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Category Archive for 'C – D'

Cuban author Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, a poet, fiction writer, and playwright, challenges the reader of this experimental novel by developing her novel in fifteen overlapping stories, narrated by an unusual assortment of people. The book also comes with its own style, and a set of themes and characters which do not match what I’ve come to expect from international fiction in translation. A Cuban by birth, the author sets many of these stories in Cuba, but the narrator leaves Cuba for Miami in one story, and in another, “Sinai,” the main character is talking to God at “Mt. Sinai.” The “elephant in the room,” throughout, is a French bulldog, which, despite the title, plays a surprisingly small role for most of the book. Some of the poems which introduce the chapters refer to a French bulldog, but the narratives soon stop mentioning it. As readers approach the end of the book, they may even question why the French bulldog is part of the title at all. Then, suddenly, it all makes sense, as a bulldog sets the characters and their lives into perspective. Unique.

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Dealing simultaneously with past and present, Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez appears at first to be a fairly straightforward and unpretentious murder mystery, but it is far more complex than it seems. It shifts back and forth over the course of twenty-seven years as one person who was present at the time of a murder returns to the town many years later to re-examine his memories and those of others in an effort to identify the guilty party. The murder takes place after a three-day wedding celebration, as Santiago Nasar prepares to go to the port, naively going out the back door while the two men who plan to kill him wait for him at the front. All this because the groom, Bayardo San Roman, has returned the “soiled” bride to her family on their wedding night, and Santiago is thought to be involved.

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Saul Indian Horse, who tells this story of his life as an Ojibwe living in a non-native society, is in his thirties as the novel opens, and he is at an alcohol rehabilitation facility to which he has been sent by social workers at the hospital where he has been a patient for six weeks. Now alcohol-free for thirty days, he admits that now it is time for his hardest work to begin. “If we want to live at peace with ourselves, we need to tell our stories.” Saul Indian Horse is just four years old in 1957, when his nine-year-old brother Benjamin disappears. His sister vanished five years before. These kidnappings are all part of a brutal program to separate aboriginal children from their families and their culture, send them to a school where they will live apart from everything and everyone they ever knew, and teach them English and the Canadian school curriculum. Ultimately, the goal is to turn them all into “Canadians,” without connections to their aboriginal past. “I saw kids die of tuberculosis, influenza, pneumonia, and broken hearts. I saw runaways carried back, frozen solid as boards. I saw wrists slashed and, one time, a young boy impaled on the tines of a pitchfork that he’d shoved through himself.” These children universally yearn for the freedom to be outdoors in nature, sharing the spirits of the earth and sky which have been so much a part of them until now. Fortunately, Saul Indian Horse is able to find some salvation in all this. St. Jerome’s has a hockey team, and he, at age eight, is desperate to be part of it, though he has never played. For Saul, hockey becomes the equivalent of a natural religion.

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DRESSED FOR A DANCE IN THE SNOW by Monika Zgustova is a collection of nine true stories about some of Russia’s brightest and most creative women who have defied life as it exists in those old epic romances – presenting, instead, the dark, often horrific revelations they have personally survived in the Gulags and prisons which they endured during the Stalinist years. Where the title deserves its happy image is that these women not only survived their near starvation and imprisonments but also came to some kind of peace regarding their torture. “The Gulag, just because it’s so terrible,” one woman says, “is also rewarding. That extreme suffering teaches you about yourself, about the people around you, and about human beings in general.” Svetlana Alliluiyeva, daughter of Stalin, is mentioned briefly in this book, in addition to Boris Pasternak (who shows up in two chapters), composer Sergei Prokofief, poet Marina Tsevetaeva, and briefly Joan Baez.

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Setting his novel in Punta Gotica, the poorer side of Cienfuegos, a city on the south side of Cuba, author Marcial Gala, creates a grim novel of the non-stop action in this city, while, at the same time, breathing life into people, societies, and places new to many readers. Often the narrative feels as if Marcial Gala himself, a resident of this city, is “hanging out,” invisibly, with some of the characters here, even as he is telling their stories, and on several occasions one character even recommends that another character go see “Marcial” for some kind of help with an issue. As a result, the author creates the feeling that he is part of the action, creating his own story in Cienfuegos within the characters’ more objective stories, despite the serious difficulties that many of these characters get into on their own or create for others. Unconscionable, often life-changing difficulties, are drawn realistically, rather than intuitively or emotionally, as the affected characters react to traumas they have experienced in their daily lives. Casual murder, innocent cannibalism, the betrayal of lovers for cash, and a general mood of prevailing evil, which even infects the ghosts of some of the dead, make this a novel in which anything can – and often does – take place without warning.

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