Soñar en cubano by Cristina García

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I read this book over slow weekends over one summer, carrying it with me to beautiful places like this:

 

lazing at the Signal Mountain beach, reading Soñar en Cubano by Cristina García

lazing at the Signal Mountain beach, reading Soñar en Cubano by Cristina García

and finally finishing it the day before I summited the Grand:

at the top of the Grand

chillin at the top of the Grand Teton

Over the spring, my brother took a literature course that focused on the writings of Chicanas who were mostly from the Caribbean.  I borrowed his required reading list and have been slowly making my way through some of the books.

The Book:

Soñar en cubano is a classic generational saga full of magical realism, divided loyalties, betrayal, and delicious-sounding Cuban food.  It is full of epic drama, and while I loved the prose, the stories were just too… drama-y. The main characters were mainly driven by motivations that didn’t ring true to me, or at least didn’t resonate with any of my life experiences.  (Um, maybe if I were Cuban?  Or drama-y?)

Due to my lack of verve surrounding this book, I’m feeling too lazy to actually write my own blurb of it.

Go, go, plot-summary gadget!  (Er, that is, go, go, googling skills!) Thanks to Lecturalia for providing such a beautiful summary:

Soñar en cubano es una de las novedades literarias más sorprendentes de los últimos años. A través de cartas , diarios y recuerdos, Cristina García cuenta la historia de cuatro mujeres pertenecientes a una familia dividida política y geográficamente por la revolución Cubana. La narración nos lleva con fluidez del presente al pasado y de Nueva York a La Habana, revelándonos un mundo fascinante, atravesado por la pasión amorosa y las diferencias generacionales, el compromiso político y la fuerza de voluntad, la inestabilidad y la determinación. Mientras Celia, ferviente defensora de Fidel Castro, permanece en Cuba junto a una hija que se une a los cultos afro-cubanos, su otra hija combate el comunismo desde el mostrador de una pastelería de Brooklyn y vive obsesionada con su propia hija, una rebelde artista punk. Pero, a pesar de estos enfrentamientos, madres e hijas se ven unidas por lazos de cariño y ternura que superan toda distancia. Sus tormentosas relaciones culminan en un emocionante encuentro qué les permite descubrir en que lenguaje están soñando.

I’m just feeling a little meh.

6 out of 10.

sonar en cubano

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Annals of the Former World by John McPhee

This book:

John McPhee is a genius—nominally of literature, but seemingly of every other field he comes in contact with.  He writes about Alaskan wilderness, about oranges, about lifting bodies (yes, those are apparently a thing), about basketball, and about dozens of other topics. None of his works are cursory surveys of the field; he dives into every new subject with an expert’s enthusiasm and a man of literature’s grace.  Annals of the Former World is no different, and provides a beautiful 700 pages of stunning geology.

If you’ve never found geology fascinating, this is the book for you: this is more the story of how science comes into being; it’s about how new knowledge is created / discovered / co-constructed (choose a verb, depending on your own epistemological stance).  The entire volume is made up of five book-length essays that each focus on the geology and the geologists of different parts of the US’s I-80 corridor.  The geology itself provides only the skeleton of this story; the flesh is made up of the scientists who brought geology as a field to where it was as each sub-book was published (1981, 1983, 1986, 1993, and 1998).

A German professor of mine is an ardent fan of McPhee’s and knew that I hailed from the northwest corner of Wyoming, so he sent me in search of Rising from the Plains, the third essay of the set which focuses on Dr. David Love and Wyoming.  I devoured this rock-bottom account of Wyoming (see what I did there?) a few years ago, falling in love with McPhee’s careful construction of his house of words and his easy style in fleshing out the rooms (so many metaphors!).

Since I work in the summers at a peaceful visitor center that boasts a rather full library, including Annals of the Former World, I have spent my quiet hours at the desk poring through the rest of this book.  Do not ask me to quote the intricacies of geology that McPhee has laid bare, because although this is a literary work, it certainly does not present a watered-down version of its subject, and a lot of it was much more complex and detailed than I have room in my brain for.  Here is geology in all its human layers, and here is a master who knows how to weave it into a story.

9 out of 10.

Annals of the former world

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obrecht

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One day last summer, I was scheduled for a patrol day where I got to spend all day hiking; since I’d just hiked 30 miles in the past 3 days, I wasn’t too keen on going up a mountain, so I decided to take an easier stroll.  Since it was only 10 miles from the visitor center where I work to my house, I decided to spend the day hiking home.  After working for a few hours at the visitor center, I set out, chatting with visitors and gave out bear safety messages as I went.  It was a good 6 hours into my workday by the time I got to a place called Sky Ranch where a few of my coworkers live, which has a magnificent porch with an even more magnificent view.

Sky Ranch - a pie-in-the-sky place to live

Sky Ranch – a pie-in-the-sky place to live

I decided to take a good, long lunch break, and sat and read this book.  Three gripping hours later, I went back on the clock and hiked the 2 hours home.  Lucky me, now I live at Sky Ranch, and can have my pie-in-the-sky view every day for lunch:

Sky Ranch Porch View

Sky Ranch Porch View

The Book:

Who doesn’t love magical realism?  Who doesn’t love stories that wrestle with legacies of war and grounded human emotions?  Who doesn’t love oodles and oodles of descriptive adjectives and a tapestried focus on many different characters?  OK, I can actually think of a lot of readers who get very tired very quickly of too much description and too many minor characters.  I, on the other hand, am the type of reader who was ABSOLUTELY ENTHRALLED by books like, say, Redwall.  (Nectar-filled acorn cups, anyone?)  The Tiger’s Wife had an enchanting level of detail on a number of subjects that didn’t seem to ever further the plot, but I still ate it up.

Oh, yes; there is a plot.  I almost forgot.  Our narrator is Natalia, a modern woman in the Balkans, who leads us through many interweaving, overlapping stories surrounding her beloved grandfather.  Natalia’s grandfather is a storyteller himself, and we hear his story of “the tiger’s wife” in fable form, told through Natalia’s understanding, until some of the fable starts to seem like reality.  Meanwhile, Natalia travels as a doctor across newly-minted international borders to inoculate orphans—orphans created by “her people’s” soldiers.  Stories of the modern-day Balkans are layered on top of the old fable/histories, until Obrecht’s tale “reveals the continuity beneath the clangor” (as the NY Times put it) in Yugoslavia’s long history.

This book is cram-packed full of detail and history and wars and relationships and stories, and I would not recommend it if you enjoy sparse prose and clean lines.  Much of this book is blurry, messy, and sometimes even ponderous, but if you thumb through the first chapter and get hooked, I promise you’ll love the ride the whole way through.  8 out of 10.

The Tiger's Wife

Listening Point by Sigurd Olson

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Many of my favorite quotes from The Earth Speaks were taken from Sigurd Olson’s works.  Since I had never heard of Sigurd Olson before, as soon as I finished The Earth Speaks, I naturally went straight to the Teton County Library (newly re-opened and looking more hodge-podge than ever) and checked out this gem of a book: Listening Point.   I took it up to one of the most beautiful places in Grand Teton National Park—so great, in fact, that I need to share this picture with you:

Holly Lake

Holly Lake: a 12-mi. 3000-ft. hike. I sat by the edge of the lake and devoured both it and the book.

 

The Book:

Listening Point is a beautiful, quietly stunning book that is akin to A Sand County Almanac and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Olson writes of the north woods of Minnesota, but also of the relationship of man and nature everywhere:

I must leave it as beautiful as I found it.  Nothing must ever happen there that might detract in the slightest from what it now had.  I would enjoy it and discover all that was to be found there  and learn as time went on that here perhaps was all I might ever hope to know.

As I sat there on the rock I realized that, in spite of the closeness of civilization and the changes that hemmed it in, this remnant of the old wilderness would speak to me of silence and solitude, of belonging and wonder and beauty.  Though the point was only a small part of the vastness reaching far to the arctic, from it I could survey the whole.  While it would be mine for only a short time, this glaciated shore with its twisted trees and caribou moss would grow into my life and into the lives of all who shared it with me.

I named this place Listening Point because only when one comes to listen, only when one is aware and still, can things be seen and heard.  Everyone has a listening-point somewhere.  It does not have to be in the north or close to the wilderness, but some place of quiet where the universe can be contemplated with awe.

9 out of 10.

Listening Point cover

 

The Passionate Fact: Storytelling in Natural History and Cultural Interpretation by Susan Strauss

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At work (the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve in Grand Teton National Park), we have a wonderful library full of books to help inspire us to become better interpreters.  Several such books deal with storytelling, and since I’m trying to add a bigger element of storytelling in my ranger programs, I’ve started perusing these books.

The book:

The Passionate Fact has a rather unfortunate title (it hinges around the idea of basing a story off one fact that you care passionately about) but is a wonderful little book full of inspiration and insight.  7 out of 10.

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Penman

Note to all: I’ve gone past a milestone!  About eight months ago (August of 2012), I started this book blog.  My first posts were lists of my top-10 favorite books of all time and the bottom of the bucket: the worst books I’d ever written down notes about after reading.  Since then, I’ve been working through my backlog of book reviews, posting reviews in the order I read the books.  I’ve finally come to the books I read in August of 2012, and so I’ve reached one of the books I mentioned in that worst-books-of-all-time posts.  I’m going to indulge my loathing of this book a little more, and re-post this review now that it comes appropriately in chronological order.

The book:

I have been on a historical-fiction kick lately.  After reading about Scotland in the 11th Century (see King Hereafter), Wales in the 12th Century seemed like a perfect sequel.  Plus, Sharon Penman is known for a series recreating the Napoleonic Wars … PLUS DRAGONS!  How awesome is that?  Who wouldn’t want to go fighting the French ON A FUCKING DRAGON?  However, Here Be Dragons is not said series, and has only symbolic dragons, and I was sorely disappointed.  Reading Sharon Penman after reading Dorothy Dunnett is like reading Christopher Paolini after J.R.R. Tolkein; it’s like trading an ocean for a sandbox.

The plot is ploddingly simple, but Penman tries to shake it up a bit by jumping from year to year, from narrator to narrator.  All of the narrators sound the same, however: naïve and petty, no matter if it’s the King of England or a 6-year-old girl.  Because each chapter takes place in a different year, we just have to assume each person gets older as the numbers turn, without seeing any evidence of character development in the writing.

And the writing!  Ye gods, the writing.  Hear me, O Aspiring Historical Fiction Author: Just because this is Ye Olden Times does not mean you should throw in “mahap”s and “wroth”s whenever you feel like it.  (They were speaking Middle English, Middle Welsh, and Old Norman, anyways, so your fancy words really are just stupidly extraneous.) Sentences such as the following will earn you a shunning: “I know not with whom my mother’ll be more wroth, me or my Uncle Gruffydd…” (p. 28).  Seriously, seriously, that sentence deserves a sharp kick in the nuts.  Here’s another passage that got my goat; in the following, one of the main characters is thinking of Eleanor of Aquitaine: “She knew she should only feel disapproval toward a wayward wife, a rebel Queen, but she was aware, instead, of a sharp, piercing regret, an ache for that wild spirit caged at last within Salisbury Tower” (p. 143).  Wild spirit, indeed.  And again, just because this is Ye Olden Times, you do not need to give narrators olden-ish Thoughts just to make sure we readers understand these characters Think Differently Because They Are Not Of This Millennium, and then suddenly undermine said Thoughts to make the narrator Relatable And Believable for us modern-day, easily gullible readers. 1 out of 10.

Here Be Dragons