Book 879 Emine Sevgi Ozdamar – Life is a Caravanserai has two doors – I came in one I went out the other

After reading one memoir about a country (Cuba) which was politically unstable ( Before Night Falls) I was very eager to dive into this memoir, which focuses on another country which had an interesting political shift but unfortunately things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to.

The country in question is Turkey during one of its most turbulent period. During the 60’s there was the ‘end’ of the westernization of the place and military insurgencies were commonplace, which led to violence and a complete shift in cultural attitudes. Ozdamar describes all of this and through a child’s eyes so her innocence and worldview makes the atrocities and cultural changes a bit more naive. It is told in a bawdy and laugh out loud manner as bodily functions and sexual urges are documented in full and questioned. Eventually the author is fed up and moves to Germany to start a new life.  There’s also some clever word play and some stylistic tricks which the translator manages to pull off well.

Potentially I would have loved something like this but it is told in a stream of conscious style with shifting narrative voices and non chronological paragraphs just jumping out of nowhere, which, personally spoiled the reading experience. At times I was quite frustrated at this as I felt like the author couldn’t get her message across so strongly. (as it is a very angry novel) However there are some genuinely funny moments and the bawdiness helped me progress throughout the book (In fact I woke up at 2am to read a couple of pages and ended up finishing it at 5am) So it’s a strangely addictive novel but if the writing style was a bit more accessible I would have enjoyed it much more.


Book 880 Reinaldo Arenas – Before Night Falls

Unfortunately Google did not have the book cover so I had to settle for a the movie poster – which is very similar. Oh I would have taken a pic but I don’t have a digital camera.

It seems that the LBGT selections in the list are the most enjoyable novels and this is no exception.

Usually the list focuses on fiction and it seems and once in a while an autobiography crops up and this is one.

Here Arenas documents his life from his erotically charged childhood in the country to his teenage years as a victim to Castro’s  reign over Cuba.  As Arenas was a homosexual and a writer his life was full of persecutions, arrests and other horrors. In between we are given descriptions of the literary and homosexual scenes of Cuba during the 60’s and 70’s.

Eventually Arenas does manage to leave Cuba and head off to the States but, again he is out-of-place and feels like a person without any home or identity.

On one hand it is a savage criticism of Fidel Castro’s government but it is also a love letter to Cuba for when Arenas has to leave he misses it.

By the mid 80’s Arenas was diagnosed with AIDS , mostly due to his promiscuous lifestlye and he committed suicide in 1990. Although I found it tacky his suicide note is the final chapter in the book.

Did I like Before Night Falls? Oh yes. It’s a novel which brings out the frustration of someone who wants to be creative and isn’t allowed so there’s a lot of black humor in describing some of Castro’s ideas but there are moments of great beauty and these are the best bits of  here.

Brutal, wonderful and painfully honest this is one autobiography that should not be missed!

Book 881 Donna Tartt – The Secret History

The Secret History is a book I read six years ago and it still leaves me in awe. It’s a perfect novel. Great characters, situations black humour, suspense. It’s got it all and it’s a page turner of the first degree.

Professional cynic Richard Papen leaves his working class upbringing to a posh college located in Vermont. We soon learn that Richard is slightly dishonest as he lies his way into the college and eventually does the same so that he enrolls himself into the Classics program.

Once he is there he learns that his fellow classmates (for want of a better word)  have rather sinister motives and thus Richard is pushed into some messy situations. Most of the time each is much worse than the last.  In the end he does manage to get out of it but with great repercussions.

The Secret History is reminiscent of  Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and there are elements of  both Greek and Shakespearean tragedies. Tartt is not so clear in some places so there are passages which make you question certain characters, especially the professor Julian Morrow but it’s this air of mystery that makes the book so compulsively readable. We actually do want to know what will happen to the characters and whether they will be punished for their ways.

Like I said before I have absolutely no complaints at all and this is indeed a must read.

Book 882 Alvaro Mutis – The Adventure and Misadventures of Maqroll : Triptych on Sea and Land

Finally the final Maqroll story.  In a way after reading the first three stories I had a feeling that the remaining ones wouldn’t be as great and I was right. By these standards then the last tale will be the weakest.

Well I would say both yes and no. The final novella is indeed a triptych of short stories about people who have been influenced or cursed by Maqroll. One is a Norwegian Captain, the other is a painter and the third focuses on Maqroll’s best friend Abdul Bashur’s son Jamil. The first two stories are ok but it’s the third one which tugs the heartstrings. You could say that it’s a sort of re telling of Hemingway’s  The Old Man and the Sea. That is, it’s about two generations forming a bond and  learning from each other. I loved this section so much that I closed the book with a grin on my face. At least it ended in style.


Overall I enjoyed these seven novellas (and the translation is brilliant), true some more than others but they did flesh out the character of Maqroll and make him very distinctive. You could say that he’s part Don Quixote with some Robin Hood mixed in for good measure.  Maybe my only complaint would be that I would prefer reading the novellas separately than in one huge chunky novel but it’s a small complaint. I was very pleased to discover and read a part of South America’s  literary heroes.

Book 882 Alvaro Mutis – The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll : Abdul Bashur, Dreamer of Ships

The penultimate Maqroll tale serves two functions. One is to tie up any loose ends Mutis has written about in the previous stories. For example we see what happened to Maqroll after he left Panama City (the tale is Illona comes with the Rain) , how the narrator and Maqroll’s best friend Abdul Bashur met and some facts about a couple of the adventures that Mutis lightly mentions in the older tales.

The second is to demonstrate the strong friendship between Maqroll and Bashur. Although they come from two different worlds they are inseparable and need each other to  get away with their get rich quick schemes. In fact whenever Maqroll manages to weasel out some cash now and then he gives to Bashur so that he fulfills his one and only hobby, buying boats (which he sells later on due to his financial situations)

I’m on the last novella now and I feel that I’ll be finishing it in an hour or so.

Here we go!

Book 882 Alvaro Mutis – The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll : Amirbar

The fifth Maqroll story  is different from the previous ones. As we have seen these stories either take the form of a diary or narrated from the author. However a different tact is used and Maqroll is telling the narrator one of his more memorable adventures.

It also is the first Maqroll story not to take place on a boat. This time Maqroll recounts his days as a miner (we are given hints of this in the first book ‘The Snow of the Admiral’) As most Maqroll stories we have the romantic tryst and then the twist where he loses all his money.  Amirbar (the name of the mine he chooses) also contains some clues on how Maqroll first met Flora, one of his favourite lovers.

On the whole it’s a good story but so far it’s hasn’t really topped ‘Un Bel Morir yet.

Onwards to story number six!

Book 882 Alvaro Mutis – The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll : The Tramp Steamer’s Last Port of Call

Typical! just as I thought that I had these stories all sussed out, Mutis throws a curveball of a story and changes my perspective of these novellas and admire Mutis for not following a formula. In this story Maqroll only plays a small role, a walk on role even.

The Tramp Steamer’s… is narrated by a person who is collecting stories on Maqroll. However on this occasion he is just attending a conference in Helsinki and he sees a Tramp Steamers and falls in love with it. A few years later he sees it again in Jamaica and again for a third time but it is in total ruins. Through luck  the narrator bumps into the captain of the steamers and he discovers that Maqroll and his business partner Abdul Bashur gave it to him in order to take part with their shady business deals and ferry certain cargo to different islands. Also included in this scheme is Bashur’s sister Warda and she strikes a romance with the captain.

Essentially The Tramp… is a pure bona fide no frills love story and a well told one. Not mushy and sensual. Now whether this tale is just an interlude or part of a bigger whole we will see with the fifth novella.