Archive for August, 2017

The House of the Spirits

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

Unknown-1By Isabel Allende

The Short Take:

Magical realism meets with political oppression in this over 30-year-old novel — Allende’s first. I’ve long been a fan of hers, and this epic story following three generations of exceptional women — and one very powerful man — did not disappoint.

Why?

I did not know Allende was the niece of the Chilean Marxist President Salvador Allende and that the political side of this novel was solidly founded on historical fact. Blame my scant knowledge of South American events for that, which researching for this review helped to remedy in some small fashion.

These political underpinnings start well in the novel’s background but eventually move to center stage as the book progresses. Above and beyond that, one amazing woman after another shapes and reshapes the lives of those around them, through powers both domestic and supernatural. It’s their stories that keep you engaged and keep you reading.

While most of the book is written in third person, the violent man who impacts all their lives, Esteban Trueba, speaks to you directly, though his actions sometimes give the lie to his words.

A hound as big as a horse, levitation, fantastical creche figures, fortune telling, and other peculiarities stride alongside growing political turmoil as the downtrodden begin to insist on their rights. Somehow Allende makes that combination seem realistic — it’s all fantastic.

A Little Plot:

Esteban labors at his a gold mine, desperate to earn the money to marry his adored Rosa. Her accidental death drives him to bury his sorrows with work on the decayed family farm. It also drives Rosa’s younger sister, Clara, to refuse to speak for nine years. Yet the future of these two will entwine.

For more about Allende, click here.

The Changeling

Friday, August 4th, 2017

UnknownBy Victor Lavalle

The Short Take:

This disturbing tale brings together the worst nightmares of a modern, over-protective father and monstrous horrors from the Brothers Grimm. While that sounds hard to swallow, Lavelle makes it go down rather smoothly.

Why?

Lavalle’s hero, Apollo, and his wife, Emma, are very real New Yorker African-Americans. It’s important to remember this, because after their baby arrives, their lives go completely bonkers.

There is probably no other book remotely like this one. It’s rich, surprising, complex, shocking, and very well written. It is not particularly easy to like but it’s also almost impossible to put down. The story sucks you in, delivers the ride of a lifetime, then makes you question the whole experience.

While the importance — and limitation — of fatherhood is the primary focus, the way racism shapes and restricts the characters’ actions also snaps you to attention. There’s a lot going on here — from legal issues and media exploitation to the loyalty of friends and folk tales come to life.

Lavelle went bold with this one. Very, very bold.

A Little Plot:

Apollo dreams of his absent father and vows that when his own child is born he will protect his son at all costs. However, the anxieties and exhaustion of parenthood are taking their toll, driving the two apart. Problems — and secrets — increase the stress even more. Then, something unbelievably horrific happens.

For more about Victor Lavalle and his work, click here.

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