Sunday, January 31, 2010

Is it bad if I want to read it again in English?

As you can infer from the title of this entry, I don't feel as though I got the most out of El reino de este mundo as I'd hoped. On top of that, I feel guilty: I should have looked up more words, concentrated harder, etc... You see, a good friend of mine recommended the English version of this book to me as a must-read a few years ago. But now that I've read the Spanish version, I don't understand how he could have raved about this novel so much! Thus, the guilt, the confusion, and the yearning to read it English.

Not that I haven't pieced things together with a bit of internet research. My one problem with the entire second half was not knowing heads nor tails of what was going on and which events led to which. For example, all of a sudden (seeming to me to come from nowhere), Henri Cristophe is king. I even searched back in the pages and failed to find the exact moment of something that denoted his rise from cook to royalty (and I am sure that it's there, but that's just my point: Carpentier manuevers the plot so subtly that if you're not careful, you miss that someone important died [which happened several times to me while reading] or another person rose to power). After more internet searching, my feelings were confirmed: more than one person comments on the non-linear order of such events and their stealthy insertion into the novel [insert 'sigh of relief' here].

Paulina Bonaparte interested me. She didn't seem to have any first-hand experience with the blacks from Haiti ("[ella] había leído los amores de Pablo y Virginia y conocía una linda contradanza criolla, de ritmo extraño...", p.80); but still she had a peculiar fascination with them. This runs parallel to the theme of the dominated knowing more about themselves and the world than those who dominate them.throughout the story. Wanting to know more about Paulina, I checked out her Wikipedia page, which led me to a much-needed realization. The Wikipedia page says that her husband (Leclerc) died of Yellow Fever which he contracted while in Haiti. Of course! Why is that a realization? Well, would you believe that this whole time I had actually thought that Mackandal's 'magic mushrooms' were the cause of the collossal death count from the first half of the book?! This hammered home the concept of magical realism: Carpentier had crafted the magic into the plot so sneakily that anyone naïve enough (such as myself) would believe every word he said. Now I realize the point of taking something such as yellow fever and creating a living, life-stealing, voodoo-borne organism out of it. The idea is tremendous because you can imagine that that would be how the Europeans saw this deadly plague for which they had no prevention of or cure for. Carpentier places it into our imaginations and lets it root and grow. I may feel guilty about not understanding the whole novel, but I do not feel ashamed about Carpentier being able to dupe me like that. In fact, it makes me want to delve into the English version of this book even more!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"testículos como piedras"

First off: I am thoroughly enjoying El reino de este mundo. Secondly: Who knew that I could look up spanish words so quickly? That's how I measure my like/dislike for a spanish novel: Do I zealously look up the words because I can't wait to continue with the stories? If yes, then it's a keeper. Not to say that this book is all fact, I find it a bit unsettling. As such, I'm going to focus on two themes that weave through the book: Magical Realism (of course) and Racism.

The magical realism in this book is further from the myths that Asturias told us last week, and more similar to the magic of everyday occurences that García Marquéz reveals so easily. Even so, El reino de este mundo relates a brutality that is even unlike Marquéz...and maybe that's because the unbelievable actually did happen! Carpentier himself says in the prologue that "el relato que va a leerse ha sido establecido sobre una documentación extremadamente rigurosa" and "se narra una sucesión de hechos extraordinarios....dejándose que lo maravilloso fluya libremente de una realidad estrictamente seguida en todos sus detalles" (p. 11) [insert a shiver running up my spine here after reading the first half of the book]. And so Carpentier mentions myths and legends (p. 20), a witch who has no problem sticking her hands into a pot of boiling acid (p. 29), and the personification of a poison running rampant throughout the region: in soup, medicine, bread, wine, fruit, salt; "como una incontenible enradadera que buscara las sombras para hacer de los cuerpos sombras" (p. 36). Mmmm, that was beautiful! My personal favorite though, is when Mackandal returns from his metamorphosis "con testículos como piedras" (p. 42)...maybe he should get that checked. One commonality for me between Leyendas de Guatemala and what we've read of El reino de este mundo has been that in neither of these books do I feel a connection with any of the characters. Sure, that could be because they are Latin American or African or Spanish in colonial times, OR could it be that the style of magical realism distances the reader from any 'real' emotion that may come from the characters, and the attention is instead focused on the 'magic' of unfathomable events.

Now some short notes on racism. Obviously, the prejudices exists in the book and thus in that time. "¿Qué sabían los blancos de cosas de negros?" (p. 48) and "la desigualdad de las razas humanas" (p. 50). Did it seem to anyone else as though, despite the fruitless attempt by the Africans to free themselves, that it was actually los ricos who were freed: "El viudo redescubría las ventajas del celibato; la esposa respetable se daba al adulterio con entusiasmo de inventor;..." (p. 72)? I hope the second half delves deeper into these gross divisions in societies and maybe even adds a little emotion to the characters (....along with some voodoo).

While on the topic of voodoo, the Lope de Vega text between the prologue and chapter one sounded uncannily like the "true story" that Pastor Pat Robertson spoke of on January 13th, 2001, concerning the 'logic' of why Haiti was hit by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. Since that sermon, he has been openly criticized for his claims (criticism which is not unfounded, in my eyes). See here for the official story:

Next, a writer for the newspaper El Colombiano also makes the connection between the Haitian disaster and Lope de Vega's play:

Judging by these two examples, you can't help but wonder if 'magical realism' (and the belief of it) not only lives in our imaginations, but underlies our society as well.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The mind game continues.

I gotta be honest with ya: the second half of Leyendas de Guatemala makes about as much sense to me as the Bible (again, no offense is meant by my lack of enthusiasm for religious literature. I'm just tellin' it like it is). By this comparison I mean that both involve characters that remind me of pompouos aristocrats making statements about 'who they are' and what lineage they come from, while going about their own little isolated worlds starting wars and making claims to property. I now consider these 'leyendas de Guatemala' to be the Mayan equivalent to paganistic/bibical stories. Yet not ALL of it was boring. For example, when Guacamayo got drunk off the chicha, I was quite entertained. Of course, in all truth, the guy had a toothache and I'm pretty sure that in ancient mayan times chicha would have been the anesthetic most commonly used [by the way, I've tried the chicha in Colombia and if the Guatemalan type is anything the same, then it would be sure to cure any physical malady that plagued Guacamayo!] But just the fact that Guacamayo would get drunk in these 'sacred' legends illustrates a part of the culture and spirituality of the Mayans, and not to mention more information about the character; whom I have come to affectionately think of as 'El Diablo'. To continue with this pseudo-theatre scenario, I would cast Cuculcán ("Soy como el sol!" p. 79) as Jesus, Chinchibirín as John the Baptist as he constantly tries to protect Cuculcán from the engeñador Guacamayo, and the tortugas as the disciples, simply because a religious leader needs disciples, and why not turtles with beards? Yaí is a bit of a conundrum. At first I cast her as Mary Magdalene due to her being promised to Cuculcán (p. 126), but then Guacamayo tries to trick her into strangling Cuculcán, and claims that she would die if she doesn't do it; which causes her to seemingly go insane due to 'un ataque nervioso' (p. 126) and incessantly laughs throughout the next cortina (p. 133)....poor poor Cuculcán. Could this be an allusion to Eve who is tricked to take the apple from the snake and consequently damns humanity into a societal slump of clothes and sin for the rest of eternity? It seems that the women in any religious culture are always doing something of the sort.

Again, these leyendas concentrate on the distinction of colours; the most marked of which in the second half of the book being las cortinas de amarilla, roja y negra. I've been trying to find a common thread to these colours. An obvious one would be that they signify the passing of a day, and thus Cuculcán and his sun, with amarillo in the morning, rojo in the afternoon, and negro at night. On top of this, the 'tones' appear to change from cortina a cortina: yellow feels pretty and full of love, red involves arrows flying at the curtain and battles between Guacamayo and Chinchibirín, and black always seems to have....tortugas. However, the third cortinas of each colour added extra confusion with Chinchibirín and Guacamayo yelling at one another, and then, at night, Chinchibirín receives no answers to his calls, doesn't carry his arrows, and does not jump. Then he falls and stops moving. Fin. .....what a mind game!!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Fieldtrip, anyone?

**The link to Leyendas de Guatemala wouldn't open after I'd written the blog to look up correct page numbers, so my apologies if they are off by a page or two. I'll fix it up once I can get into the link :) **

Even before "los árboles hechizan la cuidad entera" (p. 12) in Leyenda de Guatemala, the reader has no doubt that these tales will incorporate the sense of magical realism which best describes nature when seen from the heart of a poetic author. Such descriptions as when the serpent "reptó bajo sus pies como la sangre negra de un animal muerto" (p. 40); or a forest of human trees, where "veían las piedras, hablaban las hojas [y] reían las aguas" (p. 24). This is the kind of 'real magic' that I love. How about the arresting image of the 6 men which comprise the wind and the water? And of course the men in the water "se alimentaban de estrellas como los peces" (p. 28)....I mean, why wouldn't they?

My point is that these intriguing portrayals lend much more to the history of Guatemala than just fantasy; they give it mystery and appeal. Would a Guatemalan relate more to these tales than I did? Absolutely (I can say with little to no doubt)! However, there are common threads which run throughout these stories that connect a human race, and not just a country. Such as "el agua [que] está en todo" (p. 30), or the men of the wind and water who know that "todo es buena fruta" (p. 30) in the forest. Cheesy? Maybe. Verifiable truths? To a glass-half-full perspective: Yes. And as an ultimate test, the average reader, Guatemalan or not, needs to expand their well of experience upon reading about the central character 'El Cuco de los Sueños'; the intrepid personality which "va hilando los cuentos" (p. 12). And this is where I would like to stay: in the massive wings of this 'Cuco de Sueños' as it weaves together lullabies of stories which reak of la naturaleza and realismo mágico.

To my disappointment, however, the legends ventured to the wrong side of the tracks when they began to include aspects of societal greed and religion. Okay, so I have to admit that my mood takes a downward spiral whenever Latin American authors pursue the messy subject of religion (to those who may be agitated by this comment, my disclaimer is that religion doesn't sit well with me, but I think it's fine if it sits well with you); but I must admit that religion has been a key-player in the development of Latin America, and, as these legends revolve somewhat chronologically around the maturing of Guatemala as a nation, it seems only right that Asturias should include a varied mix of catholicism and a kind of 'mayan paganism' within the legends.

But even in these 'magical cities', the Catholic church muscles its way into a position of authority as a line is drawn between "el sacerdote y la multitud" (p. 14). It seems that even as the conquistadors arrive, "el espíritu religioso entristece el paisaje" (p. 16); and the similarities are not unfounded when "se han podrido más de tres obispos y las ratas arrastran malos pensamientos" (p. 16). But then, Asturias speaks of the 'trinidad' being santa, flor (azucena) y niño. (p. 32) Metaphors of the traditional Father, Son, and holy ghost? Perhaps these Mayan legends have taken a biblical turn. Then there is Nido, who "en un día que duró muchos siglos" (p. 32) created a town with a temple. Okay, so it wasn't the world and it wasn't in seven days, but I'm sensing some more similarities here between the dominant Catholic church and the drowning Mayan legends. Although, with these ideas of magical realism, it feels more comfortable to relate these stories to Santa Clause, than to God. Or would God be in a state of magical realism as well? This creates a perfectly sound environment for the Church to be introduced into such pagan fables, just as it seems to have 'introduced' itself into many cultures of the world. Besides, every story needs a corrupt villain.

All in all, my feeling so far is that instead of reading these legends on my laptop in my room while listening to the rain dripping outside; I would rather be told these tales from una vieja, gray and weathered, as we sit under the stars and next to the '3 men of the water' as they meander their way through the lush expanse of Guatemala. .....Does the Spanish department pay for field trips?

On another note, does anyone have any insight on the colours which are repeatedly mentioned in the legends (verde, rojo, blanco y negro)? Asturias mentions several references that these colors have (ie: organs, hair, spring storms, torpical ecstasy, promises of new lands, cruelty, etc...), but does anyone know of a central idea/image from which these color stem? Thanks!

Pura vida.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hello, my name is Katie, and I'm a facebook-aholic.

My name is Katie and I'm a 4th year Linguistics major/Spanish minor undergrad at UBC. Random facts about myself (in no order of preference):

-Like it says in the title, I am a facebook-aholic.
-My other addictions are languages, travelling, music, reading books...NOT textbooks but REAL books, red wine, dancing, beer, and various foods which I get addicted to in phases.
-I plan to be in some state of travelling for my entire life, employed or not.
-I have difficulty making friends with any kind of technology.
-I'm not artistic, but I love to appreciate art.
-My favorite things are clouds.
-My life motto is Live, Laugh, Love (I'd like to say I made that one up,
-I'm a psuedo-vegetarian; meaning that it's not a moral decision, but sometimes I just can't stand the taste of the flesh/muscle/"whatever you wanna call it" getting masticated in my mouth. Ew. And yet, other times I crave a huge chunk of juicy steak to chew on....I'm a walking contradiction.
-Humour is a prized quality.
-I enjoy meditation, yoga, and exercise DVDs (another addiction)
-Loose tea kicks bagged tea's ass.
-As you can see, I love to type (and had an extra half-hour on my hands), which merits a warning that my blogs will probably be on the longer side (just in case you start reading them and then start asking what you got yourself into). Unless I'm hungover, in which case they will be just within the limit of what is absolutely needed (just to be brutally honest, haha!)

Looking forward to this class!
¡Pura Vida!