Tag Archives: Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende, El juego de Ripper

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This book is Isabel Allende’s attempt to write a murder mystery, to follow in the footsteps of her lawyer-turned-writer husband, William C. Gordon. I had read some pretty negative reviews of this book, so I did not have high hopes for it. Well, maybe because I was not expecting much, I quite enjoyed this book. As a mystery, it does not maintain tension throughout the way you would expect. As an Isabel Allende book, it does have what I usually enjoy in her novels: quirky characters, many of them part of an extended family, amazing coincidences, some magic and a light, bubbly atmosphere. I suppose that “murder mystery” and “light, bubbly atmosphere” don’t quite go together, and that may account for some people’s disappointment with the book.

One of the main characters is Indiana Jackson, an alternative health care provider who occupies an office in a holistic health clinic. In her immediate entourage, we find her teenaged daughter Amanda, her father whom they live with, her jealous lover Alan, her loyal friends Mike and Pedro, a cafe waiter called Danny who likes to sing disguised as a woman, an psychiatrist/astrologer who lives in a one-of-a-kind house. Amanda’s father is a police investigator who provides the link to the murders that are discussed, who are also being investigated by Amanda and her online friends that she connects with through a role-playing game called Ripper.

A series of seemingly disconnected murders occur in the San Francisco area and Amanda suggests that her father investigate them as the work of a serial killer. As we get closer to the end of the book, there are more and more hints as to who the killer might be… Some of the outcomes could have been predictable but I did let myself get surprised at some of the twists and turns in the end, and there was a sad moment that I did not see coming. The end is quite bittersweet.

Reference

Allende, Isabel. El juego de Ripper. Vintage Español, Nueva York, 2014.

Thursday Night Ramblings: The Three-Language Triple-Header

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I have three major novels in progress, one in French, one in English and one in Spanish. I rarely have something going in all the languages I read in at the same time, for the most part because I don’t read in Spanish as much as I used to.

The French book is Au revoir là-haut from Pierre Lemaitre. This book was the Prix Goncourt in 2013. The story starts in the trenches of the 1st World War, and at the 50% mark, we are following some of the main characters attempts to survive or to profit from postwar recovery activities. I have no clue where the book is going, no sense of how the plot will continue unfolding. I am quite taken with it in spite of a number of quite unlikeable characters.

The English book is Thomas Pynchon’s latest novel, Bleeding Edge. So far, the story centers on Maxine, a financial fraud investigator living and working in New York. The story is set in 2001, just before the events of September 11th. So far, there has been hints that this will feature in the book. Maxine’s ex, the father of her children, just rented office space at the World Trade Center. I had a hard time getting into this book. I even told my husband I did not really like it. And then, one evening this week, I just could not stop chuckling over the amazing dialogue. So my husband said: “Stop laughing! You don’t even like this book!” Well, maybe I just started liking it… The language can be a little off-putting though. There is all the financial fraud investigation vocabulary, which gets complicated by the dotcom and hacking lingo, and pretty thick slang mixed in, with some Yiddish thrown in. You can guess that a lot of words in that book are not in my Kobo’s English dictionary, so I have to guess the meaning based on context.

The Spanish book is Isabel Allende’s latest novel, El juego de Ripper, an attempt at writing a mystery novel that, so far, sounds like a typical Allende novel full of quirky characters. While the first two books I mentioned are in electronic format, the Allende is a paper novel (and a hard cover!).

Well, back to reading for now. I should have at least one of these books finished by the end of the weekend, maybe even two.

Isabel Allende, El cuaderno de Maya

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I always enjoy an Isabel Allende novel, as I find her to be good story teller and to create rich characters. Although I could not say that El cuaderno de Maya is on par with La casa de los espíritus or Retrato en sepia, my favorite Allende novels, it was still a quite engaging read that kept me nailed to my chair for a week.

This novel tells the story of young Maya Vidal, who takes refuge with a friend of the family in Southern Chile, following a series of events that make her fear for her life. While Maya gets use to her new life in a small Chilean community, we slowly find out, as she commits her own story to paper, how she came to be in so much trouble that she literally needed to disappear.

She took refuge with an old friend of her grandmother in Chiloé. The old friend in an anthropologist who is researching the local beliefs in magic in order to write a book. Officially, Maya is helping him with his work. She also comes to help out at the local school and coaching a kids’ soccer team. She suspect that the “old friend” is something more than that to her grandmother and she does eventually uncover the true nature of their relationship and the link between this enduring relationship and the death of her grandfather following the military coup in 1973.

Maya’s anchors in life are her grandmother, whom she calls Nini, and her grandmother’s second husband, a tall Black profession of astronomy at UC Berkeley, who bring her up after her mother leaves.  That grandfather, whom she calls her Popo, is her greatest influence, the most significant relationship in her young life. Her father is a plane pilot and he is frequently away. He does not develop a close relationship with his daughter until the great unfolding of events that lead to her flight to Chile.

All of Maya’s troubles start when her grandfather (her Popo) dies from pancreatic cancer. Her grief is so great that she is pulled into a downward spiral of rebelliousness, alcohol and drugs. This leads her to one treatment facility from which she eventually escapes. She gets a drive from her truck driver she ends up wishing she had never met. She lands in Las Vegas, Sin City, where she falls even lower than she ever thought possible. After months of descent into hell, she finds help and is rescued by her grandmother.

During her stay in Chiloé, Maya learns a lot about herself, and learns to enjoy life again. However, she is not shielded from the evil she has met on the way and her past nearly catches up with her. In the end, she does survive this last incident and is free to embrace her new found acceptance of her trials and limitations. The story ends on a congenial Christmas dinner in Chiloé.

My favorite Isabel Allende novels are historical novels that mix in magical and mystical elements. While magic and history are not absent from this story, it is set mostly in present time, with computers, gmail, cell phones, and iPods, on a background of Chilean modern history.

 

Reference

Allende, Isabel. El cuaderno de Maya. Vintage Español, 2012 [2011].

Friday Night Ramblings: Little reading done this week, but lots of stuff in progress

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Thanks to a nasty stomach virus, I was in bed for about 36 hours and got very little reading done this week. Back to restructuring my reading time and get things back into gear… My imagination is lacking stimulation just about now.

I did have a good time reading a short story by Tash Aw, a young novelist from Malaysia currently living in London. The short story, “Tiger”, was sent to me for free by Kobo after I bought and downloaded a bunch of books, as a gift to a good customer. It tells the story of an older widow, long overprotected by a doting husband, who travels from Malaysia to India. She has some goals in mind for the trip, but an early bout of food poisoning forces the cancellation of excursions, one of which focused on seeing tigers in the wild. In order to get out of Bombay, she elects to visit a hill resort two hours away from the city. During her stay, she discovers the surroundings by talking long walks. One night, the return home is much longer than planned and she is out in the dark, and her ability to handle her apprehension at living alone since her husband died and her resolve to explore the world on her own are tested by an unexpected encounter.

The major novel I am currently reading is Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem. I must admit I knew nothing about this author other than he was in the jury of the last Giller Prize. I bought his latest novel on a whim, during a Kobo buying spree. From what I have recently read about the author, he tends to tell stories that delve into the lives of Americans. In the case of Dissident Gardens, we are transported into the mid-20th century, in the young lives of an American Communist couple, the subsequent life adventures of their only daughter and while there is only a brief encounter with her adult son at the beginning of the book, I suspect I will see more of it when I move into the second half of the book. So far, I have found the book a little slow, but then it does takes its time recreating mood and atmosphere of the various social contexts it depicts and the telling of events is very vivid. Just a bit more patience on my part might just pay off. Some of the characters remind me of a fellow student when I was attending graduate school in North Carolina. He had grown up in Baltimore with communist parents who certainly were nothing like typical American parents. He had a particularly flamboyant way of flouting conventions, from parking regulations to academic paper requirements.

I am also making my way through a book that was acclaimed as the “best” book of the year by Lire, one the French literary magazines that I like to browse through every month, and is also a winner of a prestigious French literary prize (Médicis Essai 2013). Svetlana Alexievitch, a Bielorussian/Ukrainian journalist, interviewed many people across Russia to write her monumental La fin de l’homme rouge ou le temps du désenchantement, telling the story of those who seem to lament the end of Soviet times and are disappointed with what the supposed freedom of capitalism has done to their lives. She uses oral histories to document how ordinary Russians feel about their life currently and how they perceive the historical changes that have affect them. Based on my own badly informed opinion, this book seems to be a significant entry in the literature on Post-Soviet times. I have not found a trace of an English translation of this book. According to the listing of her works in the English entry in Wikipedia, there does not seem to be one published yet.

So back to reading rather than thinking about reading… I have a stack of magazines (Lire, Magazine littéraire, and Books) by my comfy chair in the living room… and the Kobo and a pile of books. I just got a delivery from Amazon with the last two novels by Isabel Allende (El cuaderno de Maya and El juego de Ripper) and a book by my friend Gary Wilkinson in California, History of a Safer World, chronicling the history of Triconex and Wonderware, part of the wonderful world of industrial automation.