Looking back on the course now, it really feels to me like we covered a lot. We read a lot of different literary forms: short story, poem (I would have loved to have read more poetry, but I think that’s just because I enjoyed reading Neruda so much), novella, epic novel, etc… and we read authors from Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, Ecuador and the stories we read took place in those different countries. The theme of family seems like a perfect theme for a course like this one, because family is, for many, of such central importance, not just in literature but in life, and the idea of “family” is represented in a different way in each work, just as family means something different to each person. We have the dysfunctional family using objects as surrogate family members in an attempt to fill a need and a void in their lives in Las Hortensias. We have seen the multi-generational saga of Cien años de soledad depicts the cyclical nature of humans, especially the flaws and frailties passed from one generation to the next within a family. We have also seen the old (but in this case, a very sinister) conflict of feuding in-laws battling over custody rights in Piedra callada. We saw very different types of representations of families, but all united by the theme of family. I enjoyed the course very much, and I was really glad that we spent so much time on Marquez as it is such a rich text with so much to study and enjoy.
I certainly enjoyed Cien años de soledad, and I’m very glad that I’ve read it now, but I have to admit that it was one of the most demanding, difficult reading experiences I’ve had. I don’t want this to sound like a completely negative thing, because, happily, it was ultimately also one of the most rewarding reading experiences I’ve had. I would like to read the English translation one day as well, because it would probably help me understand the story and keep track of the characters better, and I would be able to get through it in about a quarter of the time it took me to read it this time. I am definitely glad we spent so much time discussing the book and reading it in class, because it is such a rich work, with so many different themes and so much to say and discuss about it. I like reading the book and thinking about Marquez’s own politics. His friendship with Cuban president Fidel Castro is well-known and in Cien años, it seems as though he has sympathies with a communist outlook like Castro’s, as the scenes depicting the massacre of the banana company employees and depictions of their struggles for labour rights seem to betray a respect and sympathy for the working classes. From reading the novel, Marquez also seems to distrust dictatorial regimes, such as Arcadio’s style of leadership when Coronel Aureliano Buendía puts him in charge of Macondo. Marquez also seems to be wary of the potentially negative impacts that foreign influence in Macondo, especially the sort of American influence in
Colombia like we learned about in class. This is represented by the banana company and especially Sr. Brown.
I realized that in my blog entries I often write about how works that we read in class remind me of other works in different ways. At first, I was disappointed to realize this, because it seemed like laziness. But I think that thinking about other books and writers in relation to what I’m reading can be a helpful way to think about the books, like a springboard to other critical, reflective thoughts about the reading.
I’m taking a Romance Studies class right now (towards credit for a Spanish minor) and we were studying ancient Greek and Latin as well as Medieval European philosophy. One concept we studied was the Macrocosm and Microcosm, “the belief that there exists between the universe and the individual human being an identity both anatomical and psychical.” (from The Dictionary of the History of Ideas : http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/cgi-local/DHI/dhiana.cgi?id=dv3-16) Or, as Wikipedia succinctly puts it, “In short, it is the recognition that the same traits appear in entities of many different sizes, from one man to the entire human population.”
I bring this up because reading and discussing and thinking about Cien años de soledad has made me think about the microcosm-macrocosm couple. Looking at the development of the Buendía family over the first half of the book, they develop and grow along with the village of Macondo, so the family can be seen as an allegory for the village as a whole. The village in turn, can be seen as representative of the development and history of the nation of Colombia. Ian Johnston says that “Like many other epics, this novel has connections with a particular people’s historical reality, in this case the development of the Latin American country of Colombia,” and Gerald Martin goes further to claim that “the story of the Buendía family is obviously a metaphor for the history of the continent” (both quotations can be found at Johnston’s lecture on the novel: http://www.mala.bc.ca/~johnstoi/introser/marquez.HTM).
In Friday’s class there was mention of the book as being more than a national novel for Colombia, but a “post-national” novel for Latin America (as Martin suggests). I suppose then, that the final conclusion along this line of thinking is that the book is ultimately a universal tale (which was also suggested in class), where the Buendías represent the larger village of Macondo, which represents in turn Colombia, which represents Latin America, which represents the world. This is just one way of looking at the novel, that came about from my thoughts about the microcosm and macrocosm as I had studied it in my other class. But it was very interesting for me imagining the Buendías as a microcosm for the human race, beginning with José Arcadio Buendía and Úrsula Iguarán as a sort of Adam and Eve.
(This is the entry I meant to post last weekend – I only just realized that it hadn’t been uploaded to my blog as I had thought!)
Cien años de soledad is a book I’ve wanted to read for a while and been interested in, but didn’t really know very much about it, apart from a passing familiarity with Gabriel García Marquez (whose writing I have read in smaller excerpts in other Spanish classes) and the novel’s lofty reputation as an award-winning, much-acclaimed masterpiece. Not only did it win the Nobel Prize, but even Oprah has endorsed it!
As much as I am looking forward to getting into this story, I am tentative about it and I know it will be difficult (but hopefully rewarding) reading for several reasons. The fluid nature of time in the narrative is a difficult, but also fascinating aspect of the novel. Also, I am already having trouble keeping the characters’ names straight – looking at the family tree, there’s José Arcadio Buendía, José Arcadio, Arcadio, Aureliano Buendía, Aureliano José . . . it’s very confusing already even at this early point in the novel.
I have certainly enjoyed the first half of this course. I have liked most of the readings and found them interesting to study and discuss. I also really like it when a course has a theme, like our focus on “the family.” The only thing I might say about the reading is that it might have been nice to be able to spend more time on some of the works, maybe by including one less text to read. I personally would have liked some more time to look at the short stories and especially at Neruda’s poetry (and maybe some other poetry?). But that’s just a personal preference really; I think the amount of reading has been appropriate for a course at this level, but if we had read one or two less texts, it would have allowed for time for more in-depth study in class.
On the other hand, we will be spending a lot of time on Cien anos de
soledad, which I am really looking forward to. I am enjoying reading it now, as difficult and slow as it is for me!
I have to admit to being really pleasantly surprised by the blog feature of this course. I had never “blogged” before and never really had an interest in reading other people’s blogs. However, I have found a lot of reasons that I like the blog: it forces me to keep up to date with the reading, it forces me to spend time reflecting about what I have read, it enables the students to engage in a bit of dialogue about the texts and since I know it will be published online with my name on it, I try to put some amount of thought and effort into making each entry at least somewhat readable and interesting.
Just a quick entry on Las Hortensias, a novella that I enjoyed reading, as strange as it was. I found it really eerie, but fascinating at the same time. I kept imagining it as a movie, visualizing scenarios playing out in my mind. I can imagine an appropriately dark, creepy filmic adaptation. The persistent noise of the factory next door, the dark, surreal tone, powerful imagery and symbolism and especially the bizarre characters reminded me of a David Lynch film.
Reading the story though, I was captivated at times, but other times, found my interest fading a bit. This could be because it takes me longer to read in Spanish, so I moved slowly through the story, but I think perhaps it could have been a short story instead of a novella and served the same purpose, but better. Las Hortensias is certainly not a long work, and maybe some will argue that its themes and story could have been developed more and drawn out into a lengthier novel. Still, I felt that it might have been better suited to a short story, and it reminded me of a short story I read in a Spanish class at UBC last year. In that class, we read a short story entitled “La puerta condenada” by an Argentinian writer named Julio Cortázar. It was a surreal, strange tale of a traveller staying in a hotel in Montevideo and he is constantly tormented by the sounds of a wailing, crying infant seemingly emanating from the room nextdoor, though he can never locate the source of the noise. Though it doesn’t sound thematically similar, the tone of “Las Hortensias” reminded me right away of “La puerta condenada.”
“—¡Je! —gruñó, quedándose perplejo.”
I tend to like short stories, like the ones I have read by JD Salinger and James Joyce in English, and Jorge Luis Borges in Spanish. I really enjoyed this story and found it ultimately very affecting and sad. I thought that the characters were developed in a way that made me really take an interest in them and care, when they could have easily just been simple types of familiar characters; the simple-minded farm labourer who grunts like a beast, the wicked witch of a mother-in-law.
As we discussed in class, in the story’s dialogue, Marta Brunet uses phonetic spellings to imitate the accents of Bernabé and Esperanza, while Eufrasia uses standard Spanish, as does the narration. I have read several books that do the same thing with dialogue in English, imitating the dialects of Black Americans in the works of Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison or Alice Walker, southern Americans in the writing of William Faulkner and Mark Twain, Scots in Irvine Welsh’s writing, Irish Australians in Peter Carey’s books, or Maoris in New Zealand author Alan Duff’s novels. There are lots of other examples of this technique, which I have found really effective in many cases. A lot of readers complain that it can be difficult to understand what the characters are saying when the author writes in a style imitating their dialect, as opposed to using standard English.
Reading “Piedra Callada,” I found that it’s a lot harder to read dialects like this in Spanish, since English is my first language. So I had some trouble with the dialogue written with the Chilean accent. “Claro qu’es así, medio lerdo, pero güeno y trabajaor como ni uno. D’esto puee dar fe cualesquiera en el fundo.” What? Pardon me, Esperanza? I sort of had to imagine the words spoken aloud in order to understand. But I found that it was well worth it, and I enjoyed the story.
I just wanted to comment on some of the things I have been enjoying about Las memorias de Mamá Blanca. Even though I don’t often read biographies or autobiographies, I find it interesting when authors are able to include autobiographical elements of their own life experiences into their writing, as Teresa de la Parra has done here. I also like the “manuscript” setting that de la Parra has used to frame the story. I find that the complicated relationship between the narrator, the editor and de la Parra herself (basing the story on her own life growing up on a Venezuelan sugar plantation with her sisters) through 3 different time periods is very interesting, although I have to admit to finding it quite confusing sometimes as well, especially at first, even though the initial “Advertencia” does a good job of explaining it. It made me think of one of the most memorable books I have read, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, which also uses the trope of the “found manuscript” although in a different way.
I also like her descriptive writing style. For example, she writes lines rich with imagery and metaphor like “Como bandada de mariposas perseguidas, las frases originales han dejado sobre las paginas sus pintadas alas: las alas de la vida” (p. 74) Reading that line in an English book might sound overly flowery and silly to my taste, but reading it in Spanish in this novel, it at least makes the book more interesting to read for me, although I have to confess that the way she writes has me reaching for the dictionary quite a bit. These features have made the novel more interesting and enjoyable for me, since the plot and characters haven’t been that captivating to me and it has not been my favourite book. Still, these are the things I have enjoyed about it.
I have really enjoyed reading Neruda’s poetry. I had read some of his poems before, both English translations and in the original Spanish, but I had never read any of Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desperada. Upon reading the first poem, the thing that struck me was its sensual nature, and I found that that tone of eroticism is strong throughout the poems. It sort of has the air of young love (or lust) with its focus on physical love, so it makes sense that it was written by such a young poet. Still, though, it’s very impressive (and sort of intimidating) that this book was published before the time that Neruda was 20!
After reading the poems included in the course package and a few of the others from Veinte poemas it sort of seems like the poems form a sort of cycle that moves from lusty, young love and physical attraction (in the first poem), towards a more contemplative mood (as in the somber tenth poem with lines like “Por qué se me vendrá todo el amor de golpe / cuando me siento triste, y te siento lejana?”), to a happy portrait of a more romantic love (poem #15: “Una palabra entonces, una sonrisa bastan./ Y estoy alegre”), towards, finally, the end of a relationship in the twentieth poem. The twentieth poem is a sad and beautiful lament to lost love, with lines like “Ella me quiso, a veces yo también la quería./ Cómo no haber amado sus grandes ojos fijos. / Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche. / Pensar que no la tengo. Sentir que la he perdido.” This is followed by the “Canción desperada,” where the poet despairs after the end of the relationship, remembering “la alegre hora
del asalto y el beso,” and repeating the exclamation “Todo en ti fue naufragio!”
I don’t know if Neruda conceptualized the book this way, but it seems to me like a sort of story, if not of a particular love or relationship, then at least a story of how relationships begin, evolve, change, and eventually end. Since most people can identify with these feelings and experiences, maybe this is why these are some of Neruda’s most read and beloved poems worldwide, perhaps broader in their appeal than poems about politics and Augusto Sandino and Jesús Menéndez, for example.
When reading the second half of Cumandá, I noticed a shift in tone and content. The flowery, descriptive prose of the first half gave way to more action, plot and character development. A quick look at my classmate’s blogs this week shows that others noticed a similar change between the novel’s first and second halves. I wrote about enjoying the first ten chapters, and especially the description of the indigenous plants and landscapes as well as the tribes and people of
Ecuador. Still, even though Mera’s writing style is still very descriptive in the latter half of the novel, it would have probably gotten tiresome if it had continued with the long passages of description without moving along the central plot, the one concerning Cumandá and Carlos. I enjoyed reading as the plot progressed, but I was quite confident from early on that Cumandá would die before the end of the story. I guess her death made sense for the story, and it made her character a romantic tragic heroine. Anyways, I have enjoyed reading Cumandá, but I have to admit I am already looking forward to reading the poetry of Neruda.