Dear reader, it seems strange to write this today, with the world as it is. Reeling in the wake of another full month of social distancing and death from the coronavirus, we also this week were faced with another senseless death of an innocent Black man, George Floyd, at the hands of the police. This month has been full of hurt and anxiety for me, dear reader, and I’m sure it’s been the same for you.
To my Black readers, I am with you and I hear you and I will fight with you to end the plague of racism that threatens your lives, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. To my other POC readers, I hope you will join me in standing alongside our Black neighbors and fight this injustice. To my white readers, I hope you looked at yourself for a long time in the mirror this morning, faced your true self and the ways you benefit from the system that kills Black people, and decided to do something about it.
I’m going to continue this series today because this is the reason I started this challenge to begin with. It was to open my eyes, really take stock of the world around me, listen to the voices of the oppressed and marginalized all over the world, and help other white people to do the same.
I’m with you, my dear readers.
This month, I read for South America. I started with the intention of reading three books (with room for more if I found them): two are South American classics and one was a contemporary novel. I read two, and Did Not Finish (DNF) one. This month was a tricky one for my mental health and I just couldn’t read a book I didn’t want to read. Sorry, not sorry.
What I Read
- The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende: I’ve already shared a full review of this novel, but TL;DR: I was not a huge fan. While I completely understand the historical and cultural significance of this novel, I didn’t love the way the story was told. Overall, I found it quite upsetting and laborious to read.
- Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras: I really enjoyed this one. It was a slower novel and my complaints on it, like House, is strictly in the storytelling style. The story of life in the early ’90s in Bogota, Columbia is told from the perspective of 9-year-old Chula, which lent a little to the disjointed and often meandering style of the narrative. Often, I found myself inundated with too much detail and other times with too little, which in retrospect does feel more like a little girl telling the story from her memory but also confused me a lot. It balances the horrors the Columbian experience during that time with the banal commonalities of people getting computers for the first time. The contrast between the experience of Chula and her family’s maid Petrona is deeply moving and eye-opening. Overall, I was very pleased with this one, and was surprised to find out it was based largely on the author’s own experience.
I started Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marques, but I just couldn’t get interested in it. I think it was largely because I just finished House and a similar style of narrative appeared in Love. Both utilize magical realism and meandering “telling” narrative techniques that just don’t really appeal to me as a reader. I think also my anxiety and inability to focus for long periods of time due to the stagnation of life since Coronavirus lock-down played a part in my deciding to put Love down in favor of something faster, more plot driven, and less poetic (didn’t finish that one either). Frankly, I didn’t have the attention span or the interest.
I beat myself up about this decision for days, but when I finally took it off my nightstand and put it back on the shelf, I was so relieved. I hope you never feel bad about not finishing a book, dear reader! There is no requirement, no expectation, that you finish every book you start. You’re allowed to change your mind, decide to wait for later, or even say you don’t like it and move on. I think my hesitation over this particular book, when usually it wouldn’t bother me, was because it is considered a classic and I felt guilty for not reading it. Guilt be gone! None of that here. Honor yourself and your feelings! It’s okay if you don’t like it. It’s okay to not finish.
- A history of magical realism: I really enjoy magical realism, and when I write, I utilize a lot of it, but I didn’t know about it’s origins in Latin American literature. Both of my reading selections this month used magical realism, which led me to do some reading about it to see if it was part of the tradition (or if I was just picking books that had it). This article from Vox has great information about the history and context of magical realism and a reading list if you’d like to read more!
- The American Beetles: Here’s a fun little history tid-bit about when the fake Beatles almost got away with fooling the entire country of Argentina into thinking they were the real thing.
- The truth behind Fruit of the Drunken Tree: I found Fruit to be striking the amount of careful details that made the story seem so real. At one moment, Chula is playing with Barbies and peeping in the windows of her neighbors, in the next, she’s reacting to the death of a little girl in a car bomb and reeling at the loss of her father to the guerillas. The story really struck contrast between the life of Chula, a privileged girl growing up in a safer area of Bogota, and Petrona, the maid, whose experience growing up in the Hills was so drastically different, it felt like they existed on different planets. This is not only intentional, but mostly true. The author spoke with NPR about how her lived experience was mirrored in her debut novel.
Alright, that’s it from me today. I hope you take care of yourself this week, dear reader, get rest, protect your mental health, and read a good book. Until next time, my friend.