This is a narconovela, a Spanish language work of fiction set in the narco world of drug trafficking. The young Mexican author, Juan Pablo Villalobos presents ‘ Party in the Rabbit Burrow’, a short, fast-moving look at life behind the palace facade of a Mexican drug kingpin, Yolcaut, through the eyes of his young son. Tochtli is shut up in this rabbit warren, living a deluded life of extreme wealth. He only knows fifteen people through his contact with the outside world. He has private tuition at home, where he learns a few relevant facts about the real world. Tochtli is fascinated by sombreros and is proud of his worldwide hat collection. He is fond of the French people due to their penchant for the guillotine. The Liberian dwarf hippos they have obtained from Africa for the palace’s private zoo demonstrate the levels of extreme wealth that Yolcaut has. The violence of his father’s lifestyle and the Mexican drug war reflects upon Tochtli in his craving for Japanese Samurais and obsession with death. He has witnessed some killings at his home and when he guns down some exotic lovebirds it is no surprise. Tochtli exhibits his anger and loneliness through electing muteness, his way of rebelling against the system that he knows. The book is narrated by Tochtli in a childlike flow with plenty of rhythm and decent use of Spanish language meter. There is a lot of repetition of ideas and key phrases and words that enhance the literary beauty of this narconovela. Chapter 1 focuses on an introduction to Tochtli’s world. Chapter 2 is about their trip to Monrovia., the capital of Liberia, in order to hunt down some dwarf hippopotamuses. Chapter 3 returns to the palace. They are betrayed by Tochtli’s tutor, inside details of the King’s life revealed to the media, irritating the kingpin and provoking his mortal anger. There is a clever use of character’s names – the Liberian guides being former US presidents (JFK) and social heroes (Martin Luther King). The hippos are Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. We see the nastiness of Mexican’s über violent social conflict, in a bizarre and extreme mirror, that is never far from violence but has the safety and protection of a secluded fairytale princess life of the ‘Rey’s child. A very good start to me for authentic narconovela subgenre fiction.
Leah Gordon is a former punk artist from London. She is also a photographer and this book reflects upon her experiences of Kanaval on the streets of Jacmel in Haïti between 1995 and 2010. Haïti was the first black republic in the Western hemisphere, a black slave nation that overthrew the yolk of its French European masters. A core component of the revolution’s power was the African-inspired Vodou belief system and intertwined with politics the Kanaval (Creolisation of Carnival) traces its routes to the clandestine slave gatherings in the upland forests of the island. Gordon takes powerful black and white images of the key Kanaval characters and interviews these characters, capturing a series of oral histories from the poor local inhabitants who invest their energy effortlessly, creating characters, making costumes, designing props, organising dance routines and applying makeup, to create this pre-Lentern annual orgy of street theatre and fiesta. We meet the Lanse Kòd (The Rope Throwers), Jwif Eran (Wandering Jew), Papa Sida (Father of AIDS), Oungan (Vodou Priest), St Michel and also the Satanic Zel Maturin (The Wings of Maturin). These characters act out a fight of good versus evil, they challenge the audiences to raise small amounts of money and to reflect upon the political realities of Haïtian life. There is a series of critical essays throughout the book from key researchers of Haïti, that reflect upon the essence of Leah Gordon’s work. The book is enlightening and the images, that can be very disturbing, project an exoticism and spirituality that gives the reader a true taste of the Kanaval performers’ messages and allows the reader a glimpse of the post-colonial ‘Other’ that is the Caribbean.
David Tomkins has led an interesting life, to say the least. Our swashbuckling protagonist begins his autobiography as a tough safe-cracker, self-trained in explosives. His early adventures lead him to prison life where he swaps tales and picks up skills, leading to further crimes. Moving away from his gangster life, Tomkins utilises his explosive skills to full effect by becoming a mercenary. His military adventures take him across Africa, from Angola to Togo and into Rhodesia. Constantly under suspicion at airports from Special Branch and security services, Tomkins becomes a darling of the Press, a true life mercenary who engages in politics at the highest level. Merging his mercenary work with business interests he becomes an arms dealer, strutting around the world, negotiating some stranger-than-fiction deals with some rather salubrious characters. Eventually his mercenary work comes back tot he fore when he is recruited to fight out in Colombia, first arranging an international special forces brigade to attack the FARC and then later, employed by the Calí drug cartel he is delivered a project to assassinate the head of the rival Medellín cartel, Pablo Escobar. Ultimately both the Colombian adventures do not achieve their mission goals and later end our hero up in US custody where he returns to the prison system, detailing the flaws of the US Justice system and ending the tale whiling out his time in jail before luckily being returned to his wife and family in the UK. The book is well written and is truly compelling. David Tomkins’ life is surely a worthy tale to be told and I can’t think of many more varied real life adventure stories out there.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is only a short book and I read it in a couple of hours. The brevity doesn’t, however, take away from it being a great tale. An old fisherman heads out to sea off his native Cuba and endures an epic battle with a Marlin, the first fish he has caught in over 80 days. He is alone at sea, his unsuccessful fishing meaning that his child partner can no longer go out to sea with him. The man faces a battle with his aging body and mind in addition to the fight he has with the graceful, strong fish. After three days of hard labor, he finally lands the Marlin. Unable to fit on the boat he has to strap the fish to the outside and, having drift far too out to sea for comfort, he faces a long struggle home, where his real battle against the elements of the sea begin. Sharks are the danger and, as the dead catch releases its scent and blood into the water, the scavengers of the ocean set out to undo the old man’s work. He repels the attacks using every weapon to hand but they are too plentiful and finally he reaches shore, with just a skeleton remaining of the giant Marlin. He is glad to be home and exhausted, he can face his community with a little more pride as from the skeleton they can tell that he is still a great fisherman. Hemingway weaves his magic, using simple language and colorful prose imagery. He obviously has a deep love for fishing and his knowledge of the sea comes direct from his own fishing experience. The novel captures the reality of ocean-fishing and with the loneliness of the sea offset by the old man’s fondness of baseball and his dreams of lions on the beach in Africa, we read a cleverly weaved tale and it is no surprise to me that Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature as a direct result of writing this masterpiece. View all my reviews
Postcolonial Translation: Theory and Practice by Susan Bassnett My rating: 3 of 5 stars I’ve read a few articles on the subject of postcolonial translation and have found the area to be interesting. I thought I’d delve a little deeper into the subject. This book is a collection of nine extended essays. My first criticism is that there is too much of an emphasis on postcolonial translation in India. Whereas, due to the nature of the Indian multilingual community and its relationship with the British Empire, I can see how it can be an important focus in postcolonial translation, I felt that this book devotes too much to this one region and doesn’t fully explore more exotic regions of the world. There is very little reference to Africa and not much on South America, certainly not the Spanish-speaking part of South America. Thus, the book takes into consideration English as a primary language and the effect of British imperialism. A more varied range of essays with reference to other colonial powers would, I feel, add some spice to the book’s material. The essay on border writing in Quebec, was, I feel, the best essay in the collection. I did also, however, surprisingly, take a lot out of the Hélène Cixous / Clarice Lispector essay. Although, at first glance, the study of a famous French feminist’s obsession with a Brasilian (feminist) writer, may seem a bit trivial, I found that this essay best introduced me to new ideas and ways of viewing postcolonial translation. It is in essence a power struggle of differentials between colonised people and coloniser. When you add in the mix of a feminist outlook into translation, then some truly profound revelations come into play and I felt that the author of this particular essay (Rosemary Arrojo), developed some very interesting and original ideas, which could be applied to the whole field of postcolonial translation. Overall, this book was perhaps a bit too advanced for my tastes and it was rather difficult to maintain elevated excitement throughout the course of reading it. View all my reviews
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