Showing posts with label Book Club. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book Club. Show all posts

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Review: Entreat Me by Grace Draven

Entreat Me by Grace Draven was chosen as the February read for my Internet Book Club -- an interesting choice.

Grace Draven utilizes key, recognizable elements from the Beauty and the Beast children's fairy tale to create an adult fantasy romance with unique central characters. She splits both Beauty and the Beast into two couples by having Louvaen Duenda and Ballard take on the adult, experienced central role while Cinnia and Gavin play the young romantic (beautiful and virginal) secondary one. Intermingled with the romances, at its core, this is also a beautiful father and son tale of love and sacrifice.

On the romantic front, Lou and Ballard take center stage. Lou is no sweet Belle, instead she is considered an indomitable shrew -- there is no taming her. A widow, Lou is strong, determined, and brave, making her the perfect candidate to serve as protector to her weak father and beautiful sister Cinnia against the local villain. When she follows her impulsive sister to the magically hidden castle that Gavin calls home, Lou is better prepared than Cinnia to deal with Gavin's father Ballard and the cursed situation as a whole. Ballard, like the Beast from the original fairy tale, will break your heart. His sweetness and sacrifice for love trumps beastliness. His shame, resignation, and yearning for Lou will make an impact on fairy tale and romance lovers alike. Sex scenes abound in this story -- not a complaint, just surprising.

The romance between Gavin and Cinnia is definitely secondary. They play the more traditional role found in fairy tales. His is the extremely handsome and honorable role of a troubled prince, and hers is that of the poor, virginal, but extreme beauty who garners attention from miles around and incites the lust of a villain. Gavin falls for her and attempts to save the beautiful lady in distress by whisking her away to his magic castle in hopes that she in turn will save him and his family from an old curse. Draven chooses to have two very different romantic couples in this story fighting similar conflicts. Gavin and Cinnia work well as secondary characters, unfortunately, the connection with them as a couple is tenuous. This is mainly due to the fact that their relationship develops on a superficial level, lacking intimate (one-on-one, on the page) details as it evolves.

The sweet and sour dialog between the central characters is engaging and entertaining. The secondary characters also have a lot to offer in that respect. The slower moments, the happy ones, in the middle of the book flow with their friendship, loyalty and love. The magic aspects of this story feel organic to a fairy tale with some details taken directly from the original Beauty and the Beast, while others are incorporated by the author.

The father and son tale of love and sacrifice plays a key role in this fantasy romance. It is intermingled with the curse and the situation faced by the couples. Short flashback sections are utilized throughout the story to give the reader the complete picture while the characters -- Lou and Cinnia -- remain in the dark. Key to the story as a whole, at times these flashbacks interrupt the flow. Regardless, the positives outweigh the negatives and I really enjoyed this story to the end.

I recommend Entreat Me to readers who love Beauty and the Beast, adult fairy tales, fantasy romances, unusually strong heroines as central characters, and strong bonds between fathers and sons.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

What Have I Read Lately? The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

This January I'm basically catching up by reading books from my "most wanted" list in 2014. Some of these books were on my TBR, others are recent recommendations from friends. As far as Fiction/Non Fiction go, from my TBR, I read two books I've had in my Kindle since last year, The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood by Richard Blanco, a creative non-fiction book that reads like a novel, and I just finished Everything I Never Told You, a contemporary fiction, debut novel by Celeste Ng. Right now I am reading Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, a book that falls under 'women's fiction' and promises to be a good read. I will come back with reviews or impressions on all of the books mentioned, but today I am concentrating on my first read of 2015.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (Algonquin, April 2014)
"Why is anyone book different from any other book? They are different, A.J. decides, because they are. We have to look inside many. We have to believe. We agree to be disappointed sometimes so that we can be exhilarated every now and again."
I began the year by reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, a contemporary fiction book recommended by Christine for our Internet Book Club. The main character, a book store owner and avid reader, loves literary short stories. He references books, titles, characters and plot to describe events occurring in his life. AJ was always an introvert but once he loses his wife in a tragic accident, he further isolates himself in a world of books. A literary snob, he only places value on specific literary works and refuses to read (or buy) anything else. Then, AJ's rare copy of an early book by Edgar Allan Poe is stolen and his plans for retirement are dashed. Luckily for AJ, a little girl comes into his life and everything changes, allowing him a second chance at life and love. "No man is an island." A.J. evolves, and as a result makes a big impact in other people's lives through love, his love of books, and the bookstore.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a multi-layered story. The author keeps the reader immersed by tying events occurring in the main character(s) lives through AJ's perspective as a reader -- AJ's critique of short stories, analysis of construction and writers' abilities, personal views on content (preferences and biases).
"Maya, novels certainly have their charms, but the most elegant creation in the prose universe is a short story. Master the short story and you'll have mastered the universe."
Each chapter begins with one page highlighting the title of a short story and a short critique by AJ which includes facts pertaining to his life at that very moment. I love how the author shows A.J.'s evolution as he builds a canon of short stories for his little girl that also serves as a guide to life.
"My life is in these books, he wants to tell her. Read these and know my heart.
We are not quite novels.
The analogy he is looking for is almost there.
We are not quite short stories. At this point, his life is seeming closest to that.
In the end, we are collected works."
The author touches on issues pertinent to the book world: critiquing, giving obscure or new books/authors a fair chance, ebooks v. print books, the disappearance of brick and mortar book stores, keeping a small, independent book store afloat, dealing with publisher representatives and their seasonal book catalogues. There is a twist to do with Maya that I did not see coming. Of course, looking back, all the clues were in place and waiting to be discovered, a few niggled at the time, but I missed them. AJ as the main character is indispensable but so are the secondary characters because without them there would not be a story to tell. There are little mysteries and twists, love stories and personality conflicts, resolution and absolution.

This is a beautiful book for book lovers. But this is the thing, Zevin takes all of that and integrates it into a story about life itself with all the messy "disappointments and exhilarating moments that make life beautiful now and again." Highly recommended.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hilcia's Minis: YA Wallflowers & Dark Horses + LGBT Mysteries: Porcelain Dogs, Cambridge Fellows & Think of England

In August I craved mysteries and urban fantasy. Today, however, I begin my minis with the young adult fiction book chosen by my Internet Book Club. All of the books below are either highly recommended or recommended reads, and four out of the five are old releases with only one 2014 release in the bunch.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an excellent YA fiction read written in epistolary style. First published in 1999, this short coming-of-age novel is as pertinent today as it was during that time. Chbosky's narrator and main character is young fifteen-year-old Charlie whose personal isolation and awkward social skills are only rivaled by his brilliant mind. The story begins when Charlie is about to start high school and finishes at the end of his freshman year. During that one year, within 213 pages, Charlie undergoes quite a few changes, (character growth) and makes some good as well as some pretty disturbing discoveries about himself. Along the way, he makes some great friends like Patrick, Sam and a few others, but Charlie's family (parents and siblings) are also there in a meaningful way.

This is a smart read, not just a quick one. Chbosky packs in key young adult and family issues, some quite serious, in very few pages while keeping his characters young and fresh as they "discover" and process issues and ideas in their own unique way. While Charlie is the narrator through the letters he writes to "Dear Friend," all the main characters involved in Charlie's life are very well rendered. I was touched by a few them: Charlie, of course, Sam, Patrick and Brad, Charlie's teacher Bill (I wish all teachers were like that!), Charlie's sister and his parents. This is a highly recommended YA fiction read. If you've read it, then you know why. If you haven't, give it try. (1999, Pocket Books)
"In the hallways, I see the girls wearing the guys' jackets, and I think about the idea of property. And I wonder if they are happy. I hope they are. I really hope they are."

"We accept the love we think we deserve."

"[e]ven if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them."
I read this book for my Internet Book Club. Thanks to Mariana, Lili, Maria, Christine, and Yinx for the recommendation and discussion.
The Dark Horse (Walt Longmire #5) by Craig Johnson

I decided to go back and read books #5 through #7 of the Walt Longmire mystery series so I can catch up with some of the past installments I'm missing. The Dark Horse was first published in 2009. In this one a woman admits to shooting her husband six times after he burned down the barn while all her quarter horses were inside. Alive. But even with proof, a witness, and her confession, Walt doesn't believe she is guilty and sets out to prove it. The Dark Horse is my favorite book of the series so far. The mystery is fantastic and the action is even better. Good ole Walt just keeps surprising me with what he is willing to do to solve a mystery as well as for other people. What a fabulous character and what a great series. I'm picking up the other two books ASAP, and then I will be up to date. Highly recommended. (2009, Viking Adult - Kindle Ed.)

***By the way, the end of the third season for the A&E Longmire television program was fantastic! I'm still breathless.
The Affair of the Porcelain Dog by Jess Faraday

The Affair of the Porcelain Dog is the first book in a mystery duology by Jess Faraday that I picked up from the "books recommended" list in Goodreads. It is not a romance, it contains sexual involvements that lead to the mystery and action. Set in the crime-riddled streets of 1889 London, the main character Ira Adler is an orphan and former pickpocket, thief, and male prostitute from the mean East End streets, presently living in luxury under the patronage of powerful crime lord Cain Goddard as payment for an exclusive sexual relationship. Ira has become selfishly spoiled with luxury, but that begins to change after Cain asks him to steal the statue of a porcelain dog containing evidence that under the sodomy laws may send him and others, including Ira, to prison. Ira retrieves the porcelain dog only to loose it to another pickpocket, and the hunt begins in earnest leading to a friend's death, opium traders and more dangerous discoveries.

The setting, characters, atmosphere, action and plotting all come together to create an excellent historical mystery. I appreciate that the sodomy laws in place during that time are not taken lightly or dismissed by Faraday, instead they play a crucial role in the mystery, drive how the characters' conduct their lives and the actions they take in order to survive. I could not stop reading this book and will pick up Turnbull House, Book #2, to find out what happens to Ira, his detecting partner and ex-client Dr. Tim Lazarus, and Cain. Highly recommended. (2011, Bold Strokes Books-Digital Format) 

Lessons in Love (Cambridge Fellows #1) by Charlie Cochrane

First published in 2008, this is the first book in an 8 book mystery/romance series by Charlie Cochrane. There is a great mystery in this introductory book to the series and addictive characters that I want to know better. Set in St. Bridges College, Cambridge in 1905, it all begins when the outgoing, good looking Jonty Stewart joins the teaching staff at the college and catches the attention of stodgy, but brilliant, Orlando Coppersmith. A man whose whole life is wrapped up in the school and mathematics. Their relationship slowly changes to intimacy and a forbidden romance. But the murders of young students interrupt their small world of personal discovery, and soon they are caught up in a dangerous position acting as the police's eyes and ears within the college where any one of their students could be the murderer.

The atmosphere in this book is just fantastic, and I fell in love with both Jonty and Orlando. Much tenderness goes into Orlando's seduction, and there is much more to Jonty's character than his outward outgoing, jolly personality. The gay themed mystery is well integrated with the developing relationship between the main characters. I already picked up Lessons in Desire, Book #2. Recommended. (2009, Samhain - Digital Format)

Think of England by K.J. Charles

"Lie back and think of England…"

This is another turn of the century mystery/romance. Set in England, 1904, the majority of the story takes place at a house party in a country home. Captain Archie Curtis lost fingers and friends to a military accident that he believes was the result of sabotage. The only reason he is at this country home is to find proof that the wealthy owner is responsible. He meets the guests and immediately dislikes foreigner Daniel da Silva, an obviously queer poet with the kind of effete mannerisms and sophisticated wit Archie always despised. But as Archie begins to investigate, he finds that Daniel is conducting his own investigation and they join forces. As the danger grows so does the sexual tension, particularly after Archie and Daniel find themselves in a compromising situation with blackmail and murder becoming a real possibility.

This book was recommended to me by Li from Me and My Books, and she was right. I really enjoyed this story for its turn of the century English atmosphere. Particularly Archie's stiff-upper-lip British attitude juxtaposed with the entertaining, tongue in cheek moments provided by Daniel. Oh, the horror! These great characters make a wonderful romantic couple, -- "Can I call on you?" *snort* -- and the mystery and action are a plus. The sodomy laws are taken into consideration, and Charles works through that in the building relationship as well as the mystery plot. I would want to see how she works with an established romance and the complications presented by those laws in a sequel. I would definitely read it. Recommended. (2014, Samhain - Digital Format) 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

TBR Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn't know is she's about to lose her job or that knowing what's coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they're going to change the other for all time.
This is not a book I would have chosen to read at this point in my life, but my Internet Book Club chose it as the book of the month read, and once I began checking it out, couldn't stop reading. I've had it in my TBR pile since last year and I haven't read anything by Jojo Moyes, so, it's the perfect choice for this month's TBR Challenge theme -- new-to-me author.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is a great book about life, yes life, and the right to make your own choices. I loved the main characters, the measurable growth we see in Lou, but most of all the emotional ride. However, if you haven't read this book (I think I must be the last one to pick it up and pay attention to the subject matter, but just in case), please note that this is not a romance so don't pay attention to that summary. This is fiction that uses a love story as a device to make a point.

Lou is a young woman who loses her job as a waitress in a coffee shop and has no ambitions. At home, she is the main bread winner but she's treated like a stupid cow. But the worse part is that Lou believes she's a stupid cow. Her life changes when she's assigned a job as care giver to Will Traynor, a quadriplegic whose life is filled with pain, and whose whole focus has become the right to be treated as a person who can still make his own choices, including how or if he lives or dies.

Moyes does not handle the underlying moral questions with a subtle touch. She presents both sides of the right to die question, but I found her approach preachy. As a result what comes is foreshadowed in a big way.

I love Louisa's narrative voice and liked the brief shifts in point of view to that of other characters, but sorely missed Will's which we only get as the prologue. It is as if he ceases to have a perspective or point of view about his life after his accident. But then, maybe that's the point -- his point of view does become crystal clear.

Me Before You is a good story notable for its controversial subject matter. As a new-to-me author, Moyes hit a few good spots. She kept me reading, I liked her characters, measurable character growth and the emotions that she was able to wrench from me as a reader. On the negative side, I didn't like the foreshadowing or the feeling that I was being preached at, regardless of what I believe personally. Will I read more books by this author? Yes, now that I know she writes good fiction I will definitely give her other works a try.

Category: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher/Release Date: Pamela Dorman Books/Viking/December, 2012
Grade: B-

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz

This Is How You Lose Her
by Junot Díaz
Junot Díaz's third book, This Is How You Lose Her, follows his 2008 Pulitzer winning novel, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Yet, with this third book, he returns to a familiar format, world and characters his readers first encountered in his first collection of short stories, Drown.

This time, although again the Dominican immigrant's experience is very much an intrinsic part of his stories, the main theme is infidelity. Using a distinctly male point of view, language that is prosaic and, at times, beautiful, with these nine stories Díaz depicts a critical and distinctly honest portrait of Dominican males and a Latino machista culture bred on infidelity, as per his observations.

Díaz's now familiar character Yunior, brother Rafa, his boys and their women serve as his instruments. The stories, with narrative and dialog from the males' perspectives, are raw in content, and the language is so realistic that oftentimes they leave the reader with a feeling of discomfort. 

Frankly most women in these short stories, even the ones who are supposedly loved, are described in sexual terms or as sexual objects. However when placed into perspective, I believe that Mr. Díaz has written a disturbingly honest account of men with a learned sense of entitlement that leads to cheating on partners in a machista Latino culture where manliness in proven through sexual exploits. (Personally, I've always thought of this phenomenon as male insecurity and have argued this point countless times) Díaz shows how boys learn, by example and encouragement, to become the same type of men who cheated on their mothers, aunts and sisters by emulating their fathers, brothers, and friends, even as they initially reject and hate those same men for their actions.

Women are not necessarily spared. Yes, there are the women who are being cheated on. Most of the stories are named after them: Nilda, Alma, Flaca, The Pura Principle, Miss Lora, -- but there are also those women who knowingly become part of the infidelity cycle -- the sucias, as Yunior calls them. Actions in this collection have consequences as is evident by the title. And then there's one of my favorite stories of the collection, the only one written from a female's perspective: Otravida, Otravez.

In Otravida, Otravez an immigrant woman working as a laundress for a hospital has been conducting a long-term affair with a married man whose wife lives in the Dominican Republic. Díaz captures the hardworking woman's tough life, but also her lack of expectations when it comes to this long-term relationship. There's also a sense of displacement and "not belonging" about this woman, both in terms of the relationship and place (as the immigrant). A need to feel settled and safe and the inability to find that safety, as well as the expectation of being abandoned, let down, and ultimately unfulfilled. This restlessness, the lack of expectations, and the sense of displacement are all found throughout the stories. The book ends with a bang with what I consider the strongest piece of the collection, The Cheater's Guide to Love an honest, fascinating, and intimate look into a man's life after he loses the love of his life. There's almost a sense of the autobiographical that makes this particular story even more intriguing.

Mr. Díaz's grasp of multiple settings -- New Jersey, the Dominican Republic, Boston -- and Dominican/Latino culture is impressive in its authenticity, the details more than show that he has personal knowledge of both. It is important to note that I specify Dominican/Latino culture in this case, as there are some aspects of these stories that particularly apply to the Dominican culture. However this behavior and/or way of thinking should, if not in general terms at least partly, be applied to males in the Latino machista culture as a whole.

I am a bit conflicted about This Is How You Lose Her, but that is only because Mr. Díaz returns to Yunior and the Drown setting. I was hoping for radically different content from him in this new book. However, and here's where my conflict comes in, the theme is fresh, pertinent and controversial even if the format, characters, and setting are familiar. The problem is that because of the familiarity and/or similarities, This Is How You Lose Her invites comparison to Drown, and as a collection in my opinion Drown is a tighter, better flowing short story collection.

Having said that, Díaz's writing style is consistently powerful with a rhythm and vibrancy that keep the reader engaged, although frankly in this collection there are some stories that stand out more than others. He continues to pepper his works with Spanish, slang, and brutally raw street language combined with a beautiful turn of phrase that define him. The subject matters addressed in his books continue to challenge readers' comfort zones -- a fact evident in This Is How You Lose Her.

On a personal note, some of these stories have previously been published in The New Yorker and some might have read them before, however, as a collection with a theme, this is a book that I've already recommended to family and friends, both males and females. We've already begun discussing and debating its content from all points of view. Whether you love them or hate them, the very nature and frankness of Junot Díaz's short stories lend themselves to vigorous and passionate discussion, and to me that's always a sign of a book worth reading.

Category: Literary Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Riverhead/September 11, 2012 - Kindle Ed.
Grade: B

Other works reviewed:

Monday, March 5, 2012

Impressions: The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

I read The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan in February for my Internet Book Club. I mainly enjoyed it for two reasons: it has a unique format as it is a story told in dictionary format, and the story itself becomes so compelling as it moves along that I needed to find out how it ended.

There are other positives to the story as well, the prose is quite engaging at times, after all this book is all about "words" and their significance -- not necessarily the meaning of words, but the significance that particular words have for the narrator of the story. There were words that stood out for me, and you can see a few of them here. Of course, as I read along others were added to that list.

It was also of particular interest to me that although there are a couple of entries that are deceiving in their meaning, the gender of the parties in this story is never clarified, and as I read along it became clear to me that the author purposely cultivates gender inclusion by keeping the reader out of balance and uncertain in that respect. "You" and "I."

There is a disjointed sense to the story as Levithan uses a non-linear first person narration, and realistically the reader does not find the end to the story at the end of the physical book. The jumping back and forth between what the reader imagines is the present, the past, or what could possibly be the past, can be disorienting at times.

The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan is a quick, fast paced book. It has some beautiful prose in places with a story that keeps the reader going, and although there are some gorgeous romantic passages in the story be warned that there is also that touch of reality that places this book firmly into the fiction category. Interestingly enough although the format is quite unique, for me, the author walked a fine line. I could not make up my mind about that aspect of it, particularly because the result was that disjointed narration I mention above. However the positives do outweigh my concerns, and in the end I was left with an overall feeling of having enjoyed a good, solid read.

Internet Book Club
February Read
Category: Fiction (Romantic)
Series: None
Publisher/Released: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux/ January 4, 2011
Grade: B

Visit David Levithan here.

ETA: Our Internet Book Club  March Read will be Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. :)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Review: Drown by Junot Díaz

Originally published in 1996, Drown by Junot Díaz is a book composed of ten short stories, some of them previously published in literary magazines and other venues. Junot Díaz won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and is better known for his work on the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in the United States, Diaz follows in the footsteps of other Latin American writers with this collection of short stories. His voice is strong and he obviously knows the subject matter.

In Drown, Díaz focuses on the struggles, frustrations, anger and needs faced by poor immigrant Dominican boys, young men, and adult males, both in the Dominican Republic and in New Jersey. And yes it's important to note that he does focus on the male experience and point of view.

Some of the stories are connected and follow a family, a mother and two boys, from the Dominican Republic to New Jersey after their father sends for them: "Ysrael," "Fiesta 1980," "Aguantando," "Negocios." Other short stories are ambiguous in that the main characters are unnamed and could be attributed to other immigrant young men. "Aurora," "Drown," "Boyfriend," "Edison, New Jersey," "How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie." and "No Face," in my opinion the weakest story of the bunch, is related to the short story Ysrael but only because the main character Ysrael is the central focus, but he is not related to the family in the story with that title.

There are a couple of stories that really did it for me, but Drown is the one story that really grabbed me. The unnamed young man in this story avoids a childhood friend returning to the neighborhood, not only because of ambiguous sexual feelings, but also because he feels a failure. Díaz captures a sense of nostalgia and longing as the young man remembers his childhood days with his friend Beto, all mixed up with a sense of failure. The young man's sense of responsibility for a mother who is a ghost of herself, dreaming of being with a man who betrayed her, combined with his need to escape the neighborhood and feelings of entrapment are almost suffocating. Excellent.

For the most part the short stories flowed to create a cohesive whole, although Díaz tended to go back and forth between the Dominican Republic and the US. The one story that really disrupted the flow for me was No Face. I think in this short story about Ysrael, Díaz failed to really touch the reader with this character -- at least he failed to touch me. I see the problem as one of misplacement. This short story really didn't seem to "belong" where it was placed for some reason, and it interrupted the flow of the book for me. Radically so.

Although Drown is a collection of short stories that focuses on the Dominican immigrant's experience, I believe that these short stories also apply to the immigrant experience as a whole, and in that respect it is about immigrants and assimilation. He focuses those stories on how tough it is to emigrate and the difficulties faced while assimilating to a new culture for first and second generations, particularly when in many cases those immigrants wind up in ugly or pretty ghetto style neighborhoods.

These neighborhoods are places that after a while those same immigrants can't seem to leave even as they dream of doing so. The claustrophobia of those places, the hold, the pitfalls, how the whole family can be affected, how the American dream can tarnish by desperation, poverty and poor, uneducated decisions. Díaz touches on all those points. However, he doesn't include success stories in this collection, at least his main characters are not a success. In that sense there is a lack of balance, but then I think that his purpose in Drown is to show the struggle and not necessarily the success.

That lack of balance is also seen when it comes to the female's point of view, as females are portrayed from a distinct male perspective. They are portrayed as either women who somehow remain in a traditional female role even as they struggle against it, or women who are easily seduced. Females are often described as sexual objects or in sexual terms. I found it interesting that as the women aged in these stories they went from being highly sensual creatures who needed their husbands to protect them, to mothers who needed to be protected by their sons. In my opinion, a generalized machista and unrealistic portrayal of women as a whole.

Even with the few problems I had with this book, I believe that for the most part Díaz achieved his goal and he did so with that strong voice I mentioned above. I read Drown for my internet book club, and the discussion was quite interesting. Most of us disagreed rather forcefully with Díaz's portrayal of women in this book. Others disagreed with what was seen as his negative portrayal of the Dominican immigrant and the lack of balance in his portrayal between the struggles and the success. Yet others disagreed that the collection could really be interpreted as the struggles of immigrants as a whole and that it should be seen as focused solely on the Dominican experience. Agree or disagree, reading and discussing Drown with a group was a wonderful experience.

December 2011
Book Club Read
Category: Literary Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Riverhead/May 16, 2007 - Kindle Ed.
Grade: B


About the Author:
Junot Díaz is a contemporary Dominican-American writer. He moved to the USA with his parents at age six, settling in New Jersey. Central to Díaz's work is the duality of the immigrant experience. He is the first Dominican-born man to become a major author in the United States.

Díaz is creative writing professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in 2008. He was selected as one of the 39 most important Latin American writers under the age of 39 by the Bogotá Book Capital of World and the Hay Festival. In September 2007, Miramax acquired the rights for a film adaptation of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa

The people celebrate
and go all the way
for the Feast of the Goat
the Thirtieth of May.

—"Mataron El Chivo"
“They Killed the Goat”
A Dominican merengue

The Feast of the Goat or La Fiesta del Chivo is a fictionalized account of the Trujillo Era written by the Peruvian writer and winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa. This powerful and haunting historical fiction novel depicts the last day in the life of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina who held power over his people in the Dominican Republic between 1930 and May 30, 1961. The original book is written in Spanish, however in my opinion the translation of the book by Edith Grossman is excellent and I do not have complaints when it comes to either the language nor how the translation effected the writer's prose.

Vargas Llosa approaches the story from three different points of view:
  • The present and past memories of the fictional character Urania Cabral.
  • Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina's view of events as they unfold on the day that he was assassinated, May 30, 1961, and his memories of past events. 
  • The point of view of the Trujillo's assassins as events unfold on May 30, 1961, and their memories of the past events that motivated their actions. 
The three perspectives allow the writer to present the full scope of the history encompassing the Trujillo Era in a fast paced style that keeps the reader glued to the pages. The three points of view, which seem disparate at first, alternate and get closer to each other until they merge at the end in a cohesive manner.

Vargas Llosa uses the fictional characters of Urania, Agustin Cabral and their family to bring cohesion to the story, as Urania returns to the city of Santo Domingo after years of absence, and in turn to her memories of the past while confronting her senile and silent father with his past sins. Her memories, accusations and revelations take the reader to a time when the Dominican Republic and its people lived under the mesmerizing power of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina. Vargas Llosa uses Urania as the voice representing Dominican women of her time, as she narrates experiences that are full of wonder, innocence, horror, and ultimately terrible betrayal. The betrayal experienced by Urania is a double edged sword as it comes from her father and from a society that is patriarchal in nature, killing her faith in men.

Trujillo had quite a few nicknames: el Jefe (the Chief), el Generalissimo, the Benefactor, and of course the Goat. Vargas Llosa portrays Trujillo on his last day as an old man in his 70's who is slowly losing control of his body, his allies, the country and its people. It is an intimate and personal portrayal of a man who truly believes his own press: God and Trujillo, Trujillo and God. He believes that he is savior to the Dominican people and that they owe him everything, including their properties, women, children and even their very lives. As the base of his rule there is authoritarianism and paternalism, however this is combined with violence and corruption that ends in immense abuse of power over his people, family, collaborators and enemies alike.
More than anything else, what he could not forgive was that just as he had corrupted and brutalized this country, the Goat had also corrupted and brutalized Antonio de la Maza. - Antonio de la Maza - Chapter 6
The assassins point of view is the most compelling for me in this story. Vargas Llosa portrays the last moments, the history and motives that placed Antonio de la Maza, Antonio (Tony) Imbert Barrera, Lieutenant Amadito García Guerrero, and Salvador (El Turco) Estrella Sadhalá on the San Cristóbal Highway on May 30, 1961 and made assassins out of family men and former trujillistas. Theirs are stories of men who were subjugated first through love and then through fear, and whose spirits were almost broken after years of giving of themselves to a man and a country that took it all and gave nothing in return except terror and betrayal. Their stories are moving, horrifying, and violent, and the individual motivations and the after effects of their collective actions, as portrayed by Vargas Llosa, are fascinating.
"They kill our fathers, our brothers, our friends. And now they’re killing our women. And here we sit, resigned, waiting our turn,” he heard himself say. Antonio (Tony) Imbert Barrera - Chapter 9
Vargas Llosa is known for successfully "depicting the effects of authoritarianism, violence and the abuse of power on the individual." The Feast of the Goat is an excellent example of this theme. He explores it through all three points of view, even that of Trujillo himself, as it is through him that the reader experiences how and why that power is abused and used to control collaborators and enemies alike. Previously I mentioned authoritarianism and paternalism, however Vargas Llosa goes further by portraying the Trujillo Era as a machista-run society and makes a connection between sex and power, where sex is used by Trujillo as a controlling tool to obtain and maintain his power.

Furthermore, in my opinion, where Vargas Llosa truly succeeds with The Feast of the Goat in his portrayal of the Latin American dictator and in his usage of a conversational, fast paced style that makes this historical fiction novel accessible to the reader. His inclusion of violence and torture is key and contributes to the sense of reality the reader experiences when confronted with true horror and terror. Torture and violence are not just words that are mentioned within the narration. Vargas Llosa brilliantly weaves in history and fiction to make this an excellent read.

There's so much more that I could say about The Feast of the Goat. This is a partial re-read for me, I first read it in Spanish, however this is my first attempt at reading the English translation. I would like to thank Mariana for encouraging me to re-read it in English for our book club. A note: I enjoyed this book this time around much more than the first time. Why? Well, the first time I didn't know anything about the history of the Dominican Republic and researched both history and characters as I read the book, this time I just enjoyed it. What I can tell you all is that both times the story haunted me for days after I finished it.

The Feast of the Goat (La Fiesta del Chivo) by Mario Vargas Llosa. Highly recommended.

Category: Historical Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition / March 4, 2011 - Kindle Edition
First Read: B+
Grade: A

Note: I started a side blog Quotes and Thoughts that I will be using to post write ups on the books I'm reading, as I read them. Not reviews, just thoughts on specific moments in a story that catch my attention, or even to expand on a particular thread in a story while writing a review. I wrote two posts about The Feast of the Goat on that site:

Links to Quotes and Thoughts:
Sex and Power in The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
The end justifies the means... The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa