READING UPDATE: LONDON, CERVANTES, LE CARRE AND ESQUIEVL
Today I'll share with you a reading update. If you know me, you know that I adore reading. So, here are some of the books that I read in April. Some of these authors were new to me, some I have read before. I was planning to do an April reading recap, but I read so many books it is probably better to break these reviews in a couple of post. My reading goal for this year is 100 books. If you want to know how to read more, check out my 7 reading strategies that will transform you into a reader.
LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, A NOVEL BY LAURA ESQUIVEL 4/5
This was my first novel by Laura Esquivel. I've been eyeing this book for a while. When I read a recommendation for Like Water for Chocolate written by a fellow blogger, I decided that I better buy it while I can. This is a beautiful and potent love story of Tita, the youngest daughter in the family. Born in a kitchen, Tita grows up to be a master chef, a real artist in the kitchen. This novel reflects that, as every chapter is predated by a recipe. Mexican culture and cuisine are present at every page of this novel. Perhaps it is as much a novel about Mexico, as it is about Tita, the heroin. At the start of the novel, Tita is an adolescent girl in love. Our female protagonist is entrapped by tradition that dictates that the youngest daughter mustn't marry but rather take care of its mother for the rest of her life. When Tita announces to her rather emotionally manipulative and abusive mother that Pedro is coming to ask for her hand in marriage, Tita invokes her mother's fury and hatred.
Forbidden romance creating tension that is poured into the cooking of our protagonist. It is through her meals that Pedro and Tita communicate their love. Esquivel writes so fluently and poetically. If you love magic realism, you'll probably going to love this novel. I bought the Croatian edition because it was illustrated by my favourite illustrator. Another reason why I'm happy I own a copy is because I plan to reread it someday. It is that good! Another thing I might point out that this book is quite sensual. It’s not overly graphic or anything like that, but sexuality is one of its themes. The characters’ sexuality is connected with the themes of love and identity. It is definitely not out of place. However, I’m not sure whether it is appropriate for the very young. It’s not a book for children that is what I’m sure of.
All in all, this is a great book. I stayed up until 3 am reading this novel that is how interesting it was. I wasn't disappointed by this story in any way. The characters are lively and well portrayed, the narrative is interesting, the plot holds the reader's attention and the writing is beautiful. At times the novel is a bit melodramatic, but somehow melodrama and magic realism come together nicely and the book ends up being a success. There is also some subtle dark humour in it that I enjoyed. Some episodes have a note of absurdity that seem to both mock soap operas and pay them respect. Altogether, I quite enjoyed this novel. A must read for lovers of Latin American literature. I can say that I liked it immensely. Have you read anything by Laura? Do you like magic realism?
THE CALL OF THE WILD, A NOVEL BY JACK LONDON 4/5
The Call of the Wild is a novel that managed to both relax and entertain me. I’m really happy I picked it up. Many consider it a children book, and I can see why, even if it wasn’t really written for children. It features a dog protagonist, so that might be another reason why people assume it was written for kids. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend this novel to young children because there are some graphic and violent scenes. This story opens by introducing us the protagonist Beck- a dog who lives a comfortable enough life, until he is kidnapped and sold. The dog needs to learn to adapt to a harsher life, a life of serving new masters in the wild. Most people raised in cities hold a romanticized view of the wild. They think it's a place of peace. It is not. In the wild, everything is there to get you. More often than not, nature wants you dead. But not out of spite.
Nature's way is the survival of the fittest, a way that makes perfect sense in the biological way and is not always as cruel as it sounds. Certainly not as cruel as the ways of men. Nature is beautiful in its simplicity and honesty, and London is a writer who not only knows the wild but knows how to write about it. The call of the wild is a powerful thing, I believe. We humans perhaps cannot grasp it fully. It seems to me that animals can never be fully happy in the captivity. Perhaps a strong bond with their master makes up for it partly, but here we're talking pets. In general, animals in captivity are a depressing and sad sight. Reading this book made me realize just how happy a healthy animal in the wild must feel.
I like the way the author wrote The Call of the Wild from an animal perspective. This story not only follows the life of a dog, you get to see things from his perspective. While the story is technically speaking told from a third person narrative, it feels like a first person narrative. The writing style is simple and easy to follow. The descriptions of the wildness are poetic and touching. Great writing. That part about dog dreaming his past memories, that is, the memories of its species had a wonderful mystical quality. This novel is superbly written. It is suitable for both adults and children. I wouldn't recommend it for young or sensitive children because there are quite a few violent scenes. Moreover, the harshness of wild is described realistically, and to the very young, it might be a tad too much. On overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who loves animals or nature. A true classic.
EXEMPLARY STORIES BY MIGUEL CERVANTES 5/5
Exemplary Stories is an excellent collection of novellas written by a legendary Spanish author Miguel Cervantes. Many novellas follow adventures of nobleman, often featuring a Cinderella moment. Similar to his famous novel, these prose works often feature brilliant social satire, excellent syntax, wonderful humour and word play. For today standard they might seem a bit old-fashioned to a modern reader, but at the time of the publications some of them were absolutely revolutionary. Some of these novellas are more idolized and fantastical (resembling fairy-tales and romantic stories), while others are more realistic, but all of them show the writer's skill. Even in more fantastic novellas, you can feel the writer's wit and subtle irony. Excellent writing! You can count on Cervantes, he truly was a great writer. If you like classical literature, don’t miss this classic.
Best known as a creator of iconic knight Don Quijote de la Mancha, Cervantes was a fascinating fellow. His life’s story is an interesting one. He was also a genius, but anyone who has read anything written by that must know that. I don’t think I’ll be over the board by saying that anything written by him is gold. Discovering a vintage edition of this book in my home made my day. Reading it, made my week. Consulting the internet, I realized that the vintage edition I have doesn't contain all the novellas included in some other editions, but since they are available online, I won't have issues finding the remaining ones. I think some of them already appeared in his novel, so maybe that is why they were not included in this edition of mine? I'll have to have a look online and make sure I didn't miss any prose work of his. I wouldn’t want that, would I? Do you like Cervantes? Have you read him?
THE CONSTANT GARDENER, A NOVEL BY JOHN LE CARRE 4/5
This was my first book by John Le Carre. Despite the fact that the plot held little or no surprises for me, I still enjoyed The Constant Gardener immensely. I found it an interesting read, mostly on the strength of its writing and character portrayal. Quite early on, I realized that I can predict pretty much everything, the themes as well as the events that were to take place, but as it happens, it didn't bother me that much. I didn't predict the ending precisely, but I imagined something along the lines of it. A fitting ending for this one, I'd say.
I found it really refreshing the way this novel openly criticizes the way corrupt Western governments collaborate with the corrupt African governments. It is as they say, crime has no nationality. There is a good deal of social satire in this one. John le Carre espouses the false humanitarians for what they are, for example the way Western countries get rid of their old medicines (medical waste is very expensive to get rid of) by sending it to developing countries. I have no issues believing that since the West was only happy to dump their old medical supplies in ex- Yugoslavia when it fell apart in the nineties. If they do that in Europe, on the smallest of pretences, imagine what they do in Africa where there is constant welfare and not everyone can read the expiry date. This novel offers a bit of a pessimistic view of mankind, but that doesn't make it any less an objective one.
The novel opens with a murder of Tessa, a young and beautiful wife of a Justin, a British diplomat with a good heart, a man mostly busy composing humanitarian committee reports nobody reads. His late wife was a lot more active it seems. Tessa openly criticized any trace of corruption she saw both in Kenya's and her own government. Who is to blame for her death? Was it an accident of sorts? One of Africa's unsurprising murders? Or was it ordered by enemies in high places?
It's not most eventful or dynamic of spy novels, a good portion of it being an examination of characters. It's more psychological but personally I don't mind that. The portrayal of characters was done extremely well. The dialogues are masterfully written. John writes not only with words that characters says, but with the pauses between their words as well. You get an impression he studied Chekhov. That being said, this novel could have been shorter. It was also overwritten. Plus, there were some inconsistencies. I find it hard to believe that the protagonist (Justin) doesn't know how to use a laptop. It is not like he is in his nineties. Anyhow, some small illogical things a a bit of overwriting aside, it really is a good read.
What have you been reading lately? Do you have some reading recommendations to share? Do let me know. Thank you for stopping by. Have a lovely start of the week everyone!