Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Booknote: _Loosing My Espanish_ (2004), and a bit more

I started this book with a lot of good hopes and expectations, then again, I think a lot of us who read do that. The reviews I read on the book sounded promising, and some of the blurbs on its back cover featured remarks by authors like Eduardo Galeano, a writer whom I like since I read his Las Venas Abiertas de America Latina (available in English as well as The Open Veins of Latin America). In his blurp, Galeano wrote, "Did you know that language can be read and heard and seen and touched? That you can smell it, taste it? Try Loosing My Espanish?" Well Eduardo, guess what? I did try it, and it was disappointing to say the least. The book's plot is fairly straightforward. A high school teacher is giving his last lesson after the Catholic school he teaches in does not renew his contract. This is the result of a perceived indiscretion with a male student. The draw of the book is not this plot (for me at least); it is the fact that the protagonist uses his last lesson to give students a lesson about Cuban history and the experience of Cuban exiles in the United States. In the process, he intermingles anecdotes, reminiscences, and memories of his youth and his family. It has a little bit of stream of consciousness, and it is not a linear novel. Those are not traits in fiction that bother me; I have read some meandering pieces of fiction in my time, but this one seems to just go on and on and on with no apparent end in sight. And for a book of 325 pages or so, to seem endless is not a good thing. The narrator tells the story in a very conversational style that blends Spanish with English, which gives it a nice authentic sound for one. The main problem is the narrator seems to loose track of the stories, sometimes moves from one even to the other without any sense of transition. Unlike other stream of consciousness or other nonlinear narratives which often have a flow, this one lacks such a flow. A reader gets tired trying to find meaning in all the meandering, and I can only pity the poor students stuck in his classroom while he wanders on and on and on. The novel tries to convey the feeling of one listening to someone close reminisce about the past, but it ends up feeling for the reader like he or she is stuck in a classroom with a teacher who is a lousy lecturer trying to be funny but isn't. This is one book I do not recommend. However, if you choose to try it anyhow, its author is H.G. Carrillo.

A much better writer that depicts the experience of Cuban Americans is Oscar Hijuelos, author of the Pulitzer Prize winner The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. Any of his book would make a good choice for a light read with a strong sense of place. Reading Hijuelos is a pleasure. So far, I have read all his works except for his latest, A Simple Havana Melody, and his very first Our House in the Last World. I will have to write about reading Hijuelos sometime for he is a writer that I often recommend to people who look for good U.S. Latino writers, but I also recommend him for people looking for a good fiction writer period. Hispanic American writers, and those who write of that experience, are one of my academic interests, but also one of the fiction categories I favor. I tend to see myself as someone who likes any fiction that is not ordinary. So ethnic literature, things like magic realism, science fiction, some fantasy, pick my interest greatly. Mainstream fiction just does not do it for me, but I keep up with it enough to know what is good or not so as to make recommendations since I do some reader's advisory now and then. I don't do as much of it as a public librarian does, but enough to know that I need to keep up with what is available, even in romance, a genre I do not read in, but I can name some of the major authors and works. There is another idea for future posts, a little on reader's advisory. At any rate, I will be picking a new book soon to read.


Anonymous said...

I have read this book and The Gypsy Librarian seems to have completely missed out on its beauty. In fact, it is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. I mean, who are you going to believe, Eduardo Galeano or The Gypsy Librarian? It's a challenging book, to be sure, but for those of you who are tired of reading the same old same old, Loosing My Espanish is more like Garcia Marquez or James Joyce or Cabrera Infante or Saul Bellow or Russell Banks. It's extraordinary, groundbreaking fiction. The Gypsy Library, despite its name, sounds like a real dull place

Angel, librarian and educator said...

I don't mind a little discussion or criticism, but it seems I have attracted a little anonymous vitriol. Actually, I have read Galeano's work; his _Open Veins of Latin America_ happens to be one of my favorite works. I have also read the other authors this he or she mentions, Garcia Marquez being a writer I read and reread, the others I don't care as much for. But, as Ranganathan said, "each book its reader and each reader its book." _Loosing my Espanish_ was simply not the book for this reader, but I am glad it was the one for this person. I can only wonder if this person is affiliated to the writer somehow or maybe to its publishing house. I don't think I said anything to merit the bit of an ad hominem at the end, but again, anonimity can be a wonderful thing. As for whom readers believe, again, that is the beauty of the freedom to read, you can choose. And at the end, I simply asked that of readers, if you choose to read this book, these are some things you may want to know. But it is a process of discovery at the end of the day. As for the anonymous, he or she is so easily dulled, maybe another blog is for her, to extrapolate Ranganathan, "every blog its reader, and every reader its blog?" Just an idea.