Where In The World Are You? - March/April 2012
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I have followed the Adventures of Mottel, the Cantor's Son from early 20th century Russia, through Europe, to the lower east side of New York City.
Earlier this week, I was sick in New Jersey and the Poconos trying to avoid my Nemesis, but felt much better at The Wedding of Zein in Sudan. Last night I spent a few tense hours looking for shelter in Coventry, and now I'm trying to stay one step ahead of the Khmer Rouge by hiding In the Shadow of the Banyan tree.
I'm flitting all over England and from one drunken revel to the next in Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead.
I'm in Tinker's Cove, Maine, investigating a St. Patrick's Day Murder.
I've just left Tinker's Cove, Maine, and now I'm in Medieval Britian witnessing the events described in Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur.
I'm in Turkey now. But I've been to Israel, the US and Greece tracking down The Constantine Codex.
I'm in Britain finding out what life was like below stairs in The Maid's Tale.
Now I'm in Australia's Northwest Territory, at the dawn of the Twentieth Century with We of the Never-Never and, the Little Black Princess.
I'm in Lebanon hearing the stories inside and between stories told by a local Storyteller or The Hakawati.
I've abandon Australia for the time being and have moved on to Papua New Guinea where I am a true Child of the Jungle.
I've already left Papua New Guinea and am headed all the way to Sweden to visit with Astrid and Veronika.
I'm in the Pacific near the tiny island of Tofua heading off northwest towards Timor and reading what was written In Bligh's Hand as Captain Bligh recorded his journey in a longboat after Fletcher Christian had mutinied against him on the Bounty.
I'm in multicultural Dublin, celebrating St. Patrick's Day with The Deportees.
I'm really a globe trotter these last few days. I've already left Sweden and am now traveling down The Blue Nile.
in Argentina with the great and late Tomas Eloy Martinez. I just finshed his Purgatory:A Novel. my review follows:
Purgatory: A Novel by Tomás Eloy Martínez
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Purgatory a Novel, by Tomas Eloy Martinez
While Jorge Luis Borges will always be considered the godhead of Argentine literature it is to Tomas Eloy Martinez that accolades should be showered for documenting the arc of mid-twentieth century Argentine history. Borges métier was short fiction, erudite and mystical, steeped in the earlier 1900’s documenting the push and pull of gaucho life with the European influence of Buenos Aires. Borges’ strong points were essays about books and his unique metaphysical visions despite (or perhaps heightened by) his own visual impairment. In his later novel, The Tango Singer, Tomas Eloy Martinez pays special homage to Borges; in this tale the main character is a graduate student searching for the exact location of Borges’ El Aleph.
Both Borges and Martinez died before they could be bestowed the awards they justly deserved: for Borges the Nobel Prize for Literature, for Martinez the International Man Booker Prize for which he was nominated in 2005.
With Purgatory a Novel, Martinez demonstrates clearly that via the novel he is the master illuminating recent Argentine history. Starting with The Peron Novel which portrays how the quite ordinary and obsequious Colonel transforms his position into a pervasive politics, and then with Santa Evita his choice of spouse catapulted both of them into the realm of religious adoration capturing the imagination and dedication of the common folk. Now with Purgatory a Novel Tomas Eloy Martinez takes on the dictatorship of the late 1970’s who brought a reign of terror to this country that still permeates its soul and fires up the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo frequent protests.
Purgatory is the story of Emilia, daughter of Dr. Dupuy, the chief propagandist of the dictatorship. In the wake of the dictatorship which is determined to squelch all dissidents through disappearances, she marries a fellow cartographer she has met at the Argentine Automobile Association. At a small dinner party hosted by her father and attended by the President (often referred to as the eel) to celebrate the betrothal to her soon to be husband, Simon, Emilia’s fiancé begs to differ with the current policies, questioning the morality of torture.
Shortly thereafter while on assignment to chart unknown backloads of the pampas, Emilia and Simon are detained by a ragged detail of soldiers who determine that Simon should be held for further interrogation. He is never seen again and Emilia sets forth on decades of longing and searching from Argentina to Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and finally ending up in New Jersey where she meets a fellow Argentine-a mildly disguised version of Tomas Eloy Martinez himself: a college professor of literature at a New Jersey University. It is through this meeting of the 2 exiles that her story is told through both flashbacks and real time.
The absurd cruelty of the regime is aptly depicted in a brief interview The Eel has with a Japanese journalist stating that “ ‘firstly we would have to verify that what you say existed was where you say it was. Reality can be very treacherous. Lots of people are desperate for attention and they disappear just so people won’t forget them…A desaparecido is a mystery, he has no substance, he is neither alive nor dead, he does not exist. He is a ‘disappeared’. And as he said he does not exist, he rolled his eyes to heaven. ‘Don’t use that word again,’ he went on, ‘you have no basis for it. It is forbidden to publish it. Let it be disappeared and be forgotten.’ ”
Of course that is what any regime of terror hopes for; that the powers will control the message and dictate what is considered to be the truth, what is real and what is to be acknowledged and remembered. But this dirty war ultimately failed, on the shores of the Malvinas it took its last gasp and it was the Mothers of the Plaza Major and the other victims - like Emilia and Tomas Eloy Martinez- that would not allow the disappeared to be forgotten. As in a prior novel, The Ministry of Special Cases, by Nathan Englander, the absurd terror that permeated Argentina in the late 70’s is exposed for all to remember. Like Martinez, Englander describes and captures the bureaucratic maze of obstacles, an artifice constructed by the late dictatorship of Jorge Videla (the eel in Purgatory) to obstruct from the view of its citizenry the true evil of his evil regime, manifested by the abduction of the infants of dissidents who are then adopted by childless Colonels and Captains of the Army’s elite corp.
Like the unchartered roads Emilia and Simon set out to find in Patagonia, the search for our lost loves, Eloy Martinez writes, is also uncharted. Once gone they only exist in memories and imaginations. The parallel and reference to “the politics of memory” that existed behind the Iron Curtain as portrayed by Milan Kundera in his The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and also administered by the perpetrators of Jorge Videla’s Dirty Wars is undeniable. Imagining what was and never was is uniquely described by Eloy Martinez in one powerful passage in which the imagined Simon describes an event that occurred while he was working as an attendant in an old age home:
“The writer with the slate who used to pace the corridors of the old folks’ home also told me a dream. It wasn’t a dream exactly; it was the memory of a recurring dream. A huge black dog was jumping on him and licking him. Inside the dog were all the things that had never existed and even those that no one even imagined could exist. ‘What does not exist is constantly seeking a father’, said the dog, ‘someone to give it consciousness.’ ‘A god?’ asked the writer. ‘No, it is searching for any father,’ answered the dog. ‘The things that do not exist are much more numerous than those that manage to exist. That which will never exist is infinite. The seeds that do not find soil and water and do not become plants, the lives that go unborn, the characters that remain unwritten.’ ‘The rocks that have crumbled to dust?’ ‘No those rocks once were. I am speaking only of what might have been but never was,’ said the dog. ‘The brother that never was because you existed in his place. If you had been conceived seconds before or seconds after, you would not be who you are, you would not know that your existence vanished into nowhere without you even realizing. That which will never be known that it might have been. This is why novels are written: to make amends in this world for the perpetual absence of what never existed.’ The dog vanished into the air and the writer woke up.’ “
Near the end of Pergatory a Novel, the narrator, the Argentine professor states:
“the more I delve into Emilia’s life, the more I realize that from beginning to end it is an unbroken chain of losses, disappearances and senseless searches. She spent years chasing after nothing, after people who no longer existed, remembering things that had never happened. But aren’t we all like that? Don’t we all abuse history to leave some trace there of what we once were, a miserable smudge, a tiny flame when we know that even the darkest mark is a bird that will leave on a breath of wind? One human being is more or less the same as another; perhaps we are all already dead without realizing it, or not yet born and do not know it…we come into the world without knowing it, the result of a series of accidents, and we leave it to go who knows where, nowhere probably.”
We can only hope that prior to his recent death Eloy had time to expand his trilogy of novels (spanning the 1940’s to 1970’s) and that someday soon we will have a quartet; the fourth installment detailing the more recent economic and political crisis of 2001 when the bank doors shut, the vaults were sealed tight, the currency, the peso devalued overnight, forcing hundreds of thousands portenos onto the avenidas of Buenos Aires, banging on their pots and pans for justice and transparency. The Kirchners, Nestor and Cristina, came to power with a neo-Peronism, a nationalistic approach blaming outsiders, the IMF, the World Bank, the Brits and the elites of Buenos Aires. Today the Kirchenrites are still at it, attacking their critics: academics, capitalists and the media; they have become minor shadows of their historic precedents, Juan Peron and all other governments that have tried to “control the message”.
Tomas Elroy Martinez has documented through his novels the mid-twentieth century history of Argentina. From The Peron Novel which starts in the 1930’s to Santa Evita and now Purgatory a Novel which roots itself in the dictatorship of the late 1970’s. Martinez, through story and characterization lets the reader in on what the Argentine peoples have lived through. We can only hope that that there is another book he left in his desk drawer that will explicate for us the economic crisis of the late 90’s and the resurgent Kirchnerites who perpetrate a quasi Peronism and political split between the rural nativist and the more universal European outlook of Buenos Aires. Ironically we find ourselves back at the beginning with the same themes that Borges, himself, mined over and over.
The Argentine drama evolves and it has lost one of its best literary chroniclers. Without Tomas Eloy Martinez, who will portray this most recent chapter?
#27: My gosh, thanks for all the information about Tomas Eloy Martinez. I'm off to my library's website to see if they have any of his novels!
I've not been out of the English-speaking world much this year - yet. Currently I'm in the UK with a short fiction collection by A. L. Kennedy, Now That You're Back.
>29 Actually, I take that back, I've been reading translated poetry, one collection from a Russian poet, another from an Iranian (I always forget to mention poetry).
>28 My pleasure. It is gratifying to spread awareness about this great writer.
I'm in the Linton Travel Tavern (late '90s) on the A11 approximately halfway between London and Norwich. Alan Partridge's heartfelt and tender memoir I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan has brought a tear to my eye on several occasions. It's certainly somewhat moderately moving.
Fans of the 'controversial King of Chat' will love it.
There is an excellent interview with Martinez on CBC Radio's Writers and Company from the February 2010 programme. Here is the link to episodes, so that you can see the range of authors, many of whom are referenced in this group: http://www.cbc.ca/writersandcompany/episode
I was so involved with finding the link that I forgot to add that I immediately ordered Santa Evita after hearing this episode and it was as intriguing as Martinez makes it sound.
With Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories, I've been traveling between a Boston suburb and postwar Europe, Israel, and South America.
Hanging out in an Islamo-punk party house with The Taqwacores.
Oh, I have to read that book. It's been on the TBR for a long time.
I am really enjoying it. As an animal lover, though, I am finding it a bit distressing reading about the animals.
I've curtailed my visit to Cuba, and am now in 17th Century Spain sharing great, rollicking adventures with Captain Alatriste.
#44 & #45 - Worst Journey In The World is one hell of a book. One of the most powerful reads I've ever had. I gave it 5 stars without any hesitation. Any time I've ever felt cold, or miserable, or generally hard done by - I try to summon up a modicum of the sort of courage those gentlemen had. Unforgettable stuff.
>48 Absolutely agree. It will be making my favourite reads list for this year.
I've just left The Sea and Poison in Japan at the end of the second world war.
I am in Tokyo on the waves of a Scandal and also in Washington, D.C./New York listening to Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life With John F. Kennedy four months after his assassination.
I'm trying to find my way through a River of Smoke, but it's slow going.
It's been Every Man for Himself, but I've just survived the sinking of the Titanic.
In Rome, Italy with some OAS guys watched closely by the SDECE because the Jackal is going to have his day in the wonderful novel bearing his name written by Frederick Forsythe.
I'm in Italy, observing various Little Misunderstandings of No Importance.
I've now moved on to Bloomsbury in 1933, as Harriett Baxter discusses Gillespie and I.
I've been in 1920's - 1930's Brazil with The Seamstress for a while now, and am really enjoying my time there!
I'm all over the place: in WWII UK observing the Rich Relations (or not) between GIs and the civilian population; the book is not as interesting as it should be so I am also in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia looking over the shoulders of The Bone Woman as she helps the dead bear witness; that book is too harrowing to read for long periods of time so I am (finally) in Sicily pondering The Shape Of Water.
Ok, actually I'm not in Korea at all. I am traveling all over the globe, to places that are No Place for a Lady.
I'm now in India, learning about the laws of the jungle from The Jungle Books.
Corner Brook, Newfoundland and I have never been here before so what a treat!
I'm in Oporto, Portugal with Firmino, as we look for The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro.
In early 18th century London, with "Abigail Hill", later "Lady Masham" in Louis Auchinclossʻs Exit Lady
Masham.. (a bargain, obtained in an ongoing Public Lilbrary book sale.)
I emphasize LONDON, not the whole UK, or even the whole of England -- the world of royalty at Queen Anneʻs court. A "stifling" world -- figuratively AND literally due to Anneʻs liking for overheated rooms. In politics, Conservative leader Robert Harley
was at the zenith of his career. The queen hesitated
to become politically involved, but Harley realized
that being a favorite of the queen, as his cousin the narrator was, would be a tremendous boost to his career.
Finished Thomas Wharton's Icefields, a very good book set around the turn of the 20th century near Jasper, Alberta, Canada (in the Canadian Rockies). I also finished Åke Edwardson's latest police procedural, Sail of Stone (Sweden) - it took about 80 pages to settle into this one, but I was rewarded for staying with it (and it may have been me, not the book). Now reading a UK collection, some US poetry and a bit of nonfiction.
At The Dark Side of Love, in Mala at the mountains of Syria, and in Damascus. Life is dangerous here and honour of the family is what it is mostly about.
At the moment i am wandering around the old town in Edinburgh with Inspector John Rebus in A Question of Blood by Ian Rankin.
I'm in 1860 Sicily with the Prince of Salina and his family during the end of the Risorgimento, and I'm entrusted with the family's coat of arms, which features The Leopard.
I'm in late 19th-century Mississippi, as I've just begun The Hamlet by William Faulkner.
#82 Oh, I loved My Family and Other Animals when I read it more than 45 years ago! I ended up reading most of the Durrells after that.
I'm reading it aloud with my daughter, which is hard because I want to read it in one go! Even the introduction was funny and sweet.
Great my keyboard is dying....
Now I'm in San Francisco at the dawn of the Twentieth Century, typing and sorting The Strange Files of Fremont Jones.
The other Durrells aren't as "funny and sweet" but I was interested in his travels to distant lands and stories of animals.
Just finished Talking to the Enemy and am now Wonderstruck with the choices ahead of me. Where to next?
I'm following The Shadow of the Silk Road through China, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, and Kurdish Turkey. At the moment, I'm in Labrang, China, just south of Lanzhou, at a Tibetan Buddhist monestary - one that is sanctioned by the Chinese government.
labfs39, and rebeccanyc: You've both talked me into putting My Family and Other Animals on my wishlist!
Oops! An abrupt change of plan as some library requests just came in!
Instead of following The Silk Road, I'm following the Passionate Nomad, Freya Stark. At the moment I am visiting the Italian village, Dronero, where she spent most of her youth. I have no doubt I'll soon be trotting all over much of the rest of the globe as well.
I've been in Japan for quite a while. Am now starting Dumas' La Reine Margot for a change of scenery and because I was getting a little tired of reading so many books in English.
Just left Germany, heading for New Zealand (home for a while! hooray!) and then jumping around all over the place with some short stories (all American written, so possibly mostly there)
I'm in the 1916 Russian hinterland commiserating with poor Bulgakov in a Country Doctor's Notebook.
I am skipping between early 20th century England and Australia, mid 1970's London and Brisbane and 2005 Brisbane and London and Cornwall in The Forgotten Garden.
I am also in 1950's Eire with Maeve Binchy's Circle of Friends.
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