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Saturday, February 08, 2020

Here's to You, Jesusa (1969) by Elena Ponisatowska

Image result for Elena Poniatowska young
Elena Poniatowska, Mexican author
Here's to You, Jesusa (1969)
 by Elena Ponisatowska

Replaces: The Public Burning by Robert Coover

   This is another book focusing on the Latin American working-class, here embodied by Jesusa- the narrator and protagonist.  Jesusa leads a colorful life, travelling with soldiers, drinking, carousing and in general living the kind of life that you might call "liberated."   Which is not to say that everything is fun and games, abuse at the hands of her husband is frequent, and it causes her to swear off relationships for decades.  She is a witness to the tumult of the 20th century, with an emphasis on the Mexican anti-clericism of the early 20th century.

Heartbreak Tango (1969) by Manuel Puig

Book Review
Heartbreak Tango (1969)
by Manuel Puig

Replaces: Grimus by Salman Rushdie

    Heartbreak Tango is not an LGBT book- I'm guessing that 1969 was a leetle early for a LGBT writer like Puig to be explicit about queer love.  Instead, Heartbreak Tango is a collection of discursive recollections about Juan Carlos Etchepare, a thoroughly average example of a young Argentinian male who inspires slavish devotion from a handful of women as he slouches towards death from tuberculosis.   It is a kalidospocpic tale, told from a half dozen different perspectives.

   I suppose the interesting perspective is that of people from the working classes of Latin America.  Latin American literature tends to work from the top down and the kind of social-realism present in Heartbreak Tango isn't something you associate with Latin American literature until the more recent past.   I'm not sad to see Grimus, Salman Rushdie's early science fiction book (and his first published novel), get the axe.  The longer Rushdie's career goes on, the less he seems like an author who needs four or five books in the canon.   Certainly Grimus, which was reviled when it was published and has hardly been resuscitated since, merely illustrates how great he would become. 

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Submission (2015) by Michel Houellebecq

Book Review
Submission (2019)
 by Michel Houellebecq

    These days, when people ask me for a favorite author, more likely than not I say it's Michel Houellebecq, even though I'm still 50/50 on pronouncing his last name accurately (It is pronounced close to Wellbeck.)  There is just something about Houellebecq and his contempt for humanity, and his repeated reliance on narrators who are  succesful men who don't have children and suffer from a creeping sense of ennui, that rings my bell.

  I actually bought a copy of Submission, his 2015 pan-European hit, in anticipation of reading his most recent book Serotonin (2019).   Submission is his book about a world where the Muslim Brotherhood, in alliance with the Socialist party, win the French parliamentary elections and take power.  When it was was published, Submission brought the usual level of controversy that Houellebecq evokes, entirely from the left, on the grounds that... well... really where do you start.  The idea that the Muslim Brotherhood could win a French election?  That the French Socialists would partner with the Muslim Brotherhood to maintain their relevance?  That Houellebecq is a racist who hates Muslims, or perhaps that he is a nihilist who doesn't fear Muslim political strength enough.   I was ready to have all those opinions, but I thought, all in all, Submission was even handed for a work of near-future speculative fiction. 

   Houellebecq has always tread close to misogyny in his fiction, and here he has common ground with his fictional would-be Muslim political class: Removing women from public life is the bedrock foundational principle for the politically savvy Muslim Brotherhood, and as the book progresses, Francois, the professor of literature who narrates Submission, is remarkably unsurprised to see the lack of resistance of French women to their removal from public life. 

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