"I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books."

Borges

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Enchantment



Enchantment is the story of a modern day Jewish Ukranian boy who stumbles upon a sleeping young woman covered by a lake of leaves while on an extended visit to a cousin’s farm. The boy ends up leaving to America with his parents, his father a professor of some note and his mother, a mysterious and loving woman.

The boy grows to manhood in America, a scholar like his father with a love of running. He loves running and while his parents find it strange, he finds it suits him and joins track and field. He is haunted though by his dreams of the young woman sleeping in the forest and embarks on a trip back to the Ukraine to work on his thesis of folk tales.

He returns to his cousin’s farm and one day goes to where he believes he dreamed the young beauty sleeping in the forest. To his surprise he finds her and battles a bear to get to her. It is Sleeping Beauty and he wakes her with a kiss and a promise of marriage even though he is engaged and has left his fiancée behind in America.

What follows is a remarkable tale in which Ivan and his princess travel back in time to old Russia and battle Baba Yaga herself. It is a charming and stunning re-telling of an old fairy tale. I was completely entranced by this spell binding tale and quite surprised even though I am a long time fan of Orson Scott Card. I encourage everyone to read this incredible tale which mixes magic, time travel, folk tales and modernity. If you’re a fan of Orson Scott Card you’ll love it and if you’ve never read him, this is the book to start with.

Dreaming the Eagle



This was another book I got at Comic Con from my foray to the Del Rey/Random House booth that I couldn’t put down.

Dreaming the Eagle
tells the tale of Breaca who will grow to be Boudica, the Warrior Queen who fought against the Romans. Little is known of the real Boudica, but Manda Scott makes it seem she knew her intimately. The book is the first in a trilogy about this little known historical character and with so little known about her, an ambitious attempt. I was amazed at how detailed the book was. It is positively littered with data.

The story begins with Breaca’s mother, a leader of her tribe being killed by the Coritani while giving birth and Breaca, only twelve kills the man who intends to kill her, thus earning her first kill feather. The book goes on to tell the tales of many interesting and riveting characters, of life in Breaca’s tribe and of the Romans. I was absolutely swept away into another world.

Much of the novel tells of the importance of the dreamers of Mona, a special island where the dreamers reside and of the trials each young woman or man must go through to find their place within the tribe. It tells of oaths, romance, community, war and the spirituality of the people of the time.

I am much looking forward to the second novel in the series and have high hopes for it.

The Dark Highlander



I picked up this nifty little book at the Del Rey booth at Comic Con and headed back to my booth happy to have something, anything to read in those sometimes slow moments at the booth. The girl at Del Rey said I’d love it, that it was really good and I have to say I had my doubts. I don’t usually read romance novels. Just not my style. However, I was blown away by this one and I’ll be picking up all this author’s titles quite soon.

The Dark Highlander is an enchanting tale of a cursed 16th century Druidic Highlander, who crossed a time portal to save his brother and in so doing, absorbed into himself 13 souls of evil and ancient Druids. He is fighting a losing battle trying to keep these evil souls from totally possessing him and bringing doom to the world. Oh yeah and the way he keeps them at bay is to lose himself in sexual pursuits.

“I am Dageus MacKeltar, a man with one good conscience and thirteen bad ones, driven to sate my darkest desires…”

This Scot is handsome, wealthy and a sex machine! Still, he tormented by the demons and determined to find a way to rid himself of them. He also has the ability to time travel into our century which he does in his search for rare manuscripts which may contain a hint of how to oust the evil souls. The Tuatha de Danan or fairy folk are also involved in this story. It was their Queen who originally trapped the evil Druids which now live inside of Dageus.

Enter Chloe Zanders, student of antiquities and lover of all things Scottish. She finds herself trapped in Daegus’s penthouse and begins to help him on his quest. A dangerous faction of modern day evil Druids are lurking and Chloe and Dageus are dodging danger everywhere.

This is a fine and involved tale and a lovely romance as well. If you’re looking for a heck of a good and entertaining time, then pick this up. I had the best time reading it.

Frida’s Fiestas: Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo



This book is one of the most beat up and beloved books in my collection. As a huge fan of Frida Kahlo as well as a cook who’s earliest and fondest memories were of being in the kitchen with my grandmother Lupe Camarillo, this is a treasure. I actually have two copies, one I keep in my kitchen and refer to it often and one that I keep safely stowed away and protected.

Frida’s Fiestas is written by Guadalupe Rivera, daughter of Diego Rivera and Lupe Marin. The book is filled with wonderful, full color photographs of La Casa Azul, Frida’s kitchen, Frida and Diego and food, glorious, astounding Mexican food.

Many of these recipes I grew up eating and hearing stories about why they were made on certain days like the red, white and green rice for September 16th. When I found this book, it was like being in the kitchen with my grandmother all over again and I delighted in taking the time required to build the slow and savory flavors. The book has traditional Oaxacan Black Mole, treats like chiles rellenos en nogada and the oyster soup I made for my son’s wedding dinner.

Through all the photos and recipes are Guadalupe Rivera’s memories of her times with Frida and Diego and of the meals and fiestas that were celebrated. She replicates the tables that Frida took so much care in preparing, sugar skulls for Dia de los muertos, little cut paper flags for Mexican Independence day.

To look at the photos of guayabas poached in syrup or the little clay cups filled with shrimp broth reminds me of the smells in my grandmother’s kitchen and gets me wanting to cook. You can almost smell the chiles and rich spices, almost taste the frijoles borrachos. This is more than a cookbook, it is redolent with scents, flavors and that most entrancing aroma – memories of a life well lived.

Mama: Latina Daughters Celebrate Their Mothers



This beautifully illustrated collection of memories, stories and homage to the mothers of some of our most successful Latina women is simply beautiful. It is filled with love and devotion, hope and loyalty, honor and dignity.

There are stories here from the likes of Celia Cruz, Esmeralda Santiago, Lisa Lisa, Maria Hinojosa, Judge Marilyn Milian, Jaci Velasquez, Rosario Dawson, Christina Saralegue, Christina Vidal, Lauren Velez, Denise Quinonez, Jackie Guerra and more. It is a loving tribute by these famous daughters to their mothers. The book is filled with portraits of mothers and daughters all stunningly done in rich black and white.

Maria Perez Brown interviewed Latinas from many different walks of life, some famous, others not so famous. She spoke with Latinas of many different nationalities and in their own words, each woman tells of the bond she has or has had with her mother. In each, the mother was a strong and resounding force, someone to be respected, loved and honored.

This book is truly an amazing collection and would be an amazing gift for any mother. The stories within will touch your heart and make you laugh, smile and cry.

The Sisters Grimm



This book, the first in a new series by Michael Buckley is a humorous tale of fairy tale detectives. It is the story of two orphaned sisters, Sabrina and Daphne who after a series of bad foster parents end up being taken to live with the grandmother they never knew they had Relda Grimm.

Grandma Relda lives in a strange town and an even stranger house. Little by little, the sisters find that their grandmother is a fairy tale detective, dedicated to tracking down the perpetrators of strange and unusual crimes. Sabrina and Daphne learn that they are descended from the Brothers Grimm whose fairy tales were actually histories to help themselves and future generations learn about fairy tale creatures for their altruistic purposes.

Many adventures happen in this strange town and Sabrina and Daphne are pulled right into the midst of it all. As they begin to trust Relda and meet some very strange creatures along the way, they find theirselves drawn into the solving of a big mystery and in danger. They learn of the race of Everafters, fairy tale creatures now living in this little town in New York state and bound never to leave by an old ancestor of the Grimms.

It is a refreshing new fairy tale, filled with fun, humor and growing pains. I look forward to reading the next in the series.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Mi Hija, Mi Hijo, El Aguila, La Paloma: Un Canto Azteca




Ana Castillo, the reknowned Xicana poet, novelist and essayist has written one of the loveliest little children’s book I’ve ever seen. It is a blessing and a prayer based on an old Aztec flor y canto beautifully illustrated by Susan Guevara.

The book is small and looks something like the facsimiles of the old Aztec codices. It is written Spanish. It begins with Mi Hija, La Paloma, or My Daughter, the Dove; a canto designed to teach little girls of their preciousness, beauty and how to live their lives. It has a charming lilt to it. The first stanza begins:

“Mi hija, preciosa,
como un collar de oro
preciosa
como una pluma de quetzal,
tu eres mi sangre,
mi imagen - ”

“My daughter,
precious like a golden necklace
precious
like the feather of a quetzal,
you are my blood
my image - ”

It continues to extol the virtues of the daughter as well as giving some life lessons, reminding the daughter not to be lazy, to study, to work. It tells that a girl must learn to live her life on the right path.

The second section is written for a boy, Mi Hijo, El Aguila, El Tigre or My Son, The Eagle, The Tiger begins:

“Mi hijo,
aguila y tigre,
ala y cola
Hijo mio,
Tan querido, tan amado –
¡escuche!”

“My son,
eagle and tiger,
wing and tail,
My son,
So dear, so loved –
listen!”

It goes on to speak of ancestors, of pride, or what our ancestors have left for us in lessons, in our culture, our heritage. It tells of doing good works, becoming a good man, of living life with care and dignity. It asks that the son listen with his heart and go on to become a good man.

The book is illustrated with Aztec symbols from the old codices as well as delicate and powerful paintings on amatl paper or tree bark in the indigenous tradition. The paintings, while done in the style of the ancient people are of contemporary children and their parents and surprisingly, fit in perfectly with the Aztec symbols and images.

It is an astounding message, a lovely and loving book and a testament to Ms. Castillo’s love of our culture. She and Ms. Guevara have created a lasting and honorific tribute to our ancestors as well as a beautiful and contemporary moral poem for children and parents to enjoy for years to come.

Our Word is Our Weapon



In January of 1994, when the Zapatistas took over six towns in the Mexican state of Chiapas, the world was shocked. Then the writings from the speaker of these people, a ski-masked mystery man that reminds me of Zorro began to send his writings to La Jornada and the world.

In the eleven years of the Zapatista rebellion, I have spent much of my time searching La Jornada on the internet for the latest Marcos communiqué or news. I remember in the beginning, when I’d print out the pages at work, run to my danza practice and hand over the pages to our history cabeza for copying and disseminating to our group.

We were thrilled when Shadows of Tender Fury was published and urged everyone we knew to buy a copy. I read it to gang members, to danzantes, to my children, to co-workers that I felt needed to know what was going on. Through all my reading both to myself and aloud of Marco’s writings, I became and remain captivated by his prose and poetry, by his simple eloquence.

Our Word is Our Weapon is another book in the vein of Shadows of Tender Fury in that it encapsulates the writings of Marcos. The difference is that it is years later (eight years when the book was published) and still the rebellion continues. There was a Red Alert issued by Marcos as recently as July 1, 2005.

The book begins with a quote of Cervantes in Don Quixote about madness and knight errants and a poem by Pablo Neruda called The Word which is startling not only because it is an amazing poem, but because it seems to fit this book so very well, almost as if it had been written specifically for it. Marcos, I have always thought, loves poetry as much as I do. He writes his own and constantly quotes from poets like Anthony Machado, Miguel Cervantes or Neruda. Many of his communiqués begin or end with a poem. At least I think so, even though they may not be meant as poetry. Take the detailed communiqué from February 20, 2005 that cites both Shakespeare and Machado and ends in what I think is a poem of his own. He ends with, “The Sup, from the top of a hill, seeing to the west how the sun brings down a fading beam…”

The book contains poetry by Marcos and communiqués, including his letter on the 30th anniversary of Tlateloco and the letter to Leonard Peltier. It is another insight into the Zapatista war against oblivion, another great resource to have for anyone trying to learn about or expand their learning about Chiapas, the Zapatistas or Marcos.

In the beautiful and moving Prologue by Jose Saramago, he states, “This was a victory of the spirit” when speaking of the horrible massacre at Acteal.

The Zapatista Reader



The Zapatista Reader
is one of the most amazing collection of essays, interviews, stories and insights by some of the greatest writers of our time: Jose Saramago, Paco Taibo II, Octavio Paz, Naomi Klein, Elena Ponitowska, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Monsavais, Manuel Vazquez Montalban, John Berger, Andrew Kopkind, Eduardo Galenao, Alma Guillermoprieto, Pascal Beltran Del Rio, Saul Kandau, Jorge Mancillas, John Ross, Regis Debray, Jose de la Colina, Mike Gonzalez and many more.

There is a brief historical timeline and an introduction by Tom Hayden who also serves as editor of the collection. This is an invaluable resource for anyone wanting to learn of the Zapatista movement. Some of the finest reporting and commentary ever are in this collection. It contains eyewitness accounts of the day the Zapatistas took the world by storm, January 1, 1994, the writings of Subcommandante Marcos and essays by some very fine and thoughtful writers.

Paco Taibo II, back in March of 1994 whose article originally published in The Nation, appears in this book and his thoughts of what is happening around him are wonderful. He is awed by this development and angered for the people of Chiapas. He states in this article, “Chiapas lies at the asshole of world, where Jesus Christ lost his serape and John Wayne lost his horse.” He says of living in Mexico City at the time of the uprising, “I haven’t left the house in three days except to buy the newspaper. I talk on the phone, listen to the radio, watch television with the fascination of a blind man seeing an image for the first time."

Eduardo Galeano in his Chiapas Chronicle which originally appeared in La Jornada on August 7, 1996, says “Marcos, the spokesperson, came from elsewhere. He spoke to them; they did not understand. Then he entered the mist, he learned to listen and was able to speak. Now he speaks from them: His is the voice of voices.”

There are less poetic parts of this books, statistics and important pieces of information. It is remarkable to have all these articles and essays compiled into a single book. Now, as the Zapatista battle is in the middle of their 11th year, as Marcos has issued a Red Alert, this book is more important than ever in the war against oblivion. It should be in every Xicano library, it should be read and re-read, quoted and used. It is the thread to keep pulling, it will lead to more and more books on the movement, research and give impetus to find out more.

The Importance of a Piece of Paper



I’ve long been a fan of Jimmy Santiago Baca’s poems and when I found this little book sitting on a dusty shelf of a used bookstore in Hollywood, I grabbed it. I read it coming home on the train on the same day and finished it as soon as I got in the door, forgetting dinner, work or anything else I had to do that night. It’s that good.

The Importance of a Piece of Paper is a collection of short stories, each one a shining facet of this diamond of a book. In Matilda’s Garden, an old man struggles with day-to-day life as he mourns for his dead wife. The story is almost ethereal, a fairy tale of flowers and grief. It is also touching and uncannily real. I’ve seen this kind of grief before. We all have an abuelo, an abuelita, a tia or tio, a mom or a dad who has lost their life partner, their companero who has been with them for so man years that when they lose them, they are lost. This story captures all that grief, longing, memories and love. It’s beautiful and my favorite of the collection.

There are other stories as well, each one with it’s own message, feel and emotion. The Importance of a Piece of Paper, the title story tells of a brother who has sold his piece of inherited ranch land out from under his siblings. The story tells of the feelings of betrayal, rage, hurt and of the struggle of keep the land that has been in their family. Again, Santiago Baca touches his fingers to the pulse of who we are, how we think and feel. This story could be about any of us Mexicanos, we’ve all known something a little like this.

In Enemies, another of my favorites the story is about three prisoners of different races who have spent years in solitary confinement and hating each other. Suddenly, unexpectedly, they are released and are left with only their hatred of each other. The journey they make, both on their way home and within themselves is revealing and gives much room for thought.

Jimmy Santiago Baca’s masterful use of words in this lovely collection of stories and leaves the reader wanting more.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Widow of the South



The Widow of the South was based on events that took place in Robert Hick’s home town. It is the story of Carrie MacGavock, a woman who’s home was commandeered as a field hospital in the time of the Civil War. Mr. Hicks writes eloquently of Carrie, her husband and the wounded soldier, Zacariah Cashwell, she comes to love. Carrie is an amazing and quite human woman. She has lost several children and is very depressed, almost to the point of madness at the time of the commandeering of her home in Tennessee. A bloody battle takes place in Franklin where almost 9,000 men perish.

The battle scene is bloody and most violent, the period is well researched and Civil War buffs will love this book for it’s astounding attention to detail.

Of interest to me, and what kept me riveted to the book, is how this amazing woman fought to keep the dead bodies of soldiers she didn’t even know from being plowed over by rich and bitter neighbor who has lost his only son in the battle. Carrie has the soldiers dug up and re-buried in her own land and creates a cemetery for the soldiers. The real Carrie and her husband actually did this, creating the only private Confederate cemetery.

I was amazed and moved by this book. The author was able to delve into the psychological impacts of war, death, depression and rage, taking us deeply into the psyches of each character. His characters were very real and very human to me. It amazed me that a woman, caught up in her own sorrow was able to care for the soldiers dying in her home, comfort them and then give up her own land to bury them and dignify them. The chaste love story that emerges in the background of this battle, these deaths, the fight for the right to bury them is transcendent and beautiful and illuminates the book with such perfect grace.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The Witch's Boy



Oh, what a refreshing and unbelievable fairy tale this is! The book begins with a witch who finds a child in a basket outside her home with a child so ugly his mother has abandoned it with only a note that says “a devil’s child for the devil’s wife.” The note hurts the witch; she is misunderstood but fancies she will keep the child. She does so against the advice of her familiar and gets a bear to be the boy’s nanny and an enslaved and conniving djinn to be the boy’s tutor.

Lump, as the boy is called grows up not realizing he is ugly. The witch has little time for him and his bear nanny raises him as she would a cub. Eventually, Lump is exposed to cruelty and the realization of his ugliness.

Lump eventually finds his way into the world, always wearing a mask to hide his face and the ugliness he is so sensitive about. He overcomes bitterness and hurt, makes friends and enemies and finds himself. He fights battles both in the world and within his own heart to find self-worth, love and happiness.

Mr. Gruber weaves a fine tale, tying in old and familiar fairy tales into this one with a twist. His insight into parents and their children, the misunderstandings and the hurt they unknowingly bestow on each other is amazingly accurate. He exposes prejudice and fear, love and forgiveness with a skilled hand. His fantasy world is just wondrous and his tale that much more so. I hope to read more in this genre from Mr. Gruber, as this was one of the most brilliantly written stories I’ve ever had the pleasure to read.