Book 941 Pedro Juan Gutierrez – Dirty Havana Trilogy

When I first picked up this book I was expecting a savage political satire with the odd sordid detail chucked in for good measure. Don’t get me wrong but Dirty Havana Trilogy is most definitely an attack on Cuba but in more ways than one.

The novel takes place in Cuba during the mid nineties, supposedly when the country is going through a tough time. Poverty is rampant and every character in this book tries to find a sort of escape, In these sixty short fragments sex is the only form of breaking free. It features in every single story and is the only thing which the characters live for.

The book is told through the eyes of the author himself and concern mainly him and his conquests. We also get descriptions of poverty and off the cuff money-making schemes. Some grotesque and some just plain weird. In a sense you could say that this is a cross between Charles Bukowski and Hubert Selby Jr. It depicts a raw untamed lifestyle.

Despite all the atrocities which happen the author and most of his conquests become stronger as they survive one more day of living in the rough. In the last story, and one of the very few not to feature Pedro Juan there is a quote by the sex mad ex boxer Cholo which summarises the whole book :

“You can’t let your guard down. That’s how they used to knock me out, when I let my guard down”

Indeed, those people who do resign themselves to the dead-end life they are living are the ones that suffer the most.

Dirty Havana Trilogy is shocking and repetitive but strangely compelling and sparks your curiosity. Maybe it is a bit odd to spend the day boxing day reading about a character with a rubber pipe instead of a penis but then maybe there is something worse.


Inbetweener 9 Junot Diaz – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Probably my one and only regret with this novel is that I should have read it after Mario Vargas Llosa’s Feast of the Goat. The thing is that I intended on reading it straight after but I got distracted with other books and put it off till now.

I have read Junot Diaz’s first short story collection ‘Drown’ and I didn’t mind it. As I have mentioned before that i’m not a fan of short stories as the quality is never consistent, there always a pick a choose element and I felt the same way with ‘Drown.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is Diaz first novel and is a huge leap when compared to Drown. It seems that within the novel format Diaz can add more flourish and humorous sections, something which he omits in his short stories.

Oscar is an overweight sci-fi nerd who is quite terrible when i comes to girls. To top it all of he is a second generation Dominican Republic immigrant so in theory he should be the next Porfirio Rubirosa. This bad luck all stems from a family curse which has its roots with Oscar’s grandfather, who allegedly bad mouths Trujillo. Finally Oscar does meet the woman of his dreams but at a huge cost.

Brief Wondrous can be seen as a history of the Dominican Republic (most of this is told through absolutely brilliant footnotes) and each character is a mouthpiece and representation of the different stages of  the Trujillo reign. Here Diaz’s sense of satire and anger comes out think and strong. Clearly he knows that his birthplace had a tough history and he brings out savagely. There is also the romance plot but it takes a backseat role until Oscar main love is a commentary on the post Trujillio Dominican Republic.

The use of  Spanish and slangy english is fantastic and it gives the novel a pulsating energy. It’s also fresh, funny and poetic. There were many times where is couldn’t stop smiling at the use of English. It’s not a stumbling factor and it makes the book readable.

Coincidentally my next book is about Cuba so I’m very curious to see if there will be any parallels!

Book 942 Roberto Bolano – The Savage Detectives

After reading, and loving the mighty 2666, I just couldn’t wait to read The Savage Detectives. I mean in theory this was the book which made Bolano’s name and propelled him into the big league? Instead, at least from my point of view I finished the novel with a set of very mixed reactions.

The Savage Detectives is a satirical attack on the literary movements which cropped up during the 1960’s namely the Magical Realist and the OULIPO. Here we have a literary group called the Visceral Realists and it’s founders are Arturo Belano (guess who he represents) and Ulises Lima. After great bouts of poetry and flings with the other members of the movements these two go on a world-wide trip in order to find Cesarea Tinajero, who is the heroine behind the Visceral Realists.

There are passages which dazzle and descriptions. metaphors and analogies which will confirm that Bolano was a literary genius and yet there is something off-putting about the novel and that is its second part.

The book is divided into three sections. The first and last are a description of the Visceral Realist life as told through the eyes of a university dropout called Juan Garcia Madero. It’s in diary form and without doubt the strongest and funniest parts of the book.

It is the over lengthy second part in which things become to drag. In fact during this section of the book I began to get highly irritated at how the pace changed and slowed down the flow. Comprised of short interviews where characters give their own impressions of Belano and Lima while filling us readers with what these two did on their travels and helping us understand these two enigmas better is a very exhaustive read. In theory it would have been excellent but when such a section goes on for nearly three hundred pages you feel worn down. By the end I was relieved to have shut the book.

As such The Savage Detectives is a masterpiece in scope but due to its execution it’s a very flawed one. If you’ve got the time a patience check it out but really I would say stick with 2666, it is way more varied and satisfying.

Book 943 J.M. Coetzee – Disgrace

Disgrace is not my first Coetzee, before that I have read Age of Iron (which I enjoyed tremendously) and Foe (which I didn’t mind). During my last year in the bookshop I did read Disgrace but it was a superficial quick read as I had a lot on my mind so nothing really registered.  So as fate has it, I am given another chance.

David Lurie is a sex loving fifty-three year old lecturer who resigns from the Cape Town university due to a fling with a pupil. As a way of escaping (as his hero Lord Byron did) he goes to the country in order to let the scandal boil over. There he settles in with his daughter Lucy and manages to lead a quiet life. Helping her sell produce, taking care of the dogs she keeps when their owners are away and even helping out at the animal hospital.

I know this does sound stereotypical but with Coetzee, the stereotypical never happens. Lurie may be performing acts which are good and character building but in reality he is the same old David – Selfish, stuck in his ways (he cannot accept the fact that Apartheid is over and done with) and with sex on the brain. But just the same he is happy and is filling up a void in his life.

All this halts to an end when Lucy’s farm is burgled and she is violated in the process by three men. From now onwards the novel takes a darker tone as Lurie is now obsessed with avenging his daughter but due to the new South African society this becomes impossible although he does not give up trying. By this point Lurie call all these tragedies part of his state of disgrace.

People do change and Lurie’s conversion happens through three main events. One is how his daughter refuses to leave the farmhouse even though she is not safe. The second is a visit to the parents of the student he slept with and the third is his weekly job of taking dead dogs from the clinic to the incinerator. It is the last action in which Lurie starts to see the symbolism between dog and man and begins to see his own purpose on Earth,

Disgrace is a classic in every sense. An excellent plot, well-rounded characters, Symbolism, well constructed and flowing and moments of reflection. Plus Coetzee’s unpretentious writing style makes the book an addictive page turner. Yes it is a brutally ugly  story and it is nasty but it also powerful and Coetzee gets his message through. One could call it a political novel but it also functions as a story on love, eros and Religion.

Book 944 Slavenka Drakulic – As if I am not there

I am usually unfazed by books with disturbing bits in them. Actually I have never been affected, however Drakulic has managed to break this cold exterior of mine. Now I don’t know whether it’s because i’m getting older and more sensitive or that the Balkan conflict was something on the news all the time so I had a (faint) idea on what was going on.

S. is a 30-year-old school teacher, who’s half Bosnian and Serb and is leading a cozy life in her mountain village. That is until a soldier arrests her and takes her to a camp in Bosnia. From there onwards S. is subjected to sexual tortures that are quite shocking to read as they are brutally realistic. Finally after a few months she is ‘exchanged’ and goes to a new camp in Zagreb, where she finds out that she has become pregnant through a gang rape. S. then heads off to Stockholm in order to give birth to the baby and debate whether she should give it up for adoption.

Although, as I said earlier, the bits about rape, torture and war are not exactly pleasant reading, It is S.’ personal war with the baby which is the focus of Drakulic’s  novel. It seems that a pregnancy caused in those circumstances can cause as much suffering and dread. Despite this the last two chapters are the most heart rendering part of As if I am not there  and is bound to create a surge of emotions.

As you can see a flurry of feelings came rushing through me whilst reading this book and I’m glad that it effected me this way. Drakulic’s prose (like a lot of writers i’ve been reading lately) spares no punches and rendering every character as an initial is an interesting touch. Also it is a very well translated book ( well I don’t know Croatian but when a book does not feel like it’s been translated I take that as a good sign) and I was able to integrate myself into the story.