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.

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