Category Archives: Spanish texts

‘The Autumn of the Patriarch’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

AutumnofthePatriarch

1975, 240p.

I cannot tell a lie: I don’t think that I’ve ever been as glad to finish a book as this one.  It was a difficult book anyway, and my choice of reading platform was disastrous.  I was reading it on an e-reader and then had to swap to a tablet when the e-reader kept crashing (I suspect that the size of the file is too big for it).

Why so difficult- apart from the technology? Because it is the same story told six times, with variations between each telling, and because there are very, very few full stops.  You could go pages and pages without a pause.  In this regard, it is similar to the short story ‘The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship’ that I read earlier this year. But a technique that was quirky and interesting in a short story became suffocating in a full-length novel.  I found myself thrashing through the text, as if I were drowning, waiting for somewhere to take another gasp of air. Because I was reading it electronically and the table of contents in such a large omnibus edition did not go down to chapter level, it was not easy to flip through to find where the chapter ended, for fear of losing my place – I’d never find it again.  In fact, I didn’t know where the book itself ended, and as the next chapter started up with the same story again, I began to despair lest I never reach the end of this book.

But I think that that’s how Garcia Marquez wanted you to feel. The story is about an unnamed dictator in an unnamed Caribbean island, who just does not die. Well – he does, ostensibly, in the first chapter where he engages a double to deflect any assassination attempts, and the double dies as a result. But in the succeeding chapters, his death is foreshadowed, but he just doesn’t die.  In a decrepit palace that is invaded with creepy-crawlies during the night, the Patriarch wanders from room to room, locking up the house, playing dominoes with other old dictators that he has imprisoned, raping the young women in the women’s quarters until he finally falls asleep on the floor, his arms cradling his head, only to wake up again the next morning and do it all again.

His country is submerging into debt and decay, and he is kept in power by his debtors, after they have pillaged the nation, causing him to even sell them the sea. He is uneducated and he forces the church and the people to deify his mother after she dies. Although impotent against his international debtors, he has absolute power within his own country, ordering mass deaths at will.  But he is fearful of losing his power, which is why this lonely figure wanders the house at night.

I read this story as part of a course that I am doing through Coursera called Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Between Power, History and Love, delivered in Spanish. Of course, I read the book in English: my mind just boggles at the thought of translating such complex sentences! After hours of translating, I worked out what the lecturers were saying, and their comments certainly added to my enjoyment of the story, but also highlighted to me how much is lost when reading an author who makes so many references to other (Spanish) texts.  I would never have picked it up, but the book pays homage to and subverts at least two other texts: Christopher Columbus’ account of the discovery of the Americas, and a poem ‘The Triumphal March’ by twentieth-century Nicaraguan poet Rubio Dario.  Well- both of those would have just slipped right past me!

The other point made by the lecturers was that this book, one of three ‘historical’ novels by Garcia Marquez, was published during the 1970s. The Patriarch is not named, but he could be any one of the dictators who have emerged from Latin America, and continued to do so when the book was published ( Pinochet in Chile, the Dirty War in Argentina etc).  It is part of a genre of Latin American ‘dictator novels’, but Garcia Marquez’s Patriarch is none of them and all of them.

Worth reading?  Yes – but be prepared for a really difficult read. And buy or borrow it as a real book. It’s just too hard to read electronically.

‘Innocent Erendira and Other Stories’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

innocent_erendira

1972, 192 p.

Last year I did an online course about Macondo, the setting for many of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s stories and novels (see course details here).  Of course, I read all the stories in English, but I found the videos and transcripts in Spanish challenging and rewarding, and could revert to the English translations when it all became too hard. So, when I saw that Coursera were running a second course, I signed up.  It’s called Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Between Power, History and Love, and it looks at his work after the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude.  Once again, I’m reading the books in English but here’s an added degree of difficulty: there are no English subtitles or translation of the transcript.  I’m on my own!

The first week looks at the short story collection Innocent Erendira and other stories. As the lecturers explain, these short stories were written after the critical acclaim of Hundred Years and before the publication of The Autumn of the Patriarch, which marked a departure from his earlier work. The stories therefore have wisps of his earlier work, but apparently prefigure the books that he was to go on to write.

The volume starts with ‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’ about an angel arriving in a small village, where he is locked in the chicken-coop and becomes a sensation among the villagers.  It reminded me a little of Elizabeth Knox’s The Vintner’s Luck, where the angel Xas bursts into a real-life setting.  ‘The Sea of Lost Time’ is also set in a village, where the smell of roses permeates a village which is indebted to an unscrupulous gringo. The smell of roses reminded me of the butterflies in One Hundred Years of Solitude.  In ‘The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World’ a body washes ashore and the women of the village fall in love with it.  ‘Death Constant Beyond Love’ is about a dying senator who comes to a poverty-striken village and falls in love with a 19 year old. in ‘The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship’ a ghostly ship, seen only in glimpses, sails into a village. Again, I was reminded of One Hundred Years, although it was a train that arrived in a village there.  ‘Blacaman the Good, Vendor of Miracles’ is a gruesome story about torture, where a trickster takes on a young boy as his sidekick.

The final story, which gives the collection its name, is ‘The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother’. Heartless indeed, this obese, manipulative grandmother prostitutes her granddaughter, chaining her to the bed to service lines of men.  It’s the longest story in the collection – more novella than short story, but it was too violent and distressing for me, I’m afraid.

Prostitution of children by parents arises in other stories here too, as in ‘Death Constant Before Love’ where a father gets his daughter to seduce the senator in order to gain a favor from him.  There are other themes that run across the stories too. Many of them make reference to the sea (‘The Handsomest Drowned Man’, ‘The Last Voyage of the Ghostly Ship’ and ‘The Sea of Lost Time’) and tricksters and shysters abound.  It’s a violent world.  There’s plenty of power being exercised here, by people who should be showing love.

Stylistically, the most striking story is ‘The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship’ which has only one full stop: the one that finishes the story.  Marquez manages to progress the story well, using only commas.

So, all in all, a good collection of short stories, and the Coursera lectures are worth listening/watching too. Just don’t ask me to translate them!

‘La Mujer sin Lagrimas’ by Mayra A. Diaz

LaMujerSinLagrimas

88 pages, alternating Spanish and English

Well, I’d been frustrated by Easy Spanish retellings of longer, classic stories that moved too quickly in a stripped-down fashion (for example, the Easy Spanish versions of  Alice in Wonderland and Don Quixote) but this book went to the other extreme with an excruciatingly slow story in much detail.

Sixty-five year old Ana, who has three adult sons and grandchildren, has been going from doctor to doctor, trying to find relief for her dry eyes that cannot shed tears.  Her son Paco finally takes her to see Dr Rodriguez, who quickly realizes that Ana’s inability to cry is more psychological than physiological. Eventually Ana divulges a secret that she has kept from her husband and family.

Actually, the level of this was just right. The chapters were long enough – about twenty lines in length – and they were followed immediately by the English translation. On the Kindle app on my tablet I was able to make the text large enough that the Spanish took up the whole page so there was no surreptitious cheating. The English version made you realize how choppy the tenses were (I hadn’t noticed in Spanish) or perhaps it’s a clunky translation.

And it was, at least, an adult story that actually captured my interest somewhat. It’s a rather low bar on these Easy Spanish books, I must admit. Anyway, this was quite good, considering.

 

‘El Quijote’ by Miguel de Cervantes

elquixote

1602, this version 2014, 96 p. Adapted by J. A. Bravo

Now, I concede that reading this classic in a version suitable for 7 year olds might not do it justice, but I’m glad that I didn’t struggle through the 1000 page version in English either.  Fortunately this 96 page version finished at the end of Part I.

Don Quixote, or rather Don Alonso Quixano, has been addled by reading too many books about chivalry and decides to become a knight errant himself.  He persuades his neighbour Sancho Panchez to accompany him, and the two spend an inordinate amount of time on fruitless follies borne out of Don Quixote’s hallucinations, or fighting and falling on the ground.

I know that it’s famous for its antiquity and its foray into metafiction but, oh dear, in my baby Spanish it was just too silly for words.  It was a bit like reading Alice in Wonderland, where all the cleverness was stripped away in the process of making it easy to read. However, for language learning, the chapters were a good length, and it was fairly easy to follow.

I do concede that the book has survived four hundred years and that it has probably lost nine hundred pages in this version, so perhaps I should just reserve my judgment about the original!

 

‘El Sabueso de los Baskerville’ por Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

sabuesobaskervilles

Ah! This is the Sherlock Holmes I like. None of that Benedict Cumberbatch smart-arsery and supercilliousness.  Really, I think that the new Sherlock Holmes episodes are too post-modern for their own good.  Is that the fin of a shark I see circling?

jumpsharkgraph

This Sherlock Holmes only arrives at the end to announce his words of wisdom and solve the mystery in words simple enough for me to follow (even in basic-level Spanish)

You know, I don’t think that I’ve ever read the Hound of the Baskervilles before. Country houses on the moor; mysterious servants and neighbours and an eerie howl that pierces the fog in dark nights. What more could you want?

‘Cuentos de Edgar Allan Poe para estudiantes de espanol. Nivel A1’

poe

There’s a little test you can do of your language skill against the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL). “I’ll try that with my Spanish!” I thought, only to end up thoroughly deflated at the realization that I came out at level A1 – absolute, absolute beginner. Or as Wikipedia helpfully puts it:

He is able to understand and use daily expressions of very frequent use as well as simple phrases intended to satisfy needs of immediate type. You can introduce yourself and others, ask for and give basic personal information about your home, your belongings and the people you know. You can relate in an elementary way whenever your interlocutor speaks slowly and clearly and is willing to cooperate.

Well, on second thoughts, that’s about it.  Apparently this level takes approximately 100 hours of study and that would be just about right too.  (Actually, I’ve probably spent more time than that, so I must confess to being a laggard. I’ll blame my advanced age.)

So I downloaded Cuentos de Edgar Allan Poe for the princely sum of $2.04 AUD and found that, yes, it’s exactly the right level.  I had to look up about five words in each page, which was enough to keep me on my toes, but not so much that I felt overwhelmed.  I don’t know if the stories became simpler, or whether I improved as I went along, but it seemed that the later stories were easier to read than those at the start of the book.

It helped that I can’t remember reading any Edgar Allan Poe beyond, perhaps, in short story collections at school.  There were seven stories here: The Black Cat, Berenice, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Mask of the Red Death, The Facts in the Case of Mister Valdemar and Ligeia.  The whole book was only 68 pages in length, so each of the stories was relatively short. There were lots of deserted houses, ghostly women and glittering eyes and my favourite was probably The Pit and the Pendulum.  I did double check some of the stories in Wikipedia to make sure that I had actually understood them, and yes- they were abridged, but they captured the essence of the story with enough tension and mystery to make it worthwhile.

So, if you’re an absolute beginner too- this is $2.00 very well spent.

‘Alicia en el Pais de las Maravillas y El Mago de Oz’

aliciaenelpais

155 p.

I feel a bit as if I’m cheating counting Spanish books as ‘books read’ but – dang it- they take me as long to read as any 400 page novel, so count it I will! This book is not overtly aimed at the Spanish learner, in that it does not have vocabulary or questions at the back although its author information at the start seems to be aimed at an adult audience. The font is large, with a large illustration on the facing page, and the chapters are relatively short (i.e. a couple of pages). Of course, being Alice in Wonderland, strange vocabulary pops up and you think ‘Surely that can’t be right!’ but then you remember that yes, croquet is played with flamingos etc.  The Wizard of Oz story was easier to read because there was more repetition and the story followed a more conventional arc.

Does it work for me, reading a children’s book in Spanish? Yes, on one level, given that both are familiar stories which makes guesswork easier. But it certainly was a very abridged version, tracing plot alone, and in Alice in Wonderland particularly, it depended a lot on prior knowledge of the story with one event piled on another with little connection between them.  Come to think of it, though, that’s very much how Alice in Wonderland is, I suppose.

Source: Borrowed from my Spanish teacher Renato