Sunday, May 21, 2023

Birnham Wood

Birnam WoodBirnam Wood by Eleanor Catton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Skilled writing in this elaborate story of an earnest guerilla gardening collective beguiled by donations from an American billionaire doing his own guerilla work in rare earth mining in New Zealand. The book is heavy with introspection and exposition and I grew weary of much of it wanting to get on with this "literary thriller". Not for me.

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Monday, May 1, 2023

Poet in Spain

Poet in SpainPoet in Spain by Federico García Lorca
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stunning to explore Spain's explicator of poetic duende in this new translation from Sarah Arvio reviewed by Dwight Garner in The New York Times:
"Lorca’s poems from Spain are a poetry of dreams and journeys and glimpses from balconies, of sunbaked meadows and realms of erotic yearning. He went to the well often for the same elemental imagery: the sea, the wind, the moon, flowers and trees. His mind worked feverishly enough to induce hallucinations."

Having a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish, I was troubled by some of Translator Sarah Arvio's decisions to drop punctuation. Garner offers samples:
Lorca has been tamped down. His poem “Cazador” (“Hunter”), for example, begins with these words: “¡Alto pinar!” Arvio translates this, with a vast diminution in energy, as “High grove of pines.”

Lorca wrote in an exclamatory style that gave his work a flamenco brashness missing from some of these translations. García Lorca uses exclamatory sequences to mimic the effect of a chorus singing and beating their palms to the music of a flamenco performance.
Look at the first stanza of “Árboles” (“Trees”) from 1919:

¿Habéis sido flechas
Caídas del azul?
¿Qué terribles guerreros os lanzaron?
¿Han sido las estrellas?

Per Garner, "Arvio renders this in telegraphic yet somewhat lobotomized fashion:"

Were you once arrows
falling from the sky
What terrible warriors shot you
Were they the stars

Lorca's fascination with 14th-century Persian poetry in The Tamarit Divan to his idealization of Andalusia’s Romani history in Gypsy Ballads may be questioned nowadays, but overall these English translations stand up and render the book invaluable to any English-speaker smitten by Lorca’s work. and

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The Dog of the North

The Dog of the NorthThe Dog of the North by Elizabeth Mckenzie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Dog of the North had some fine reviews and a Women's Prize nomination, but I found the writing and dialog clunky, although the story buzzed right along and the humor and certainly the Santa Barbara setting reminded me of early Sue Grafton. At the mercy of every character in the book, the protagonist bounces back and forth in her efforts to help everyone and avoid her soon-to-be ex-husband, her cantankerous, creepy father and her erratic mentally challenged grandmother while trying to find her missing parents who disappeared years ago in Australia. Age is well represented in this story with Arlo, the 93-year-old grandpa game to scour the outback with her and avoid his first wife and his shrewish second wife. There is also a cardiac event and a sinkhole and a mysterious corpse and a piñata to keep you turning pages, pages which for me were a bit ho hum.

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The English Understand Wool

The English Understand Wool (Storybook ND Series)The English Understand Wool by Helen DeWitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The English Understand Wool's take on the writing/publishing game is easily one of my top books for this year for writing, topic, size (67pp), plot and wit "like a dry cork," as a blurb pointed out. Dewitt is at her best.

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My Phantoms

My PhantomsMy Phantoms by Gwendoline Riley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not my favorite book this year due to the poisonous relationship between mother and daughter which made me want to look away, it was painful to be there for their infrequent meetings, but the writing is stellar. It is a slim, spare novel which moves right along.

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