Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The One-Yr, 25 Books Overture: Love In the Time of Cholera

*not my book cover

I am having difficulty writing about this book because I did not have a religious experience with this one the way everyone undoubtedly had. As I recoil for the impact of lynching from all the devotees, I will concede that stories of undying love and waiting a lifetime for your forever one is heroic.

Book Review:

A young Florintino Ariza falls in love for eternity with a young Fermina Daza. They are living in a thick Catholic Latin American country at a time when if one wanted to be suitable, the person would court through letters and through proper channels i.e., a chaperone. Yet despite the odds Fermina and Florintino Ariza fall in love. Ariza at this point hasn’t had much luck as he is the illegitimate son of a man whose family owns the river transport of their city. Nameless and penniless, his love is unrequited not by Fermina but by her father and the society and customs they are imprisoned in. Upon discovery of their non-tactile love affair, the nuns in Fermina’s convent school and her father vehemently rejects any possibility of their union and orders them to cease and desist. After her defiance, Fermina was forced by her father to take an arduous and long trip far from the city in the hopes that she will forget Ariza.

Upon returning, a changed and hard-bitten Fermina finds that her love has been washed out for Ariza and she refuses him flatly this time around. Fermina then meets her husband, Juvnenal Urbino, a man of good standing, a physician in fact and she decides to marry him. Urbino is the dashing sort, popular, rich, highly educated, the works, sort of the antithesis of Ariza. One can't really refer to him as "the villain" as he too has a good heart and even befriends Ariza, unaware of his history with his wife.

For over half a century the scenes in the book volleys between Ariza’s barren existence interrupted only by his dalliances with widows or harlots, Dr. Urbino's life in the community and with his wife and Fermina’s seemingly blissful family life. Ariza's and Fermina's situation changes after Urbino dies and they become reacquainted and pick up where they left off.

Ariza is impractical and a very melodramatic lover to Fermina to the point of being fantastical, example, upon receiving his very first letter from her, he reads it over and over again as he eats rose petals mindlessly the entire day. He writes poetry endlessly and everything he does or plans is in the light of Fermina, even as she actively lives her life as a wife to another man and a mother to that man’s kids for more than half a century. While many will see this as exponentially romantic I see pathos, falling in love is beautiful, but not to this chimerical extent. I will concede, the violin playing at the catacombs at night for Fermina is dreamy; and the night where he supposedly plays for her one last time prior to departing after her wedding to Urbino broke me to tears. But with him coming back home so soon only to hit the streets like a stray dog in heat, the chivalry fades. Of course this is supposed to be justified because he keeps his heart “a virgin” for her, but syphilis or gonorrhea be danged (which is inferred he contracts), the book explodes in chapters of these backdoor liaisons.

The redeeming character in this story is that of Fermina Daza, in the case of the nuns and her father where everyone else is obtuse, she isn’t. Amidst victimization she does not buckle. She survives a heartbreak and uses all her talents to her advantage, her realism is a sort of a light in her imperceptive world. That's my girl. As for cholera, yeah, there was an outbreak of the disease in the country the story was set in but none of the major characters die from it. Why was it called that you’ll ask? I guess because it’s more convenient than calling it, “The Importunate Nerd, A Dashing Doctor and the Girl They Both Get Anyway, But Not At The Same Time.”

Devotees, that’s just my 2 cents OK? peace. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

One-Yr, 25 Books Overture: Cooking with Fernet Branca

I read this book because it’s by James Hamilton-Paterson, the British author who wrote “America’s Boy,” an extensively researched book about Ferdinand Marcos and “Playing with Water” one about how the author imbibed the salt life in the Philippines. Some of his previous works have been given awards like "Gerontious" (which I haven’t read) and I will say Hamilton-Paterson has quite the alacrity in his descriptive narratives.

Book Review:

Gerald Samper is a reclusive ghost writer for sports stars who lives in the hills of Tuscany and as he builds his cottage, an Eastern European female neighbor comes along to make his life interesting, to say the least. Marta is the neighbor’s name, physically described as a frumpy woman with frizzy hair, she writes musical scores for films in Voynovia (is this a real country?) and she annoys the Dickens out of Gerald. The neighbors’ relationship is one of like and dislike, dislike when they are not in front of each other and conversely there is politeness face to face because Europeans have to be egalitarian after all.

Comedy is found in the situations and circumstances throughout the book as well as in the internal dialogue in Gerald’s head and in the letters Marta sends to her sister Marja which is full of drivel about Gerald.  With wine being a social lubricant, the use of this cheap concoction named “Fernet Branca” is the common denominator for their meetings as well as in Gerald’s recipes. Gerald who also happens to be a chef of exotic foods (i.e., Otter with Lobster Sauce), posts the ingredients and the processes of the dishes as intermissions. Check out the conspicuous Liver Ice Cream with Fernet Branca that Gerald makes for Marta in an effort to redirect her away; here I thought that the Rhubarb or Mushroom Ice Cream that the American Iron Chefs make on TV are a far stretch. How about having a slice of his Alien Pie which requires cat in the recipe? (Shucks man, you’re nasty even for someone who eats Balut!).

To continue, Marta, for her good fortunes is in Italy because she was hired by a foremost Italian filmmaker who is part Sergio Leone - part Federico Fellini to write a score for his new film. Marta, not as creative as one would have her, plagiarizes Gerald’s renditions of Puccini’s Arias while working on his house and applies his singing to her score, though in an abstract way. Other hilarious bits found are in Marta's broken English which reads like they were extracted from Google's language translations such as, "I love you British Queens and Kings tradition..." Or "I want to learn you all of Voynovia, the fooding number one of all." LOL!.

The author’s tone in the narrative is cynical and incredulous of people and the continuity is effective. This is the part that will make one read through the book even if you have no interest in outrageous cuisine or fractious interpersonal relationships between humans. “Cooking with Fernet Branca” has spawned 2 more books, namely "Amazing Disgrace" and "Rancid Pansies" at the behest of the publishers because it did garner a following from people who found it quirky and entertaining. Your call if you want to read it. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

The One-Year Twenty-Five Books Overture: The Harry Quebert Affair

This book was given to me by a sweetie of an aid worker for "All Hands" prior to her leaving my island town. It reminded me of the Millennium Trilogy because it was about investigation and crime. It was 658-pages thick and written by a European named Joël Dicker. Though the writing style is not as deep as Steig Larsson’s, I will not take it against the writer as it might be worth it's weight in gold in the original language. The woman that gave this to me was reassuring and said this is a "can’t-put-down-book" and may I say, she was right. It was one of those wherein you wanted to get to the bottom of it all fast as possible - two days and a half fast in my case, with the complimentary dark circles around my eyes from foregoing sleep. If you do start it you will have the same experience as I had, having unbridled curiosity.

Book Review:

Marcus Goldman, a newly crowned best-selling author is suffering writer’s block with his second book. His mentor named Harry Quebert, already a celebrated and established author for decades is arrested for the murder of a fifteen-year-old girl who disappeared 30 years prior. Marcus takes on the burden of clearing the name of his friend and teacher but this is not easy.

Marcus sets out to investigate already with the premise that his friend is definitely innocent but as it turns out, Harry Quebert had an affair with the 15-year old victim (Nola Kellergan) when he was in his mid-thirties. In a recessed town in New Hampshire called Somerset, readers are taken far back three decades ago for a closer look at the citizens of said town as well as the events and the mood during the disappearance.  All of the characters featured save those who had not been in the town when Nola went missing are suspects. The twists and turns will lead the reader to think of every character being focused on as the perpetrator and this is what will prevent you from taking a break from reading. It was notable that the encounters between Quebert and Nola are not elucidated because the whole thing might become dodgy. 

Naturally when it all comes down, the culprit(s) is one who you thought of at first but because of some deception in the story’s presentation, you rule the character(s) out. I will not write about the plot extensively because it is worth a read and one where you'd like to solve the case yourself.

The book is sensational, suspenseful, delves into complex characterization; it also has psychiatry, emotionalism, corruption of power and even plagiarism.

In my view it was riveting, quite the success in Europe from what I read but this was not the case in the US, one of those "lost in translation" kind of things again, I suppose.