Monday, March 31, 2008

Second half of Feast

I thought this book was interesting, though messy at points, obviously, as it jumped around quite a bit in its chronology. I thought it made a bold statement about the state of a country during its dictatorship, as all of the other dictator novels have. The character Egghead emobies the idea that though people are not stupid or unaware of what's occuring in their country and their government, they are forced to turn a blind eye to what's happening and specifically, in this book, to Trujillo's insanities. The people can't really make a stand against their leader, for fear of torture and/or death, and knowing what horrifying acts are being committed won't help them in the end, it will just make them more fearful and possibly more vulnerable.
What I find with Vargas Llosa's writing is that he has many ideas and characters that are good in theory, but slightly underdeveloped. Urania feels slightly two-dimensional to me, and her story seems like a good set-up for the plot, rather than a realistic portrayal of one woman's difficult existence. The scenes with Trujillo felt more real, and he felt more real, as well.
There's a good dialogue between Trujillo and Dr. Balaguer on page 222 that really exemplifies the paranoia even within the truly sociopathic dictator personality, and the extreme devotion among a few certain parties to the lost followers: "'You don't drink, you don't smoke, you don't eat, you don't chase women, money, or power. Is that the way you really are? Or is it a strategy with a hidden agenda?' Dr. Balaguer's clean-shaven face flushed again. His soft voice did not falter when he declared: 'Ever since I met Your only vice has been serving you. That was when I learned that by serving Trujillo I was serving my country. That has enriched my life more than a woman, or money, or power could have done. I will never find the words to thank Your Excellency for allowing me to work at your side.'"

Monday, March 24, 2008

Feast of the Goat: part one

One of my first thoughts about this book upon beginning to read it was who the narrator was in relation to the protagonist. It's an innovative way to convey the narrator, as the narrator seems to be just an unkown third person, but the style of speech isn't simply she did this she did that, the narrator has its own personality and commentary, and isn't omnitient. Even on the first page this becomes clear: "Was it his idea or hers? Too late to find out, my girl; your mother was in heaven and your father condemned to a living death. You'll never know. Urania! As absurd as insulting old Santo Domingo de Guzman by calling it ciudad Trujillo. Could that have been her father's idea too?"
This quote really confused me, because of this bizarre narrator sort of commentary. It doesn't explain any sort of relation, and yet the narrator talks to her. I noticed this a little with Facundo and pretty much all of the books we have read thus far, this sort of distorted idea of the traditional narrator, the narrator having an opinion and the main voice switching and changing, especially in I the Supreme, obviously.
The difference between Mario Vargas LLosa and other Latin American authors is the extent of dramatism used in his language, in addition to the content of his stories. I've read a different book by this author, or most of the book, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, which had interesting characters and premise, but his ideas weren't fully developed and he sort of meandered through their lives when the book could have been very intense and passionate. It was sort of a Latin American novel version of "The Graduate," which could have been fantastic. Hopefully with this book he explores his ideas more and doesn't let certain details go unnoticed.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Second half of The General

After last class' discussion about words that come to mind when reading about the General, various other adjectives pop into my head when Marquez describes him. He's such a vulnerable character, with so many health issues, it's hard to understand how he has such a distorted self-view. His weakness, if not just physically, is so intense it's almost palpable, it's hard to feel what he feels, what with not being able to sleep, his ever-present constipation, and a plethora of other issues.
I've heard that other books by him, i.e. Love in the Time of Cholera and 100 Years of Solitude are easier to read, less daunting, which I could see. After I The Supreme, this feels much easier, but I think Marquez probably really shows off his skills in those books. I really love some of his descriptions, though, the way everything feels as though it's right in front of you. On page 144, he describes a setting beautifully: "After three days of rain, the light was a gold powder that filtered through the leaves of the trees and moved the birds to sing among the orange blossoms. The General listened for a moment, heard them in his soul, and almost sighed: 'At least they still sing.'" This not only exemplifies a beautiful description, but the General's vulnerability and loneliness, as well. There's such a tangible sense of sadness throughout the book, as his life, and what the book focuses on, is almost entirely revolving around his themes of disillusionment and how to overcome it. He is a proud, stubborn, cynical, high maintenance man with a somewhat heightened self-view, but ultimately, he's just trying to make through each day, and all of his life ambitions and accomplishments have been thwarted through one form or another.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The beginning of the General and his Labyrinth

Well this book feels like a picture book in comparison to I The Supreme. My first favorite (please excuse my American spelling) passage from this book was on page 5: "Then he plucked the hairs in his nose and ears, polished his perfect teeth with charcoal powder on a silver-handled silk brush, trimmed and buffed the nails on his fingers and toes, and at last took off the poncho and poured a large vial of cologne over his entire body, rubbing it in with both hands until the flask was empty. That dawn he officiated at the daily mass of his ablutions with more frenetic severity than usual, trying to purge his body and spirit of twenty years of fruitless wars and the disillusionments of power."
That was a long passage, I know, but it was all so packed with good detail and distinct images. If an author is able to do this by page 5, one must know that this will be at the very least a decent book. The reader begins to get an idea of the character by the absolute ridiculousness he goes to in primping and beautifying oneself. I laughed at the point when he poured cologne all over himself, just at the image and idea, I guess. Upon reading the last line, the image becomes less humorous and emphasizes and teaches even more about this man we know very little about. He's, in a sense, absolving his sins and memories through the scent of something nicer, something that would rid his memory. Already I can tell this will be a slighty more hopeful book than the ones we've read prior to this, and if Marquez can make me laugh and feel wistful and sad within the first five pages, that's a very good sign about the strength of his writing.
The sadness and empathy you feel for Simon at points is almost palapble. I think the message from some of it though is very ironic and makes some very interesting statements about human nature and life in general. Here this man is, he's liberated so many people, but it's not the Disney ending we would have hoped for. People still are angry and resentful, and a person who takes on the responsibility of freeing or helping a person, a nation, a people, whatever, has to know beforehand that they may not get the recognition or response they desired. Life has a way of going a different direction of one's expectations.

Monday, March 3, 2008

La segunda parte de I The Supreme

Oh god, this is pretty much the hardest book I've ever had to read. Who calls it the best Latin American dictator novel, why do they say that, and where are they? I'd like to understand its greatness a bit more... I think I actually liked The President more.
Moving on, what makes this a more painful read is its descriptions. A good example of the density of his descriptions is on page 233: "The Republic turns, slowly and majestically, toward the audience. She stands firmly on her scissored legs. The two blades spread slightly apart. Pubis shaved completely bare. Bathed in broken reflections, patches of light. Phosphorescent flashes- achiote, bija, orellana, tapaculo, uruku- turn it into a black sun. Likewise her mouth." This description continues on to the next page.
Why is it necessary to have all of these obtuse descriptions throughout the book? If you cut each weird metaphor he uses in half, this book would be half the length and somewhat more bearable to read. Okay, I'll stop complaining now.
I think what makes this book unintentionally humorous is how over the top it can be, even to the very last page, when Patino's describing the "ex" Supreme's slow, subtle descent into death, I almost began to laugh at how ridiculously bad it was. Maybe that's just my sense of humor, but it does begin to retract the ultimate powerful message of the book when every description must be drawn out into a slow, subtle torture in itself.
The second to last page (423) I thought was one of the best in the book, when it becomes clear that the author is really talking to The Supreme and drawing the crushing realization for him that ultimately revolution will carry out his fate in the end.
More specifically, one of my favorite lines from the book is also on page 423: "You misread the will of the People and as a consequence you misused your power, as your dotard's affections spun about gerontropically in the vacuum of your all-embracing will." This is when I really got a sense that it was the author speaking from his heart, demonstrating the pain he suffered while in exile.

la primera parte de I The Supreme

Wow, I The Supreme is quite the novel. It's a bit much for me at points, considering there's not much in the way of breaking up the pages, and the descriptions can get very tedious. I'm excited to see why it is considered the best Latin American dictator novel of all time.
What I find most interesting about the content of what The Supreme states is his agility and desire not to be forgotten, to be immortal and last forever, in some form or another. To me this shows his weakness, his vulnerability, and makes him a real person, instead of some tyrannical beast with no soul- all he desires, as is an innate human want, is to not be forgotten, to mean something so great that people will remember him and pay homage to his existence. His weakness is his mortality, therefore his weakness also reminds him that he is truly no greater than any other human, and the power he craves can only ever go so far.
I don't know exactly why there aren't any quotations to break up the dialogue between the Supreme and Patino. As we talked about in class, this seems intentional, not just a publishing error. The "I" is reflexive, and shows that no one "I" can be just one person, there is no one ultimate authority, like each power-hungry dictator seems to believe of themself.
It's interesting that there is no defined dialogue, it sets up both people, one with significantly less power than the other, on the same plane, and the one with true vulnerability, as they lie on their death bed, is the more powerful of the two. I think what Bastos intended was to show how futile it is for any person in power to crave to be the dominant source of authority, as eventually, we all are mortal and will end up in the same place, anyway. Ultimately there are no real divisions, it's just our actions while we're living that make us different.