Some writers can claim, with justifiable pride, to have the best reviews, oftentimes before the books even hit your local bookseller. However, since I no longer work for your local bookseller (and even then, I would only have been local if “local” for you meant one of the uglier corners of Union County), and since I no longer have free books thrown at me like Tom Jones gets panties (ie. I pay for this stuff), I may be a bit behind the times. But I digress… Two favorites from recent reading:
Voices of Time: A Life in Stories by Eduardo Galeano, translated by Mark Fried. Metropolitan Books, 2006.
Reading Eduardo Galeano is like the literary equivalent of Pablo Neruda via Wire’s “Pink Flag:” Short, sharp vignettes, each with a lovely economy, abound over many of the Uruguayan author’s best works, from the Memory of Fire trilogy through his 1998 bestseller Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking Glass World. There’s a certain anger here, but it’s anger as well-directed as it is deeply felt; and it’s suffused with a warmth for those who’ve gotten the short end of the stick, without stooping to condescension.
But there’s also a certain danger in reviewing Galeano, especially if you enjoy his works. There’s the temptation to just quote your favorite bits, and let them stand in for the whole, sort of like a film trailer. Having said that, I’ll open with one line that could easily stand in for the collection: “Reporters don’t cover dreams.”
It’s true enough of the nightly news, but not of the author’s work; dreams have been Galeano’s beat for years, in tandem with–and sometimes jostling against–the waking world that he chronicles. And for every famous name encountered in the stories, from Caetano Veloso to Diego Maradona or Sebastiao Salgado, it’s the quotidian details of the lives of everyone else–blue algae, ants, pensioners, bartenders, and strangers met along the way–that give the book its real heft.
And whereas the Memory of Fire trilogy encompassed the history of the Americas, Voices in Time starts with the beginnings of life itself, progresses through (but, fittingly, does not end with) death, and takes the scenic route to a number of points in between.
There’s probably much more that could be said about this book, but nothing that would add to the work itself. Suffice to say that the collection is like life itself: sprawling, messy, sometimes sad, often funny, and ultimately, entirely too short.
Pursuit, by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza.
This is the fifth, and perhaps final (but perhaps not), installment of bestselling Brazilian author Garcia-Roza’s Espinosa series. I’ll forego the customary pull-quote hyperbole (“An enchanting, riveting read that will hold you completely in its thrall from start to finish!”) since there’s plenty of that to be found on the dust-jacket.
But don’t begrudge the author his accolades; he’s earned them. At a time when detective fiction/mystery seems to consist of either A: Softcore porn and a handful of dead bodies, or B: recipies for baked goods, a cat, a few chaste kisses, and a handful of dead bodies–and yes, I’m aware that there are exceptions, but please, go to the Mystery section of your local bookstore and see if the selection doesn’t bear me out–this is a rare bird: creative, thoughtful, literary, and sometimes given to flights of fancy.
And that, I suppose, could apply equally to the series’ protagonist, Espinosa. This isn’t a hardboiled detective in the tradtion of Chandler, Cain, or Hammett; he’s something else altogether. Rather than try to do the writer, and his character, justice, I’ll let Espinosa give a thumbnail description of himself:
“I’m not a warrior, I’m a cop; I’m not a hero, I’m a public employee; and I’m no philosopher, despite my name.” If you can picture a less-neurotic Woody Allen channeling Sam Spade, you’d still be out in left field, but at least in the ballpark.
In a recent interview, Garcia-Roza stated that he was through with the Espinosa series–for now–and that a new series, with one of the current series’ characters as its protagonist, would begin to appear soon. My money would be on Welber, the most fully-developed character in the series apart from its protagonist; that said, I wouldn’t be surprised if that–like so much else in this series–is another red herring.