Category Archives: Reviews: Literature

Buy, Borrow, or Bash: Round Two

Buy, Borrow, or Bash: Round Two

This month’s Buy, Borrow, or Bash takes a look at three well-established authors: Loretta Chase, Carola Dunn, and Eloisa James.

There are some spoilers in these mini-reviews. To read the spoilers, highlight the invisible text. 

What do my final ratings mean? BUY means I’d cough up the cash for the book. BORROW means it’s worth checking out. While I wouldn’t buy it, another reader might want to borrow it  from the library or read a sample chapter online before making any rash purchases. BASH means no! Don’t waste your time. Go re-read Jane Austen or something.   


Loretta Chase’s The English Witch (1988; Kindle edition 2011) 

For readers hooked on Loretta Chase and her Carsington novels, The English Witch will pose a conundrum. A Chase novel without sex scenes? How is that possible?! 

The lack of sex is no impediment to an amusing story, though. The English Witch reels with plots within plots, and a heroine with more fiancés than Ranma Saotome. 

Alexandra Ashmore spent the last six years rusticating in Albania, where the locals call her “the English Witch” due to her extraordinary beauty. Her father, an amateur archaeologist, dragged Alexandra all over the region and now expects her to marry Randolph Burnham, the son of the man funding his expedition.

Alexandra, however, doesn’t want Randolph, so she’s forced to write to her godmother for help. Her godmother promptly sends Basil Trevelyan to the rescue.

Basil’s a scheming man, the typical amateur gentleman spy that the Regency era loved so well. With Alexandra’s cooperation, Basil feeds a cock-and-bull story to her father about being a long-lost secret fiancé.

He contrives to bring everyone back to England, where Alexandra manages to snatch up more admirers. Finding himself growing attached to his fake fiancée, Basil must keep on scheming to drive away the competition and win Alexandra’s trust.

The novel suffers from too many minor characters (most of them made their first appearance in Isabella, which I haven’t read yet). It gets confusing. Fortunately, Basil’s an interesting take on the reformed rake trope, and Alexandra’s a tsundere. While it’s not Chase’s best work, I still find it rewarding to trace a writer’s development. If you keep these things in mind, The English Witch will be a good read.

heat meter: one chili           final rating: borrow 

 

Carola Dunn’s Miss Jacobson’s Journey (1992; reprinted 2012) 

Miss Jacobson’s Journey is a great novel that transcends the limitations of the genre. It’s more a historical adventure with lots of character development than an empty will-they-do-it-doggy-style mess.

Right before a Jewish matchmaking ceremony, Miriam has doubts about getting married and becoming a wife. She feels pressured to accept the suitor that her mother likes, but all she really wants to do is to travel with her favorite uncle. At the crucial moment, Miriam rejects the quiet young scholar presented to her before he can utter a word.

Years later, her uncle’s death leaves Miriam stranded in France due to the war. She approaches the mysterious Jacob Rothchild for help and he makes her a deal: he’ll give her Swiss papers and help smuggle her back to England. In exchange for this, though, first she must travel with two agents and a secret cargo of gold destined for Wellington’s army near Spain.

Despite the recklessness of the plan and stern warnings from her maid, Miriam accepts before she meets her traveling companions: Felix Roworth, a snobbish aristocrat, and Isaac Cohen, the same man she cruelly rejected years ago.

Roworth and Cohen hate each other on sight and it takes all of Miriam’s diplomacy and quick thinking to keep the mission on track. Miriam’s the glue that keeps these reluctant companions together, and soon Roworth and Cohen find a real reason to hate each other.

If you’re looking for a ramshackle travelogue through Napoleonic war zones, Miss Jacobson’s Journey is a fascinating, well-researched novel. It’s exciting, with most of the danger and emotions coming across as natural. It delves into the plight of marginalized Jewish communities, and the casual discrimination they faced long before World War II.

Apart from these elements, the novel’s got an incredible, well-developed love triangle. At one point I didn’t know which guy I was rooting for: Lord Felix, who slowly sheds his anti-Semitism, or Isaac, who’s out to prove he’s become a better man since he was first rejected.  

heat meter: one chili          final rating: buy

 

Eloisa James’s The Ugly Duchess (2012) 

There are loads of bad fathers in historical romances, but the Duke of Ashbrook is one nasty entitled ass. He embezzles his ward’s dowry and brings his duchy to the state of bankruptcy. To save himself from public exposure, he forces his heir, James Ryburn, to marry Theodora “Daisy” Saxby to cover up the crime.

Daisy’s been a part of the Duke’s household for years, so she and James grew up together. This makes the Duke’s demand seem natural and yet emotionally awkward for James. How does one transform affection for a best friend into romantic love? James doesn’t know.

Being young and weak-willed, however, James gives in to his father’s tantrums. James orchestrates a romantic proposal that Daisy innocently accepts. The shit hits the fan, though, when the marriage is consummated and Daisy finds out the awful truth.

The Ugly Duchess is a strange take on how trust can be lost and regained. The pacing of the novel is odd: it starts out fine with several time skips, but the second half of the novel speeds up until there’s no breathing space.

I find it weird that a couple that’s been estranged for seven years can resolve their differences in one long conversation that takes place over a single day. The conversation itself spans several chapters, in a variety of rooms in a house besieged by paparazzi. Perhaps a less attentive reader will say I’m nitpicking. Given the heroine’s character development, though, it just seems improbable. It’s even more improbable than the plot twist of James becoming a pirate after getting thrown out of his house.

Maybe other readers won’t have the same issues I have. (Some Amazon reviewers take issue that James had mistresses while they were separated. I didn’t have an issue with that. While cheating is morally reprehensible, it does make the character historically accurate.)

The Ugly Duchess is still a decent read, and I like that the author credits Dorothy L. Sayers for inspiring the House of Lords scene. I’m sure there’s an Eloisa James novel out there that I will totally agree with. This one, though, is not it.

heat meter: four chilies           final rating: bash

 

Buy, Borrow, or Bash: Round One

Buy, Borrow, or Bash: Round One

I can imagine your eyeballs rolling but please hear out this rationale. I learned from the late Dr. Luisa Mallari-Hall, my old thesis adviser, that I should approach all literary exercises with the same effort and analytical precision. (I loved her so much. She was equally enthusiastic over post-Marxist literary theory as she was about Filipino Harlequin-style romances.) 

When I decided to try my hand at writing a historical romance, I started with a survey of the genre. (Hey, a woman’s got to know her comp titles.) Since I consume so many of these novels nowadays, I thought it might be fun to post occasional reviews of the best and worst ones. 

At the end of each review, there’s a “heat meter” and my final assessment. Please take note that the heat meter refers solely to the amount of sex in the novel. That’s never any indication if the book is worth reading or not! Some of these books have lots of sex but suffer from shoddy writing, plotting, or editing. You have been warned!

So what do my final ratings mean? BUY means I’d cough up the cash for the book. As I suffer from limited means right now that’s the highest praise I can give. BORROW means it’s worth checking out. While I wouldn’t buy it, another reader might want to check it out from the library or read a sample chapter online before making any rash purchases. BASH means no! Don’t waste your time. Go re-read Jane Austen or something.   


Mary Balogh’s A Matter of Class (2009)

The set-up is a genre cliché: Reginald Mason, the son of a prosperous tradesman, is threatened with disinheritance unless he marries a young woman with a title. His father already has a girl in mind: Lady Annebelle Ashton, the disgraced daughter of a spendthrift earl. Despite being long-time social rivals in the neighborhood, the earl and the former coal miner agree to marry off their troublesome children.

The first chapter didn’t really grab my attention. I’m glad I gave the book a chance, however, because it immediately got more interesting when the hero stopped acting like a silly ass. Once the flashbacks started, the narrative got even better.

As the title suggests, the book discusses the subtle class distinctions of the Regency period, and how a well-kept fortune can buy upward mobility for future generations. Not a lot of historical romances come with genuine twists, but this one does (or it would have, if I wasn’t also a keen mystery reader.) In hindsight, some of the earlier scenes (like the proposal) becomes clever and subtle. It’s a better read than the first Mary Balogh book I picked up.

heat meter: three chilies            final rating: borrow

 

Carola Dunn’s The Improper Governess (1998, reprinted 2010)

Lissa Findlay is the new chorus girl at the local theatre. Unlike the other performers who are dying to catch the attention of a rich patron, Lissa is uncomfortable when men try to wine and dine her. She may a chorus girl, but she’s unwilling to be anyone’s whore.

Rakish Lord Ashe originally wanted to make Lissa his mistress, but there’s just something about her that brings out his chivalrous streak. When he makes an outrageous offer to employ her as a governess instead, Lissa is naturally suspicious of his motives. Yet she is forced to accept.

Unknown to Lord Ashe, Lissa has a secret: she kidnapped her two step-brothers and is currently hiding them from her abusive stepfather. Only poverty forced her to “tread among the boards,” an occupation wholly suitable to a woman of genteel breeding. Will Lissa be able to keep up the charade when she finds herself falling in love with her employer?

The Improper Governess is the second Carola Dunn novel I’ve read. Her romances are a treat for readers who care more for plot than meaningless steaminess. This novel has elements reminiscent of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (down to the sickly boy named Colin!) but rest assured this work is no rip-off. From the heroine down to the minor characters, everyone is slightly flawed and fleshed out. Overall, it’s a satisfying romance with mystery elements.

heat meter: one chili          final rating: buy

 

Amanda Quick’s Dangerous (1993, reprinted 2008)

Prudence Merryweather isn’t your typical Regency debutante. She’s almost on the shelf, she wears eyeglasses (oh horrors!), and worst of all, she fancies herself a paranormal investigator. She captures the attention of Sebastian Fleetwood, the Earl of Angelstone, a blasé noble who similarly dabbles in amateur investigations on the side.

Prudence’s younger brother dislikes any libertines showing interest in his sister, so he keeps issuing Angelstone one silly challenge after another. Further misunderstandings along the way (the dumb type that can only happen in a romance novel), cause Angelstone to publicly announce that he is engaged to Prudence. While Prudence agrees to go along with the farce to protect her reputation, she isn’t so sure if Angelstone understands that it’s only make-believe…

This must be the first Amanda Quick novel I enjoyed. After reading Dangerous, I worked through half of her books available at the Berkeley Public Library (her hardcovers take up a lot of space in the general fiction section) but most of them made me go “meh.” Oh well.

Dangerous reminds me of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: disparate Sherlockian elements such as amateur detecting (good) and cheesy ghost-of-the-week vibe (frothy fun). While some sections feel uneven and I don’t particularly like the way the villain is unveiled, the hero’s obsession with picking locks is amusing. For that alone, I’d buy a copy.

heat meter: four chilies            final rating: buy

My Fandom is More Hardboiled than Yours: Dashiell Hammett

My Fandom is More Hardboiled than Yours: Dashiell Hammett

Not in photo: my copy of Nightmare Town. Its disappearance from my bookcase is a mystery in itself.

This blog post incorporates ideas from an earlier piece written for the San Francisco Book Review

 

“Flypaper” was the first Hammett story I ever read. It appeared as a featured classic in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and I just loved how it punched me in the gut. Its crisp, no-nonsense style opened up the noir side of detective fiction for me.

Since I adore so many authors, it’s taken me several years to  absorb as much Hammett as I can find. I haven’t gone through every single word he has ever written, although it’s safe to say that I’m more than a casual fan. I freaked out with delight, for example, when I found a bootleg copy of Wim Wenders’s Hammett (1982) in the backwaters of Metrowalk. I had a similar moment of absolute bliss when I finally went on Don Herron’s amazing walking tour. When I first contemplated moving to the Bay Area, the idea of walking the same mean streets as one of my literary heroes tickled my fancy.

All these fangirl elements came into play when I picked up a book called Hammett Unwritten. This slim novel tackles one tantalizing mystery about this literary icon: why did Dashiell Hammett stop writing after 1934?

This novel has a fanciful hypothesis. Tracked down by the femme fatale who inspired Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Hammett finally gives up the one object that she desires. He hands over a counterfeit statue, a relic from the case that inspired The Maltese Falcon. 

Unfortunately, as soon as he gives the souvenir away, his words dry up. People from Hammett’s life—real and fictional—emerge from the past to harass him. As his writer’s block worsens over the years, these people mock him for giving up the one item that had influenced his mercurial rise in society. Sometimes they feed him misleading clues regarding the statuette’s real origins and power. Verbally battered and growing old and insecure, even Hammett’s cynicism cracks under the pressure. He starts thinking there might be some truth in the lies.

Hammett Unwritten is full of brilliant one-liners and twists. Even a hardcore fan who’s read a biography or two might be surprised by all the details. Facts are cleverly sandwiched among a dozen falsehoods, and by the end a reader almost buys the half-truth that Owen Fitzstephen wrote this novel. Mystery lovers, especially hardboiled fans, should appreciate this satisfying con and double-cross perpetuated by Gordon McAlphine.

If I seem to be tossing roses in McAlphine’s path, it’s because I’ve read some cringe-inducing pieces that feature Hammett as a character. Not all fictional versions of Hammett ring true. He’s a complex man, and some attempts I’ve read just feel reductive. He played a lot of roles in his life, and not all of them are pleasant: private detective, communist, womanizer, absentee father, Hollywood scribe. So far, Hammett Unwritten is the only book that does justice to his complexity. It deserves the honor of sharing shelf space with Hammett’s own masterpieces.

 

Review: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Review: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

I found the original draft of my Last Unicorn graphic novel review. This is completely different in tone and length from what was  published in the San Francisco Book Review last January 4, 2012.

This review has comments on the ending. To read the hidden spoilers, highlight the invisible text with your mouse.

 

A nice addition to the graphic novel section of the library. Not in photo: my Hellblazers and Alan Moore.

Peter S. Beagle is a familiar name to most fantasy readers since his introduction graced many a paperback copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Yet for me, growing up in the Philippines, that was the only contact I had with the name for years. Even back then I knew he must be an important writer, because unimportant writers don’t write introductions to other people’s books. But as to coming across one of his books, lack of access was an issue.

 Some college friends were lucky enough to grow up with The Last Unicorn. In hindsight I envy them. I didn’t have any luck finding a VHS tape of the animated version, either, in that part of the world. After a few years of curiosity I simply gave up.

So getting a copy of the new graphic novel adaptation in the mail was nothing short of a dormant dream come true.

I was a little worried about being too old to like it. There are some texts that should be read at the appropriate age. I remembered feeling incredibly let down when I read C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew a couple of years ago. i I feel the need to apologize to all hardcore Narnia fans but I simply could not stand being talked down to by that insufferable man. It reeked of the overbearing Catholicism I couldn’t stand since elementary school.

Thankfully, The Last Unicorn is more accessible to my adult mind, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt there were some gaps in the narrative, probably caused by condensing a novel to its graphic novel form, but the basic story still worked well. The art by Renae de Liz and Ray Dillion was also apt and beautiful.

I was worried that after a few pages, The Last Unicorn would explode into full-on shoujo sparkles and glitter, but no, it didn’t happen. The unicorn’s transformation into a mere mortal was incredibly painful to read. I found it awful that she forgot about her quest at one point, but I suppose enchantments will do that, even to a strong character.

The Last Unicorn’s last plight ultimately reminds me of the subtle tragedies of childhood, and how a little experience can taint everything. I probably would have cried buckets if I read this as a child. That it can affect me, even now, is probably a mark of a brilliant piece of fantasy.

Review: Purgatory by Tomás Eloy Martínez

Review: Purgatory by Tomás Eloy Martínez

The first part of this review previously appeared in the San Francisco Book Review last December 8, 2011. 

 

Even readers who have consumed a steady diet of South American literature since the boom era may find immense pleasure in reading Tomás Eloy Martínez’s last novel. It’s a gut-wrenching tour de force. Purgatory revolves around Emilia Dupuy and her husband Simón, two newlywed cartographers who are torn apart by the Argentinean military regime of the 1970s. Either by malice or accident, Simón joins the ranks of the “desaparecidos,” one of the many thousands who disappeared during this turbulent era.

Now living in New Jersey and exhausted by years of searching for Simón, Emilia is surprised to find her husband at a local cafe, looking exactly as he did on the day he disappeared. Is this encounter real or is Emilia being haunted by her memories and desires? Martínez gives no easy answers to the central mystery, preferring to peel back, layer after layer, each moment that leads to Emilia and Simón’s separation and reunion. The novel travels back and forth between the past and the present, with casual cameos from a Nazi pseudo-scientist, Spanish royalty, and even Orson Welles.

Disguised as a spectral romance, Purgatory is really a lamentation for the missing and for those left behind. It is a brilliant, bittersweet narrative that keeps a reader up at night long after the last page has been read.

. . .

So ends my formal review for Purgatory. Now comes my informal reaction to the book:

I had an entirely visceral response to this novel. I suppose it’s a mix of several elements, including my university degree and my interest in Latin American literature. Maybe it’s also my personal experience—an acquaintance of mine, Sherlyn Cadapan, is among the disappeared in the Philippines. You can read about her case here. I was not particularly close to her and I had not seen her in years before her abduction by the Philippine military.

It was impossible for me not to be bothered on a primal level. This was someone who used to tease me to buy her lunch when she was broke, which was the case pretty often. This was a familiar face I saw in Vinzons Hall during my last years in university. To consider the worst fate possible just renders me speechless. In the back of my head, it’s hard not to think, “if I was a stronger person, if I had pushed further and done more community work, that could have been me.”

Some of my former colleagues would call it “lie low guilt.” Lying low, in the parlance of NGO or nonprofit work of the last decade, was to take a break from the intense, grueling lifestyle connected to social work in the Philippines. It usually involved crawling back to one’s family for a couple of months and recuperating from diseases like malaria or amoebiasis. (For some people—myself included—lying low means never returning and being slowly ripped apart by one’s conscience for abandoning the cause of social justice.) This is something easily misunderstood by those touched with apathy, and even those active in the movement (the grim and determined types.) After all, it’s easy to dismiss something as intangible as mental suffering.

It is in this frame of mind I found myself finishing Purgatory. It was impossible for me not to relate and sympathize with Emilia. When I think of everyone I’ve ever met who lost a loved one this way, I just want to curl up into a ball.

It’s painful to consider these things, after all these years. But I have to say, Purgatory is such a beautifully written trigger for self-examination.

My Fandom is Older than Yours: Sherlock Holmes

My Fandom is Older than Yours: Sherlock Holmes

I.

I'm a non-smoker who owns a pipe. It's a long story.

I am absolutely delighted with the explosion of all things Sherlock Holmes. I’ve previously mentioned my love for Holmes before, but it’s only the rumblings of the intense BBC Sherlock fandom that has made it all chic again.

Inspired by some obscure side comments on Ghost Bees & Consulting Detectives—my favorite Sherlock Holmes tumblr—I picked up the incredibly influential William S. Baring-Gould biography from the Berkeley Public Library.

A little bit on the Baring-Gould and Holmes connection first, though. There existed a real person by the name of Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould. He was an amateur antiquarian, novelist, and folklorist. In Laurie R. King’s The Moor (1998), he is portrayed as a crusty old invalid who sends his godson, Sherlock Holmes, to investigate the death of a Dartmoor man.

Aside from this fictional appearance, Sabine Baring-Gould’s real and interesting childhood—as detailed in the first volume of his autobiography—is freely used by his grandson, the aforementioned William S. Baring-Gould, as the basis for Sherlock Holmes’s childhood.

So: fiction intruded upon a life, then life intruded upon fiction. Then the dance continued.

For a reader like myself, it’s almost impossible not to think of the Baring-Gould name without Holmes, and vise versa. While the old reverend was accomplished in his lifetime and still marginally remembered for his own contributions, I wonder if his ghost is bothered that younger generations think of him as “Sherlock’s godfather.”

But I digress.

What I think about his grandson’s biography is a different matter altogether!

 

II.

Fun with copyright-free clip art.

I can only describe William S. Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street: A Life of The World’s First Consulting Detective (1960) as a seminal piece of fanfiction. It’s an unintentionally hilarious piece of work, with most of the giggles and teeth-gnashing coming from the serious tone coupled with the author’s unbelievable flights of fancy.

This is not the work of a fool uploading half-finished first drafts on fanfiction.net, folks. In 1967, William Baring-Gould published the two-volume Annotated Sherlock Holmes, which is still a definitive piece of Holmes scholarship. He is one of the first to fix the internal chronology of the stories (which is something Sir Arthur Conan Doyle seriously screwed up.) Baring-Gould’s many scholarly contributions are mentioned in The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes (2005), and he’s supposed to be someone to take seriously.

Knowing these things only made Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street an even more infuriating experience for me!

First off, Baring-Gould names Holmes’ parents and endows him without another older brother, Sherrinfold. With Sherrinfold as the heir of the family estate and with Mycroft as the spare, this makes third son Sherlock rather superfluous (in terms of succession or the entail.)

Holmes’s position as a third son enables him to rebel against his father’s choice of profession for him (engineering!) which in turn gets him disinherited. It makes sense in terms of characterization, given that Holmes only reluctantly mentions his family to Watson.

What doesn’t make sense, however, is all the other stuff Baring-Gould insisted on.

It amuses me that Baring-Gould went through extreme lengths to explain how Holmes attended both Oxford and Cambridge. (I understand that both universities claim him.) Among his other youthful exploits, Holmes meets Karl Marx and some anarchists, he hangs out with Lewis Carroll, and he embarks on an acting career (?!) in the United States. Seriously.

As a hilarious clincher to these goings-on, Baring-Gould has Holmes dressing up as a blonde streetwalker trying to entrap Jack the Ripper. Of course a struggle ensues when he is found out to be a man, and of course Watson comes along to save the day. Seriously.

It was at this point in the book where I felt the chapter could so easily devolve into a BBC Sherlock yaoi fanfic.

Dr. Watson would like to have a word with you now. Promotional still of Jude Law from Warner Bros.

Instead of that scenario (perhaps he found himself unable to write that scene?) Baring-Gould falls back on that old heterosexual standby, “The Woman.” Unable to collapse gently into Watson’s arms, during his great hiatus Holmes instead has a passionate affair with a recently divorced Irene Adler. Ms. Adler abandons Holmes once she realizes she’s pregnant. She flees Europe and later gives birth to Nero Wolfe.

Seriously.  

I won’t bother with commenting on the rest of it, aside from mentioning that the ending is pure schmaltz. I just refuse to believe that Holmes spends his last day alive surveying his life’s work while sitting by the sea, whispering “Irene, Irene” to himself like a lovesick fool.

If this was supposed to be the secret life of the great detective, I’d rather he had died at Reichenbach. At least Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wanted him to go out with a heroic bang. Too bad the reading public wouldn’t let him.

Holmes surely deserves more than this piteous whimper.

 

III.

I’m not sure why I’m getting all riled up over a fifty-two year old piece of fanfiction (back in the day, it would have been called a pastiche), but seriously! It gets my goat. I don’t mind bad fanfiction on the internet. That’s easy enough to dismiss out of hand. What I do mind, however, is bad fanfiction somehow made legitimate with its hardbound cover and staid dust jacket, sitting decorously on the shelves of the Berkeley Public Library, merely waiting to pounce on unsuspecting readers like myself. The nerve!

Tonight, I think I will retreat back into the welcoming arms of the canon, sniffling for this great blow to Holmes’s dignity.

 

Review: Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire Trilogy

Review: Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire Trilogy

A slightly different version of this post first appeared on my old blog on July 27, 2008.

 

I’ve picked up Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy again. I’m on the last installment, Century of the Wind.

It has always surprised me that not many readers are familiar with Eduardo Galeano. If there’s any writer I discovered after university who has a profound impact on my writing, it would be he. Galeano’s what my friend Marc might call “a ’90s sort of writing.” Others might dismiss as postcolonial twaddle. For me, that’s just fine. His preoccupation with history, the dark side of revolutions and colonization may be profoundly relevant and thought-provoking, even agitating, but it’s his words that are just so seductive. Besides, his style is well fitted to this blogging generation that demands stories to be pithy, well-written—and all under 200 words.

Memory of Fire is amazing. All three volumes consist of vignettes on the history of the Americas—not just South America, but also Central and North America. He starts with pre-colonial myths in the first volume (Genesis) and continues with the arrival of the Europeans. The second volume (Faces and Masks) is painful and heart-wrenching as it details the various anti-colonial uprisings and struggles throughout the centuries.

Each vignette is put into proper context: dates, cities, and footnotes are provided. Each volume has around 400 historical and literary sources—practically a crazy thing to do for fiction, but that goes to show how well-researched and ambitious this work is. In Galeano’s eyes, the Americas collapse and become one: the struggle of all natives—from disparate groups such as the Inuits and the Nahua—become a single struggle against a common enemy who wears different faces.

I don’t recognize all the historical figures that peppered the first and second volume, so the third volume is a downright pleasure as more names become familiar. Galeano talks of Mexican novelists Manuel Azuela (The Underdogs) and Juan Rulfo (Pedro Paramo), the childhood of Louie Armstrong, the Zapatistas and the Sandinistas.

I particularly liked what he said about Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges; I’ll post them separately to highlight their differences.