Profile for Mary Whipple > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Mary Whipple
Top Reviewer Ranking: 118
Helpful Votes: 12921

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Mary Whipple (New England)
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20
pixel
Elusive Moth, The
Elusive Moth, The
by Ingrid Winterbach
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars “Moths are elusive. That’s why they’re so good at surviving in extreme conditions.”, 20 May 2015
This review is from: Elusive Moth, The (Paperback)
Voorspoed, a small rural “dorp” in the center of South Africa in 1994, is about to experience a whole new way of life with the election of Nelson Mandela as the new President of the country. The tensions and the uncertainty among the primarily white residents are palpable here, and they run constantly in the background of the novel. Only rarely, however, do they intrude directly since the novel is primarily the character study of a scientist who does not know who she is. Newly translated into English by Iris Gouws and the author, The Elusive Moth captures a unique period in a small rural community in which no one can be quite sure who is really in charge.

Karolina Ferreira, an entomologist who is searching for a rare moth, arrives in Voorspoed, where she summered twenty five years ago, and it is her experiences there in 1994 that drive this character-based novel. With her parents dead and her sister far away, Karolina is alone. She hikes through the veld each day with a fellow scientist, also new to town, who is seeking unusual plants for possible use as new cures for diseases, but Karolina herself, like the country, is at loose ends. “She had long withdrawn from this place, there was nothing here to which she might attach herself now.” She no longer knew anyone, and many of the familiar buildings were gone.

Using the hotel bar and snooker room as the town’s central gathering place, Karolina meets many men (like a moth to a flame?) but few women. She does observe lovers having illicit affairs, and she enjoys dancing every Saturday night with one man with whom she rarely even talks. Over time, their dancing gradually becomes more and more frantic, until eventually she experiences a kind of dance-induced euphoria. “She no longer expected immediate gratification. The study of moths and the refinement of her dance technique, these were the objects of her passion.” In the meantime, she still has nightly dreams and nightmares of the past, many of them sexual, and it is not until later in the novel that she begins to feel signs of real love. She sees no parallels between her search for an elusive moth and her search for a life.

Accidents which may not be accidents, murder, suicide, and racial crimes all appear as the novel develops, and while the reader may be horrified, Karolina remains relatively insulated from the horrors. The town breathed “not a word to give any indication that things were constantly brewing underneath the surface,” even as Karolina is slowly developing her own sense of self. Like her two later novels available in English, To Hell with Cronje, and The Book of Happenstance, this novel deals with clear themes of life, love, and death, analyzed on a grand scale and shown in an equally grand evolutionary context. Though there are times here in which the philosophizing and the allegorical connotations may begin to overpower the story, Winterbach aims high, a goal to be celebrated even if it occasionally overshoots its mark. An unusual novel set during a unique time in the history of South Africa.


In Her Absence
In Her Absence
by Antonio Munoz Molina
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "What a waste of time it was not to be always with her, to have her nearby and be able to look at her…”, 18 May 2015
This review is from: In Her Absence (Paperback)
"What a waste of time it was not to be always with her, to have her nearby and be able to look at her…”

Antonio Munoz Molina, one of Spain’s premier writers, shows his intense psychological and atmospheric style in this short novel, a perfect introduction to this author for anyone who has not already read A Manuscript of Ashes, or any of Munoz Molina’s other works. In the latter important novel, the author’s scope is that of Spanish Civil War, the people it absorbed, and the subsequent dictatorship of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. The present novel (which some will consider a novella), is of a much more limited scope – the life and love of Mario Lopez, an undistinguished worker in the city of Jaen, halfway between Madrid and the south coast of Spain.

As this novel opens, something has obviously happened in the marriage of Mario Lopez, the protagonist in his thirties, and his wife Blanca, a woman who, on the surface, appears to have little in common with her husband. Mario, the insecure son of a rural family is almost anonymous in his profession – a draftsman, rather than the architect he would like to be - and Blanca, the sometimes confused, arts-oriented daughter of a well-to-do family from Jaen, has, in the past, accused him of “settling for too little, of lacking the slightest ambition.” How he and Blanca ended up married is one of the mysteries of the novel that develops as the action proceeds in its roundabout way through time and flashbacks.

Mario, the reader learns, has met and come to know Blanca at a particularly vulnerable time in her life. Blanca had became involved as a young woman with a painter named Jaime Naranjo, also known popularly as “Jimmy N,” ten years older than she, and through him she was also exposed to contemporary opera, theater, art – and alcohol and drugs. Mario just happens to be the person present when she crashes publicly soon after that. Though she is from an elite family and he is not, they find comfort with each other, on some level, at least, until an event leads Mario to feel, eventually, after their six years of marriage, as if he can no longer recognize her – or himself.

The conceit of Mario thinking that the Blanca who is living in his apartment is not the real Blanca, which repeats throughout the novel, becomes understandable as the novel moves back and forth in time, and the way that Mario and Blanca eventually come to terms with their relationship is both unusual and memorable. Though this is a short novel, its style is appropriate to its length, and the limited point of view allows the reader to draw thematic conclusions which have meaning and importance. And when the night comes when Mario thinks he may be able to understand the “woman who was not Blanca,” the reader realizes how and why he does this and what it means for the future.


Vanishing
Vanishing
by Gerard Woodward
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars “I felt like an artist who had eaten his own still-life, though without the benefit of satiety.”, 11 May 2015
This review is from: Vanishing (Paperback)
In Vanishing, Gerard Woodward dramatically expands his scope and broadens his themes over his novels of the past, while narrowing his story to one main character whose life the reader follows from childhood through his arrest for espionage in the late days of World War II. Kenneth Brill, the main character, is in a military prison as the novel opens, as Davies, his interrogator from the Air Ministry, arrives to interview him in preparation for his trial for espionage. Brill has been caught painting a large number of landscapes of the farm area where he grew up, a few miles outside of London, where Brill’s family has farmed for generations. The Heath is about to become one of the biggest military air bases in Europe, and evidence from Brill’s past suggests to the Air Ministry that he may be using the paintings to send coded messages to the Nazis.

Within a few more pages, Davies lets Brill know that he is completely familiar with the rest of Brill’s “record” – “arrested in London in 1937, and charged with giving false information to the police. And again in 1939 – for an act of trespass in a royal household, the Palace, no less.” Like his father, who enjoyed doing conjuring tricks, Brill is an expert at making things (and sometimes people) disappear, and Davies accuses him of having an “unstickable,” even slippery, quality, having been expelled from a series of schools as both a student and a teacher. Even in the camouflage unit, he has never been in any one place for very long. His whole life seems to have been a series of “vanishings,” through disguise, camouflage, costuming, or staged events, and Davies now wants the whole story.

The “whole story” evolves through a series of complex flashbacks which may be the real story of Brill (or may not be) from his childhood to the start of his trial. By jockeying the scenes back and forth among several different places and times, Woodward keeps the suspense about Brill high while also developing themes. Several of Brill’s friends vanish for periods of time; buildings and landscapes vanish during the war; and some of Brill’s own carefully constructed self-images crumble. He “floats,” moving from place to place making no reasoned commitment on any level, an almost ghostly character who himself seems to vanish into the scenery.

Woodward’s structure of flashbacks through the many different phases of Brill’s life makes this novel work. War as a series of “vanishings” gives a new slant to that well-worn subject, however horrific it may be, and a big picture emerges for the reader, even as it eludes Brill’s own grasp. His unreliability as a narrator can be both frustrating and annoying, yet he emerges as a character for whom one feels some sympathy. Woodward does incorporate some of his trademark dark humor and ironies, though these are fewer than what are found in his earlier books. Ultimately, the novel trades the intensity and surprises of his shorter novels for the broader scope of the narrative and themes here, making this novel more panoramic and more fully developed but less wildly eccentric.


Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story (New York Review Books Classics)
Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story (New York Review Books Classics)
by Glenway Wescott
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars "Whatever had possessed me... to think of this Lucy - bloodthirsty brute with a face like a gouge...as significant of love?", 10 May 2015
The Pilgrim Hawk (peregrine falcon), in this thoughtful, often symbolic novel, serves here as the impetus to the action, and she is one of several "characters" who participate in a broad examination of love and passion, and love's closely related effects involving pain, pettiness, anger, self-doubt, and, in an ideal world, forgiveness. Ultimately, The Pilgrim Hawk considers the grandest theme of all - the relationship of love to personal freedom and whether it is possible to have one without the other, a theme for which the hawk becomes a foil. Regarded by critics as one of the best short novels of the twentieth century, The Pilgrim Hawk has been compared to William Faulkner's The Bear in its importance, though the foreign setting, the well-to-do American characters, and the visiting Irish gentry mitigate the raw realities of Faulkner's masterpiece in favor of a more mannered, more continental approach.

First published in 1940 and recently republished as a New York Review Book Classic, The Pilgrim Hawk takes place in a French country estate in the 1920s, as American Alwyn Tower, the young expatriate who narrates the novel, is visiting Alexandra Henry, in her late twenties, whose American family owns the estate. The action takes place during one day and begins when a wealthy Irish couple, Larry and Madeleine Cullen, arrive at the estate with their chauffeur and with Madeleine's latest passion, a young pilgrim hawk (peregrine falcon) named Lucy, who clings to Madeleine's leather-clad arm and who is completely dependent upon her for hood - and life.

Larry and Madeleine have serious problems at the heart of their relationship, and it comes as no surprise when Larry eventually becomes jealous of Lucy and the time Madeleine spends with her, especially when Lucy sleeps in their bedroom. Running parallel with this thread, is that of Alexandra's servants, the mature Jean and much younger Eva, whose relationship is threatened by the arrival of Ricketts, the Cullens' chauffeur. As the love themes and their associated tensions evolve, the reader realizes that all the characters are dealing with similar issues and that Lucy, the pilgrim hawk, is the only "character" who is emotionally unencumbered by the past.

In a clean, succinct style, Wescott manages to convey not only complex psychological issues but grand and well integrated themes. He keeps his reader off guard as he develops twists in the plot line which run counter to what has been expected and shows how little some of the characters understand about life and themselves. Ultimately, it is Lucy who is the one who most lives up to character, and it is in the descriptions of her behavior in which the author's style most reveals itself. As the novel winds down, conclusions regarding the other lovers in the novel also become clear. "Unrequited passion; romance put asunder by circumstances or mistakes; sexuality pretending to be love - all that is a matter of little consequence, a mere voluntary temporary uneasiness, compared with the long course of true love, especially marriage."


I Refuse
I Refuse
by Per Petterson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars “Your conscience is like a cogwheel, or even like a circular saw, whirring round, and its sharp teeth bite into your soul.”, 26 April 2015
This review is from: I Refuse (Hardcover)
I Refuse is, I believe, Norwegian author Per Petterson’s most powerful - even overwhelming - novel yet, a subtle novel which, even now, three days after I finished reading it, still has hold of my heart. I have read and reread passages just to be sure that they really do happen the way I thought they did, hoping that if I could just reread them one more time with a new vision that maybe I could keep the sad inevitabilities from happening in quite the same way, this time around. A novel about hardy and determined folk who live in Norway, I Refuse is full of stark reality, sensitive in its depictions of the way this reality affects the characters who live there.

Petterson begins the novel in 2006, as Jim, an unemployed man in his fifties who has been in a hospital, is on his way to go fishing, and he is shocked when someone in a new Mercedes recognizes him on the bridge. Tommy Berggren, his dearest friend from childhood, with whom he has had virtually no contact for almost thirty years has suddenly discovered him. The two have, in essence, “switched places” in terms of their lives and sense of self, and as Petterson revisits the pasts of jobless Jim and successful businessman Tommy Berggren, through flashbacks and several different points of view, the reader feels the dramatic contrasts which they and their families have had to confront.

The novel operates on many levels at once, but Petterson never loses sight of his major themes, all associated with one’s values and the actions they inspire – or prevent – over time. For some, the value lies in the refusal to do something, and for others it is in the refusal to believe something. For still others it is the refusal to admit something, while for the rest it is the refusal to accept something. Petterson has carefully crafted this novel, his talent seen even in his choice of the smallest details – the favorite books of Jim and Tommy, the book Tommy gives his sick guardian, the name of the restaurant he visits late in the book.

For Petterson, the inevitabilities of someone’s life journey are nowhere nearly as important as the journey itself, no matter how difficult or how bleak. Ultimately, the novel creates a world in which ordinary people keep on trying, even as they often fail. Ironies abound as the main characters are often tossed around wildly by fate, but somehow they continue on, even if they do not always make peace with their destinies or their decisions. In the stunning conclusion, Tommy’s older sister Siri visits Singapore and discovers something about a family member, then makes her own choice to accept or refuse what has found, a perfect conclusion to this profound and unforgettable novel.


The Tusk That Did the Damage
The Tusk That Did the Damage
by Tania James
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "He would come to be called the Gravedigger... the Master Executioner, the Jackfruit Freak...", 19 April 2015
In this stylistically unusual novel about the environmentally disastrous ivory trade in India, author Tania James looks at some of the many factors involved in this gory business, while keeping her focus on the individual, the small, the personal. To develop her broad message within a manageable scope, she creates three unique stories which evolve simultaneously - the third-person story of the Gravedigger, a lone elephant without a herd and without the grounding in elephant lore which young elephants need to survive; the story of a poacher, told by the poacher's younger brother Manu, who is naïve regarding his brother's motivations; and the story of a film-maker, in which cinematographer Emma Lewis describes her efforts to document the work of Dr. Ravi Varma, the head veterinarian of the Kavanar Wildlife Park, who works to rescue and rehabilitate orphaned elephant calves.

These stories develop in parallel during the novel, adding new information gradually and not necessarily in chronological order. Some time after an attack on the Gravedigger's herd, we learn that the Gravedigger is in chains twice a day and that he must perform for tourists, though he escapes every night in his dreams. Fascinating stories of elephant lore, such as how the elephant got its tusks, and how a boy turned into an elephant, add depth to the novel, and the vision of the elephant graveyard becomes a symbol. As the Gravedigger endures torture by one of his keepers, whose behavior recalls some of the Gravedigger's traumatic childhood memories, he is overcome by fury, and the novel works its way to its inevitable climax. Beautiful passages of natural beauty contrast with descriptions of the horrors of poaching to bring the novel to its conclusion.

Author Tania James walks a fine line here as she develops her story, wisely avoiding the problems of trying to recreate an elephant's point of view by telling the elephant's story in the third person and in short paragraphs of realistic detail. Brief sentences in a straightforward, uncomplicated sentence pattern reflect the point of view of an objective observer who is young - in keeping with the young age of the elephant - but the observations are trenchant, crucial to the development of the novel. The Poacher sections reflect both the thoughts of Manu, the younger brother of Jayan, and Manu's innocence of what older brother Jayan has been doing, which makes Jayan's behavior a personal betrayal. The Film-maker sections present narrative commentary and provide transitions among the various points of view in the total story.

These three separate points of view provide unusual depth to the subject of poaching without leading to didacticism and preachiness. By rotating the focus, the author keeps the suspense high, constantly adding new information to each individual story while leaving other mysteries undeveloped till the end. This is an imaginative presentation of the issue of poaching and ivory sales and the damage done to the environment for all species, both human and animal.


My Documents
My Documents
by Alejandro Zambra
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars “My father was a computer, my mother a typewriter. I was a blank page, and now I am a book.”, 14 April 2015
This review is from: My Documents (Paperback)
In what appears to be a series of autobiographical episodes, Chilean author Alejandro Zambra creates eleven stories so firmly grounded in reality and filled with lively detail that they seem to be from his own life, though it is impossible to know for sure. In several stories, the author conveys the feelings at the heart of parent-child relationships, from the points of view of both, while political revolution and trauma lurk in the background throughout all the stories. As he wrestles with his stories and how to present the life in Chile during this tumultuous period in the late twentieth century, the author also contributes much to our understanding of the art of writing itself. Ultimately, these intense, compressed, clear, and unpretentious stories breathe with quiet life, focused on reality as a simple, if sometimes heart-breaking, concept.

The long opening story, “My Documents,” clearly establishes the time, place, characters, and atmosphere by introducing the main character at age five, when, in 1980, the speaker sees a computer for the first time, an enormous machine used by his father, quite different from the black Olivetti on which his mother does her typing work. He continues describing his childhood, from playing at the computer trying to imitate drumrolls, to his Catholic education, the music of Simon and Garfunkel, and local competitions in kite-flying. When he is eleven, he learns of Augusto Pinochet’s human rights abuses of citizens who were arrested, tortured, murdered, or disappeared, a trauma which echoes throughout all the stories.

The story “Camilo” follows a similar pattern in that it begins when the speaker is very young and ends decades later. The speaker is nine when Camilo shows up at their gate and explains that he is the speaker’s father’s godson. Though Camilo and the speaker have little in common, Camilo is a gregarious teenage friend who soon becomes “a benevolent and protective presence,” helping the speaker with some personal issues. Moving and thoughtful, the story carries a message about time and chance which will resonate with readers. Subsequent stories illustrate the fact that most of us are alone most of the time. “True or False,” concerns a divorced man whose son visits every two weeks. The boy considers his father’s house to be the “false house” and his mother’s house to be the “true house,” an issue which leads to a surprise conclusion. “I Smoked Very Well,” one of my favorites, is about a writer who decides to give up smoking and discovers that it affects his whole writing process. “Family Life” and “Thank You” deal with situations in which women become victims, sometimes by chance and sometimes because they allow it.

In the six stories told by a first person narrator, Zambra’s characters speak intimately, as if the author is addressing his reader directly, while in the five third person stories the author is more distanced, expanding his themes, ideas, and images beyond the realm of his own life into the wider world. This extraordinary and profound collection makes writing look easy. As the author himself says upon finally completing the collection, “I was a blank page, and now I am a book.” If you love good short stories with an unusual series of unpretentious voices, don’t miss this.


Blood on Snow
Blood on Snow
by Jo Nesbo
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.00

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars “I’m no good at driving slowly, I’m way too soft, I fall in love far too easily, I lose my head when angry, I’m bad at math.", 12 April 2015
This review is from: Blood on Snow (Hardcover)
Winner of countless prizes, Norwegian author Jo Nesbo has written ten novels in the Harry Hole series, and three stand-alone novels, Headhunters, The Son, and now Blood on Snow, a novel quite different in length, focus, and tone from all that have gone before. Readers of the Harry Hole novels have come to expect complex, multi-layered plots punctuated by action scenes of almost unimaginable violence. This short novel about a hired killer introduces a newer style, however – leaner, cleaner, and more introspective, with wonderful ironic humor.

Though the novel certainly has its excitements, much of the novel capitalizes on the ironies which exist between the thinking of Olav Johansen, the young, dyslexic main character, and his actions as a “fixer.” It is through Olav’s running commentary that the reader understands the narrative, and one cannot miss the tongue-in-cheek attitude of the author who is controlling this character. The opening sentences are classic: With a lyricism uncommon to Nesbo, we learn that “the snow was dancing like cotton wool in the light of the street lamps. Aimlessly, unable to decide whether it wanted to fall up or down, just letting itself be driven…” As the romantic language continues, the speaker suddenly shifts gears to a hard realism - revealing a body on the scene - and creating an irony so unexpected that it left me awestruck - and smiling.

Nesbo takes full advantage of the smaller scope of this novel, and while he does not develop complete characters in the two hundred, wide-margined pages of this book, his focus on the characters’ inner worlds is far greater than one finds in his longer, action-based, multi-layered thrillers. Olav’s role working for Daniel Hoffman is limited by all the things that Olav cannot do, but he is a good “fixer,” and despite the murders Olav commits, they are almost always of people who do evil things. Olav believes he has a good heart, and the reader does, too. When Olav receives his biggest assignment from Hoffmann – to murder Hoffmann’s wife Corina, he takes the job seriously, then finds himself falling in love with her and committing a murder he does on his own initiative, leaving him fearful for his life.

As the complexities increase, Olav also becomes more complex, and he soon tells about his family background and his childhood reading experiences, however difficult reading has been for him. The twists and reversals which occur at the conclusion, while a “convenient” way to end the novel, bring to mind some of the great, ironic stories of H.H. Monroe, writing as Saki. I have always enjoyed Jo Nesbo's novels, and have also admired his ability to go in his own direction, wherever his stories take him. Here the prolific Nesbo explores new directions, suggesting the possibility of a more ironically humorous and more literary approach for some future novels.


Distant Marvels, The
Distant Marvels, The
by Chantel Acevedo
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Love, in its full measure, is a kind of swirling tempest, and in its eye, there is stillness and comfort and peace.", 9 April 2015
This review is from: Distant Marvels, The (Paperback)
(4.5 stars) It is 1963, as the novel opens, and the devastating Hurricane Flora, "bigger than all of Cuba," is now lashing the island, having already caused devastation throughout Haiti, where it killed five thousand people. Main character Maria Sirena, age eighty-two, has been forcibly evacuated from her small seaside house and, with seven other women, taken to safety on the top floor of Casa Diego Velazquez, the sixteenth century home of the first governor of Cuba, now a museum. For the couple of days, Maria Sirena rides out the storm with these seven other refugees at the Casa Velazquez, keeping her companions occupied with stories from her own life and the lives of her parents and grandparents as they lived through Cuba's various wars for independence from the late nineteenth century to 1963.

Author Chantel Acevedo, a second-generation Cuban American, focuses intently on the lives of "ordinary" people like Maria Sirena and her fellow guests of the Casa - hardworking folks, often poor, who have struggled all their lives - showing how they have survived and what they have had to do to live. It is through this personal focus and the stories the women tell, rather than any detailed historical focus, that three-quarters of a century of Cuban revolutionary history emerges for the reader. We learn, for example, that Maria Sirena was born aboard a ship in 1881, when her parents were sailing back to Cuba from Boston, after meeting with the exiled leaders of Cuba's revolutionary movement, and that she and her family were involved in the revolution that became the Spanish-American War. The novel develops in kaleidoscopic fashion, with small colorful episodes and stories from various time periods appearing seemingly at random, mixing with other episodes and events from other periods to broaden the reader's understanding of the characters and their lives.

Maria Sirena has had much experience as a story-teller, having been for many years a lectora, a reader hired by a cigar factory to read stories to the workers so that they will not become bored as they make cigars. As she tells stories, she reveals far more about her own life and its traumas than she has ever told anyone else. We also learn more about Agustin, Maria Sirena's father, and his imprisonment during the revolutionary period in the late nineteenth century; about her mother Lulu's involvement with Antonio Maceo and famed poet Jose Marti, heroes of the first Cuban revolution; and eventually, still more about Maria Sirena herself - her loves, her life, and her difficult decisions.

In this novel filled with exciting and multilayered action, Acevedo ultimately reconstructs the country's atmosphere from the 1880s to 1963. Her sensitivity to the personal nature of each story as it is revealed by someone who has lived and felt and suffered, and her appreciation of the grandeur of life - on the monumental scale which individuals so seldom appreciate - make this novel unusual and very special. The chronology of the personal stories, regardless of the actual time period in which they occurred, keeps the narrative tension high, and the interest in the characters at their peak. One cannot help wondering how these same women fared in the years following the takeover by Fidel Castro.


The Dream of My Return
The Dream of My Return
Price: £9.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Finally I was going to [carry] out an act that would consolidate my masculinity on many different levels...", 4 April 2015
"Finally I was going to [carry] out an act that would consolidate my masculinity on many different levels...", April 3, 2015

In a novel which defies genre, author Horacio Castellanos Moya takes paranoia to new and often darkly humorous heights as Erasmo Aragon, a journalist who has been living in exile in Mexico, tries to fulfill his dream of returning to his home in El Salvador, now that that country is beginning to seem less dangerous. The author's own real-life experience as an exile adds verisimilitude to the novel, and his sense of perspective regarding his own life allows him to depict Erasmo's over-reactions and his chronic dithering with a kind of humor rare in a novel about revolutions and revolutionaries.

Unmarried, Erasmo has been living with Eva and their little daughter Evita for several years, but he is now looking forward to returning "home" for a journalism project. Eva and Evita will remain behind in Mexico, not for idealistic reasons on Erasmo's part, but because Eva has had an affair with another man, and the speaker is outraged. His past, detailed here, certainly has not been without its own traumas, and Don Chente Alvarado, the retired physician treating him, suggests acupuncture to relieve his anxiety, and later hypnosis. When Don Chente refuses to tell Erasmo what he has said under hypnosis, he imagines "crimes" he fears he may have admitted, and these lead to even more agitation.

The depiction of Erasmo Aragon's high anxiety and his imagined conclusions about his health and his life ring true for the reader, who quickly becomes involved in the psychological "action." As he is thinking about the past and the political activities of some of the friends and family with whom he is still involved, the reader, too, begins to imagine all the ways in which Erasmo may be being "set up" for disaster by these "friends." Soon the reader becomes as pre-occupied with Erasmo's problems as he is, worrying about his decisions and his plans to return to El Salvador. As complications and danger develop, the novel races to its conclusion, a wickedly sardonic ending which makes complete sense but comes as a huge surprise.

Of the four novels by Castellanos Moya which have been translated into English, this is the lightest, and though it has some serious ideas, it is also the funniest and most seductively involving. Translator Katherine Silver, who keeps the stream-of-consciousness style running nonstop in colloquial English, also makes the details so lively that the story is both compelling and full of fun. Though Castellanos Moya speaks out in his novels about human rights, political crimes, repression, dictatorships, and executions, he clearly realizes that there is a limit to how much horror a reader can process at one time, and he often uses his sense of irony and dark humor, strategically employed, to highlight his themes and plots in new ways, making them palatable and far more memorable for their irony. A short novel with a big impact for the reader.


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20