Sunday, September 28, 2008

Don't judge a book by it's cover

So how many of you, like me, looked at ...y no se lo tragó la tierra and thought that you were about to read a children's book? Then, after even the first chapter, you felt you may have underestimated the content there within?

While reading this book, I feel like I'm stuck in a whirlpool: the chapters pull me in every direction (first person narrator, third person narrator, omniscient...) but I believe that they are all spinning me towards an inevitable end when all characters will come together. So far, this hasn't happened, but I'm still eagerly waiting. [CAUTION: PLOT SPOILER!] When the boy in the beginning was shot by that old man I thought, "wow, this has got to be a central plot!" But I'm halfway into the book and haven't heard a peep explaining the outcome of that scene (although I do have a few guesses as to the identity of the dead person who was thrown in the well).

It's a little unnerving to read a book that doesn't give names to its principal characters, and at times I am completely confused as to who's speaking. But this gives me more of a pull towards the story. It makes me curious. I will often read a page two or three times until I actually understand (or at least have my guesses) about who is speaking and what they are talking about. At first I thought that the novel was a mix of 2 stories: one of the humans and one of the spirit world. I think this still might be the case and I'm eagerly awaiting the moment of the devil's arrival amonst the humans (my guess so far is that he may already be there in the form of that not-so-righteous 'fulano' (p. 41)). But in all fairness, I love stories like long as the ending lives up to its suspense.

I'm also curious why the author adds the repitition of 'luego, luego' to much of the dialogue. I guess this may be more obvious later.........later :P (sorry i couldn't resist!)

I'm enjoying the read immensely...especially the senses described (so many smells!!), and the inner monologues of the first person characters. This book exemplifies that old saying, "Never judge a book by its cover."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A few rays of hope in a boring read

Okay, so honestly the first thing I thought when I looked at this MASSIVE booklet was: 'mierda'. After struggling through the first 2 essays with a pocket dictionary and a lot of pen ink, I decided to forge ahead and just go with my gut feelings. I have to say: I was not very inspired.
Not to say that Jose Marti isn't a fantastic writer. You can see his talent and uniqueness in every elongated paragraph, but it certainly wasn't material that I would recommend as a good read. Maybe it's the difference in our eras, or perhaps it was the political-mindedness which I have no background in whatsoever. Or it could have been his apparent obsession with America (no offense, but these subjects literally put me to sleep). However, I do not think that my less-than-ecstatic attitude was brought on by the essays being written in Spanish. I feel that I would have felt exactly the same had I read them in English.
So now that I've said my unkind words and I have ol' Marti rolling in his grave, I should probably get into what I felt was unique about these writings. And seeing as I've already hinted at my inability to grasp the political ideas, I will centre mainly on Marti's semantics and themes.
I would first like to nominate Jose Marti for the award: 'Writer of the Most Drawn-out Sentences EVER!' It was actually amazing to watch him do it, so to speak, such as in the last paragraph of Fiesta de la Estatua de la Libertad. This is 9 lines of one sentence, punctuated with a final exclamation of free indirect narration. It seemed as though Marti's exile to the US only enhanced his obsession with their politics and lifestyle. At times I felt he was writing a satire of America's love of power and presentation; and its convenient forgetfulness of the little people who brought these great displays of power to completion. He remarks in El Puente de Brooklyn that " [los cables] pesan tanto de suyo sustentan el resto de esa pesadumbre portentosa.?" (p. 426). And on page 430, when he addresses the bridge workers: "Oh trabajadores desconocidos, oh martires hermosos, entranyas de la grandeza, cimienta de la fabrica eterna, gusanos de la gloria!" Such statements display how these key players in the construction of mankind's most celebrated works were disregarded in a 'wonderful sorrow'. Or even how Lafayette's work with the Statue of Liberty was overlooked because he was a foreigner: "Ah! de Francia, poca genta habla. No hablan de Lafayette ni saben de el. No se fijan en que se celebra un don magnifico del pueblo fances moderno al pueblo americano." (page 182, Fiestas de la Estatua de la Libertad).
Marti is an amazing observer. I felt like I was actually being led by him through the scenes which he presented. He directs us: "Ved a Bartholdi....Ved a los diputados...Ved a Spuller" (page 185, Fiestas de la Estatua de la Libertad), and we see each point of interest in succession.
El Terremoto de Charleston brought some human realism into Marti's essays. For example, how a victim of the earthquake "...anda sobre su vientre dando gritos horrendos, con los brazos y las piernas rotas..." (p. 200). And also how the survivors think of their loved ones at the cemetary: "...los muertos llevados al cementario donde esta sin hablar Calhoun que hablo tan bien, y Gaddens, y Rutledge y Pinckney." (p. 202).
I will be interested in class to hear some background about these essays which may bring them to life for me.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Jon was right.

So I tackled the last 120 pages of this book with trepidation and hope after hearing Jon's conclusion that the book was dreadfully boring. My hope was in that I would have a different view of 'boring' and get more out of the ending than our own personal, omniscient book critic. But soon my hopes were dashed. I had read on, becoming pleasantly enthralled with each turn of the page. Plots of deceit, the little people getting the upper hand, happy endings, and many smiles ensued (I'm pretty easy to please when it comes to reading literature similar to that of Jane Austin). But then, in the height of my amusement, this wonderful ending came grinding to a painful, dull-witted, time-consuming halt, with the final dialogue of those hot-aired Cackles. This, my friends, was a HUGE disappointment. Throughout the entire book I would cringe when I noticed the next chapter would be focusing on the Cackles. Their meddlings in politics and obsession with power made me sick. I am definitely a romanticist by nature, and certainly not a classicist. I know that Ruiz de Burton enjoyed making a show of their hipocritcal actions and the wonderfully clever parody with their namesakes, but what a terrible way to end a perfectly good book. It was similar to a very decent movie about love and plots and good and bad which ends with the movie-goer walking out of the theater, wondering what it was that they just saw. Please, if any of you reading this can explain the symbolism in the final pages 293-298 of the story, I ask you to fill me in as I am afraid that I may have drifted off.

Okay, enough venting. Sorry, I had to get that out. As I mentioned earlier, it made me absolutely giddy to read about the characters most poorly treated in the story receiving the upper-hand. Obviously Lola finally got her happy ending (although whatever happened to Don Felipe Almenara, whose only claim to fame in the novel was his saying he was Lola's husband, was never quite tied up....I had no doubt that this would be the ultimate crush to Julian and Lola's love and was disappointed when Don Felipe never appeared again). But others, such as Issac Sprig and Mina the french maid, found that they could climb to the height of their happiness while stepping on a few hipocritical toes along the way! What a lovely balance of good vs. evil! Julian realized the evil hidden within this 'great government' which he had served with his very life. Mrs. Norval is almost put away in an insane asylum by the materialistic, cold daughter whom she actually crafted with the looseness of her purse strings. Whatever happened to the poor doctor who started this run-around story is also left to the reader's imagination. And unappreciated Lavvy...did she ever start a life with Mr. White? I only wish that Ruiz de Burton had filled us in on what eventually happened to THESE characters rather than focusing on the political plans of the nauseating Cackles. Again, if anyone can explain the importance of this last conversation (perhaps pertaining to the Cackles' [or real people whom they were meant to imitate] involvement in American history [something about which I am terribly ignorant of]), please feel free.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ruiz de Burton - section 1

So far into Ruiz de Burton's novel, I am extremely pleased with this reading. I love that there are times where her characters are drenched in sarcasm or the obviousness of her prejudices shines through like a blinding light. Much of the historical American references I am unfamiliar with, but from the book's footnotes I can understand that Ruiz de Burton's satirical nature runs deep within the veins of America's colonial history, government, and society. Such as, when describing the reaction to headlines of treason, she writes: "Men and women were electrified What! to dare plot against 'the best government on earth'!" (p. 68). Such a statement shows the rebellious, sarcastic nature of the author as it seems she could only express through her literature. Her writing displays her knowledge that she knows she isn't the same as these proud and patriotic 'pure-blooded' Americans , but also that she doesn't want to be like them. On the other hand, there were times while reading where I compared Ruiz de Burton to a revenge writer; feeling the sting of rejection and then writing compliments dripping with sarcasm directed towards her bullies.
As English is not Ruiz de Burton's first language, I am astounded with her astonishing skill as an author. She captures much literary symbolism and wit using her second language. I especially enjoy the many references to Greek mythology made throughout the novel. This shows a vast education and the intelligence to apply it, especially for a woman in Ruiz de Burton's era. She even cleverly titles chapter 8 as "The Trophies of Militiades Do Not Let Me Sleep.", referring to Greek history and Themistocles' resentment towards Militiades for what should have been his. I wonder if in these references she attempts to make these characters, these situations, or even the book itself 'epic'.
On page 106, I felt that Ruiz de Burton was describing Lavinia much as she would describe herself; a latino-born woman living in colonial America:

"...[Lavinia] was reflecting that no matter how much a woman, in her unostentatious sphere may do, and help to do, and no matter how her heart may feel for her beloved, worshipped country, after all she is but an insignificant creature, whom a very young man may snub..."

Perhaps the author felt as though despite her best efforts, she was always seen as second-rate, due to both her spanish background AND being a woman.
I am especially intrigued with Lola's part in the story as I feel that she may represent the triumph of the 'foreigner's spirit' over Mrs. Norval's portrayal of the underhanded, native-resident's psyche. What happens between her and Julian in the pages to come may dictate the winner of this epic battle.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

'Test' blog

Alright, so this is my 'test' blog....
Hi, my name is Katie Whitlam. I have never had a blog and actually never visited one either so this is all rather new to me. Clearly I am not the technological type. I still have a crappy little samsung cellphone, sin camera......your jaw just dropped didn't it?
Okay, so, a little about me: I am 23 and have just moved to Kitsilano. I normally reside in Chilliwack. Yes, probably everything you've heard about Chilliwack is true: rednecks, farm smells, good corn, grow-ops, etc.... but I it's my hometown and I love it (I actually live out by Cultus Lake which is my saving grace when people ask where I'm from). I love to travel. I just got back from a trip to Central/South America. Only there for two and a half months so it was a bit of a whirl-wind. I'll definitely have to go back. As of now, I'm brainstorming about 5 new trips...where I'll ever find the time, or money for that matter, I don't know. I'm completing a Bachelor of Arts degree right now with a Linguistics major and a Spanish minor. My life goal is to learn 8 languages...I'm kind of obsessed with them :S
I love music...doesn't really matter what kind, whatever I'm in the mood for. Singing is a passion of mine. I'm pretty much addicted to karaoke. Kind of sucks living with room mates now becauase usually people aren't all that keen on someone breaking into song in the next room. Dancing is also a good time for me, although I have been actually been asked, "You dance like THAT?"
I enjoy playing sports for fun, although last week I rolled my ankle and am not doing much of anything at the kind of looks like an ogre's foot. My favorite things are clouds. Have you ever actually thought of your favorite thing??
Oh yah, and I get a little long-winded when I start typing. Oops.