminine/feminist voice, in the sense that it had strong women characters. And despite scenes of gang rape, there was one passage in the book that I thought allowed the women to celebrate their bodies. That is such a trademark of feminist literature.

Nobody keeps me awake more than Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

Of course, there’s nothing quite like “The Shadow of the Wind”, but I still found myself gripped by “The Angel’s Game” and my latest read, “The Prince of Mist”.

Now “The Prince of Mist” was an earlier work, which was just translated from Spanish fairly recently. It is wrong to assume that this is similar to the depth and breadth of Ruiz Zafón’s later works. However, the same masterful storytelling of things that go bump in the night is present in this Young Adult novel, which can still give you the creeps, even if… well, you’re an adult in denial.

The Prince of Mist tells of a boy who moves with his family into a new home in the countryside, escaping the horrors of war. Yet, the boy eventually discovers the horrors that come with the new home—in particular, the Prince of Mist that comes back to settle some debts.

I must admit, I skipped some descriptions of haunting figures, largely because I don’t want to have crazy dream sequences involving clowns, for crying out loud (hated clowns when I was a kid, still hate them now). I think that’s the bookish version of running away from scary things.

In any case, Ruiz Zafón does a pretty darn good job with the creepers and adds a few moments of tenderness, which calls back your attention to the fact that this is a story of kids still discovering themselves—ending in obviously what is a loss of innocence. OK, I won’t say anything more. Just get yourself creeped out.

I can now finally let go of Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go.” I say this with much relief, after struggling to finish the book.

Don’t get me wrong—I don’t dislike it. It’s probably just me unconsciously delaying the thought of getting lost into something that makes me sad, under the guise of excuses such: as too many things to do; stayed up late and now have to crash; and football gets in the way.

So yes, it feels like a small victory to finally finish it at about three o’clock this morning.

“Never Let Me Go” is told from the point of view of Kathy H., who reconnects with her two friends, Ruth and Tommy, and shares the stories of their past and the turbulence of their relationships. Now, these characters aren’t human beings, but clones that exist in a world wherein they are to serve as cures to diseases by donating their organs. It’s a doomed and brief existence, yet what perhaps gives the book much of its flavor is just how these beings go through the whole gamut of human emotions, perhaps to serve as a counterpoint to their eventual ending.

The book is never overly drawn out. What I liked most about it is just how Ishiguro writes with so much elegance, control, and tightness. It is the words that draw you in to feel the hurt, the loss, and the sense of finality that comes with what and who the characters are.

I saw the movie 20 pages into reading the book, and I must say, while I am a fan of Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley, the book gives so much more depth into their characters than what the movie offers.

I finished Jasper Fforde’s “The Eyre Affair” in between those moments when I feel like I’m drowning in silence and sadness. It seemed to be the perfect choice for a bit of escapism, after all.

There’s nothing quite like Fforde’s imagination, wherein he recreates a Great Britain in a parallel world, with dodos still existing, with the Crimean War still ongoing after over a century, and with literary detectives being actual government jobs. At the middle of it all is Thursday Next, who is quite a cool heroine.

Anyone who loves books will probably enjoy this. After all, it is fiction about fiction, with characters jumping in between the real and literary worlds. It’s a mishmash of mystery, thriller, science fiction, and fantasy, but not quite. Let’s just say it is way too unique. Fforde is indeed a master at the suspension of disbelief.

Thanks to Bloo for gifting me this, and I can’t wait to read the other books in the series!

¡Hola a todos! I hope your holidays have been filled with much merriment and a smorgasbord of food and books. I’m having a satisfying break myself.

I did get several books over the past week, and I’ll come around to reading them soon enough. This post, however, is reserved for Alice Kuipers’ “Life on the Refrigerator Door”. A very quick read, the story is told from the Post-It exchanges of a mother and daughter on (obviously) the refrigerator door.

Claire is your typical 15-year-old, going through the normal teenage girl’s concerns. What is perhaps rather unusual in her situation as compared to the average 15-year-old is that her mother has been diagnosed with cancer. “Life on the Refrigerator Door” provides us with a glimpse of the ups and downs of a mother-daughter relationship as they both deal with the Big C in their lives.

I hold this book precious as well, because it does reflect a big part of my life. I may be over the teenage issues, but I can definitely relate with having to deal with cancer, since my mom is also battling it. While it took me 30 minutes to finish the book, I found myself tearing up at certain pages (as if time seems to move more slowly), largely because the characters’ mirror real-life thoughts and emotions. This note, in particular, hit home:

Thank you, Alice Kuipers, for such a gem. The book may not win such accolades, but I know that it can mean a lot to anyone who is or has ever been in the same situation.

***

I decided to write about the book amidst the merriment of the holidays. After all, Christmas is about faith, hope, and love. And for us daughters who are helping their mothers fight cancer, life is largely about such.

I hope 2011 rings in a better year for us all. 🙂