Great House by Nicole Krauss

I fully expected to be telling you today how much I loved Great House, and how Nicole Krauss lived up to every expectation I had of her.  I wish that is the post I was writing today, but unfortunately my reaction to this novel is significantly more lukewarm than I ever imagined it would be.   There were times when I considered giving up this novel, but something about it kept me reading and I am glad I finished the novel.   Overall, I found it to be uneven, with parts I loved and parts I didn’t.

Great House is structured much like a collection of connected short stories, with several different narrators.  Three of the narrators we return to twice throughout the course of the novel and two are only allowed one section.  I think part of my own failure when it comes to this novel is where my expectations did not meet what I was given.  I was not prepared for the sudden switches in narrator and did not connect with the narrators in the first three sections.  Or, rather, as soon as I did connect with them the story switched.  I was happy to return to most of the narrators in the second part, though of course it was my favorite narrator who we did not see again.

My struggle with this review is that there are truly sections of this novel that I adored, that I want to send out into the world to be loved by other readers.  But at the same time, there are parts that I really didn’t like, that I thought were overwritten and needed editing.  This is a novel that I am so surprised that I didn’t like that I almost feel like there is something wrong with me and not the novel itself.  Surely, since so many people have loved it, I am reading it incorrectly.

So what was my problem with Great House? Why am I having such a hard time pinpointing what I did not like?  I’m even having difficulty explaining what I did like.  Well yes, I found the sections “Lies Told by Children” and the second part of “True Kindness” to be the strongest, but why?  What sets those sections apart from the other ones?

I’m asking a lot of questions here and I’m afraid that I’m not able to provide many answers, which I admit is sketchy writing at best.  Part of me thinks that Great House just isn’t anything new or memorable.  It has been a long time since I read The History of Love, and I have mostly forgotten the details, but it seems like Great House is simply a retelling of that story but instead of a missing manuscript we have a missing desk.  Am I going to remember anything about the plot of Great House in a month?  In a year?  While there were whole pages of this novel that I would like to quote, as a whole it just did not add up for me.

But the one thing that I keep going back to, that I keep trying not to talk about in this review because I’m not sure what to think about it, is the connection I see between Great House and 2666 by Roberto Bolaño.  And maybe it is because I have spent so much time with Bolaño, and maybe it is because Great House at least mentions Chilean poets, that Bolaño and Great House are permanently linked in my mind.  Beyond that, the structures of Great House and 2666 are similar, though where 2666 does not connect the stories in the end Great House does.  Now I have this unending loop in my head that Nicole Krauss is of European Jewish descent and sometimes writes about Chilean dictators and Bolaño is an exiled Chilean poet who sometimes writes about Nazis.  And what does this mean? I don’t know, but I think I like 2666 better.  That’s what this whole paragraph was about.

This is a novel that I think I could potentially have an entirely different opinion of if I read it again.  This was not the right time, which is not to absolve Great House of its flaws.   I wish there had been more consistency.  But I also think that those things would not have bothered me nearly as much any other day.  I think that all of the other pages of success, all of the other quotes that were so beautiful, would have won.  Want some examples?  Boy do I have examples:

But they didn’t come, and so I continued to sit there hour after hour watching the unrelenting rain slosh against the glass, thinking of our life together, Lotte’s and mine, how everything in it was designed to give a sense of permanence, the chair against the wall that as there when we went to sleep and there again when we awoke, the little habits that quoted from the day before and predicted the day to come, though in truth it was all just an illusion, just as solid matter is an illusion, just as our bodies are an illusion, pretending to be one thing when really they are millions upon millions of atoms coming and going, some arriving while others are leaving us forever […] (95)

The only exception was books, which I acquired freely, because I never really felt they belonged to me.  Because of this, I never felt compelled to finish those I didn’t like, or even a pressure to like them at all.  But a certain lack of responsibility also left me free to be affected.  When at last I came across the right book the feeling was violent: it blew open a hole in me that made life more dangerous because I couldn’t control what came through it. (127)

As if to touch, ritually, one last time, every enduring pocket of pain.  No, the powerful emotions of youth don’t mellow with time.  One gets a grip on them, cracks a whip, forces them down.  You build your defenses.  Insist on order.  The strength of feeling doesn’t lessen, it is simply contained. (193)

Because it hardly ends with falling in love.  Just the opposite.  I don’t need to tell you, Your Honor, I sense that you understand true loneliness.  How you fall in love and it’s there that the work begins: day after day, year after year, you must dig yourself up, exhume the contents of your mind and soul for the other to sift through so that you might be known to him, and you, too, must spend days and years wading through all that he excavates for you alone, the archaeology of his being, how exhausting it became, the digging up and the wading through, while my own work, my true work, lay waiting for me.  (208-9)

So, my conclusion?  Just read the damn thing and tell me if you agree with me or if I’m crazy.

Other, less conflicted, reviews: Shelf Love, The Broke and the Bookish, Nomadreader.  (A lot less book bloggers have read this book than I imagined!  Any reviews I missed?)


TSS – I love school, right?

Hello, everyone!  I think this post will eventually be about books, so bear with me.  Or skip to the part about books and call it a Sunday morning.  I’m sure everyone is plenty exhausted from yesterday’s Readathon and while I’m sad that I didn’t get to participate this year, it’s probably best for my brain that I didn’t.  As quiet as things have been at Regular Rumination the past few weeks, they’re only going to get quieter because there are only about four weeks of school left, which means finals.

I don’t talk about graduate school here very often, I’m not sure why.  It has to do with books, right?  You guys like books, I like books, but I never have very much to tell you about what I’m doing.  You know I’m writing my thesis on 2666, you might know that I’m currently rereading it for class (posts on that to follow).  Probably most people go into graduate school with some kind of idea of what they’re doing; I went to graduate school because I had (have) no idea what else to do.  When people ask my parents what I’m doing, they tell them I’m a professional student and I’m really not all that disappointed to be one.

I’ve thought of a lot of professional careers and I’ve had all the majors to prove it.  Once in my life I wanted to be a novelist, so I was an English major.  Then I decided to be an English professor, novelist on the side.  Then I wanted to be a linguist.  Then an English as a Second Language teacher.  Non-profit director!  High school Spanish teacher!  Librarian! Then I just wanted to read books in Spanish and be a poet on the side.  But no one pays you to do that.   I wish I had some direction right now, but all I’m trying to do is get through this semester.  There is a point in every semester when I sit down and am panicked at how much I have to do and how little time I have to do it and this is it.

Why can’t someone just pay me to have a book blog?

I’m actually very excited about my finals this semester.  I’m going to try and balance out the work, so I don’t end up running completely up to the last minute like I did in the fall.  I’m writing two linguistics finals and one literature final.  One of my linguistics finals is about the subjunctive tense and the other is sociolinguistics and it’s the use of accents in comedy in Spanish speaking countries.  My lit paper is on 2666 and will hopefully be part of a chapter for my thesis.

For that paper, I’m rereading 2666 right now and what is it about reading a book for school that makes it seem like such a chore?  I loved 2666, but rereading the first two parts was not fun.  Fortunately, things picked up during the third part.  I think because the first time around I really hated reading it and this time I actually see the point of it.  Thinking of it in the context of the border really helped me understand its purpose and I enjoyed reading it, unlike last time where I was so repulsed by it.  I’m still disgusted by a lot of what happens in the Part About Fate, but at least it feels integral to the novel.  I have so many questions and not a lot of answers.  I have a lot of thoughts, but not a lot of concrete ideas or any ways to prove them.  I’ve been slowly formulating ideas.

So thanks for listening to me whine a little about having no direction in life and having to write papers!  I know it’s silly and there are much bigger things to worry about in the world, but at least you know why things have been pretty quiet around here!

I didn’t get a chance to finish any of my Octavio Paz books for March (go figure), but I’m still working on them slowly.  Maybe you did better than me!  Did you read any Ocatvio Paz books?  Leave a link to your post in the comments section and I will add them here.

Exploring American Authors 2010

AMERICAN –əˈmɛrɪkən– adj.
of or pertaining to North or South America;
of the Western hemisphere (

If you’ve been reading Regular Rumination for a while, you might remember a couple of months ago when I said that I had a new feature in the works called “Spotlight”, in which I would theoretically spotlight Latin American authors.  Well, obviously, that never came to be and I’ll tell you why: because I chickened out.  I really didn’t feel like I had any authority, outside of some class notes, to really do any of these authors justice.  You might also know that I am going to begin writing my thesis in the fall.  I have decided on the novel 2666, which I read with a great group of readers back in the spring.  I don’t feel like my knowledge of the books that have influenced Bolaño and American literature in general is sufficient to really write that thesis yet, so I have a few months to educate myself.

That’s where Exploring American Authors comes in.  Every month for the rest of 2010, I am going to be reading the books of one author from the Americas, with a focus on authors who either speak Spanish or are of Mexican, Central or South American descent.  I have a tentative list through June, but if you have any suggestions, please let me know!  Here are my selections so far:

March: Octavio Paz
April: Roberto Bolaño
May: Julia Alvarez
June: Carlos Fuentes

My goal, right now when I’m bright-eyed and eager, is to read one book a week from the author I have chosen for the month.  Some of the books I will be reading in Spanish, some in English, depending on what is available at my library.  I’m beginning this week with The Labyrinth of Solitude by Ocatvio Paz.  It is a collection of essays about Mexican culture and I have talked in length about one of the essays, The Sons of Malinche, here during my discussion of one of the sections of 2666.  I will be revisiting 2666 and other works by Roberto Bolaño in April for class, so I will chronicle that here as well.

What does this mean for you?  Well, you can sit back and relax and learn along with me, because I will be posting about each book I read.  Or… you can participate!  I would categorize this as a readalong, rather than a challenge, because there’s no set number of books you have to read, just a focus we will have every month.  You don’t need to read 4 books, you could read more or less if you like.  The goal of this is to become acquainted with these authors.  So suggest authors!  I am open to all sorts of suggestions, as long as the author of the book meets two qualifications: 1) They live or were born in the Americas. 2) They either speak/write in Spanish or are of Spanish-speaking descent.  (Though that’s tentative as well. I’m very open to reading Brazilian authors!)

Comments and suggestions and questions about this project are greatly appreciated and I’m looking forward to reading these authors!

Looking Back at 2009

2009 is on its way out and 2010 is about to usher itself into the world.  Things changed a lot in 2009, in the world and in my life and I know that the coming months and 2010 are only going to bring more changes.  One of the  biggest changes in my life was Regular Rumination and my introduction to the book blogging community was on December 28th, 2008, a date that is approaching quickly and I can hardly believe it.  It has been wonderfully enriching to get to know all of you by talking about books and I’m looking forward to another wonderful year!

It’s too early still to put up my favorite books, but there are a few that I know will already make my list.  The Things They Carried was the first novel I read in 2009 and I really can’t think of a better way to start off the year.  It’s not only the best book I’ve read this year, but one of the best books I’ve ever read.  To round off the year, in September I got to meet Mr. O’Brien and see him speak.  It was an incredibly moving experience and one I’m not likely to forget any time soon.

Book blogging brought Young Adult fiction back into my life and like reacquainted best friends who stay up all night catching up, I read a ton of it.  Some of my favorite finds were Scott Westerfeld, John Green, Patrick Ness, Justine Larbalestier, Suzanne Collins, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, and Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Olive Kitteridge was a beautiful novel that not only won the Pulitzer but completely won me over, too.  Like The Things They Carried, it has staying power, at least on my top ten list.  2666 might have changed the way I read and my focus of study for my master’s.  The Grapes of Wrath and Something Wicked This Way Comes are two classics I read this year that lived up to their praise and also changed me as a reader.  Even though City of Thieves isn’t perfect, it ended up being one of my funniest reads of the year that still has me chuckling when I just think about some of the jokes included.

Graphic novels were big for me, especially graphic memoirs and non-fiction like Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco and Stitches by David Small.  I made the commitment in 2009 to read more books by women and people of many different colors and nationalities; through that goal, I discovered two new favorite authors that I can’t wait to explore more: Tayari Jones and Octavia Butler.  I hope to make this an even bigger priority in 2010, with authors from around the globe.   Poetry made a comeback in my life and will only continue to become a bigger focus for next year.  I ditched all my challenges a couple months ago, but don’t worry, I’m making up for it in 2010.

Keep an eye out on my blog for a post that looks ahead to 2010 and as we get closer to the New Year, a final year end list that will be nearly impossible to put together.  Thanks everyone for making 2009 spectacular!

2666 Readalong – Part V: The Part About Archimboldi


Check out what my car mileage was!

I can’t believe we’re here!  The readalong is over and we have made it through the behemoth 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, all along the way sharing our ideas and interpretations and making it a better reading experience over all.  It has been an amazing time, and I don’t think I would have kept reading this book, let alone finished it and come to love it and, maybe, understand it, without all of your input.  I guess my point is: thank you!  Thank you to Steph and Claire for hosting, thank you for everyone for participating and making this an amazing experience.  I’m glad that we don’t have to give it up after this, I’m glad there’s more to come with the Kristin Lavransdatter readalong, for which I am very excited!  Now, on to the discussion:

The Part About Archimboldi

I have a confession to make.  After finishing this book last night, I realized that I made a huge mistake while reading this book.  I was reading it and trying to figure things out, to understand how everything was going to come together in the end.  I thought that all of the stories would somehow converge, that we would meet the critics again, that Amalfitano would make another appearance.  I was wrong.  This novel is more like a collection of events and the people that are affected by those events; their lives intersect, but there is no final conclusion where we see all of them together, where everything finally makes sense.  And though, when I finished, I was somewhat disappointed by that, I realized later on that no, this was perfect. This is a hyperrealistic novel and to have an ending like that would have been false.  It wouldn’t have rang true with the rest of the novel, because that is not how life is.  In this book, the lives are intersected in small ways.  I felt like we read the book backwards.  The Part About the Critics started us off with the mystery of Archimboldi and the mystery of the murders in Santa Teresa.  We are then introduced to two people who are impacted by the murders of Santa Teresa.  Then the murders themselves and finally Archimboldi and his story and connections.  The critics never find him, at least we never know if they do, because in the end it doesn’t matter.

About half way through the reading of The Part about Archimboldi I figured it out.  I realized I had been reading it incorrectly the whole time and then just let the last section take me along for the ride.

The beginning, Archimboldi’s childhood and his obsession with the ocean, was so wonderful to read.  I loved it.  It was filled with wonder, humor and beauty.  And of course, since this is 2666, tragedy.

“And who is that?” asked the former pilot.
“My son,” said the one-legged man.
“He looks like a giraffe fish,” said the former pilot, and he laughed. (652)

There is so much in this section about physical appearance and names and what, if anything, that means about who we are on the inside.  Archimboldi’s father is the “one-legged man”, his mother “one-eyed”.  Archimboldi’s own name has been changed.  Lotte defies all misconceptions about her age and learns Spanish over age 70.  Lotte, Archimboldi’s sister, thinks of him as a giant his whole life, and when they finally reconnect, she remarks that he isn’t a giant after all.

We know that Bolaño wrote this section at the end of his life and it’s interesting to read it with that in mind.  There is a lot of ruminations in this section about age and death and what it all means.  Then, further still, what does art say about the artist?  There were many times while reading 2666 that I thought that Bolaño’s voice was coming through and he was speaking about his own novel-writing process and his own concerns.

The book Animals and Plants of the European Coastal Region was stamped on his brain, and while he dove he would slowly page through it.  This was how he discovered Laminaria digitata, a giant seaweed with a sturdy stem and broad leaves, as the book said, shaped like a fan with numerous sections of strands that really did look like fingers.  Laminaria digitata is native to cold waters like the Baltic, the North Sea, and the Atlantic.  It’s found in large masses, at low tide, and off rocky shores.  The tide often uncovers forests of this seaweed.  When Hans Reiter saw a seaweed forest for the first time he was so moved that he began to cry underwater.  It may be hard to believe that a human being could cry while diving with his eyes open, but let us not forget that Hans was only six at the time and in a sense he was a singular child.

Laminaria digitata is light brown and resembles Laminaria hyperborea, which has a rougher stalk, and Saccorhiza polyschides, which has a stem with bulbous protuberances.  The latter two, however, live in deep waters, and although sometimes, on summer afternoons, Hans Reiter would swim far from the beach or the rocks where he had left his clothes and then dive down, he could never spot them, only fantasize that he’d seen them there in the depths, a still and silent forest. (641)

I really like that section.  I think it’s beautiful and Hans’s wonder comes through.

Hans said he didn’t know anything about his father.
“True,” said Halder, “one never knows anything about one’s father.”
A father, he said, is a passageway immersed in the deepest darkness where we stumble blindly seeking a way out.  (656)

This section as so fascinating.  Archimboldi does not know or claim to know his father, though he was raised by him.  And how true is it that no matter how well we think we know our parents, there is always something about them that surprises us, that we never knew before?

“They call me Benno after Benito Juárez,” said Archimboldi, “I suppose you know who Benito Juárez was.”

So who was Benito Juárez?  His most famous quote is: “Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.”  Sounds like a pretty cool guy.  But I have no idea about the reference.

That night, as he was working the door at the bar, he amused himself by thinking about a time with two speeds, one very slow, in which the movement of people and objects was almost imperceptible, and the other very fast, in which everything, even inert objects, glittered with speed.  The first was called Paradise, the second Hell, and Archimboldi’s only wish was never to inhabit either. (800)

I feel like this post is turning into nothing more than a collection of quotes I liked.  I’m okay with that.  Finishing 2666 made me want to get out the first book and start all over again.  I want to find everything I missed when I was trying to make those connections that don’t, ultimately, even exist.

I am intrigued by the final note in the book, in which it is said that Bolaño believed there were two centers to this novel.  The obvious, the murders in Santa Teresa, and one that is much less obvious.  I don’t know what the right answer is.  I don’t know what that center is.  Maybe it is mortality.  Maybe the center of 2666 is the idea of immortality and mortality and how, even authors or artists or criminals, who have left their mark on society, will die.  There is no cure for it. All the characters are faced with this painful realization at some point and only Archimboldi seems to approach it with grace.  The Critics, faced with the death of one their own, approach it with disbelief and a lack of concern.  Amalfitano essentially loses his mind at the thought of losing his own daughter, though it might not look like that at first.  Fate, thinking about the death of Amalfitano’s daughter who he is attracted to, decides to help her escape.  Lotte, faced with her own mortality, defies convention and learns Spanish and travels to save her son.

That night, during dinner, they talked about the crypt, but they also talked about other things.  They talked about death.  Hoensch said that death itself was only an illusion under permanent construction, that in reality it didn’t exist.  The SS officer said death was necessity: no one in his right mind, he said, would stand for a world full of turtles or giraffes.  Death, he concluded, served a regulatory function.  The young scholar Popescu said death, in the Eastern tradition, was only a passage.  What wasn’t clear, he said, or at least not to him, was toward what place, what reality, this passage led.

“The question,” he said, “is where.  The answer,” he answered himself, “is wherever my merits take me.”

General Etrescu was of the opinion that this hardly mattered, the important thing was to keep moving, the dynamic of motion, which made men and all living beings, including cockroaches, equal to the great stars.  Baroness Von Zumpe said, and perhaps she was the only one to speak frankly, that death was a bore.  General Von Berenberg declined to offer an opinion, as did the two general staff officers.

Then they talked about murder.  The SS officer said that murder was an ambiguous, confusing, imprecise, vague, ill-defined word, easily misused.  Hoensch agreed.  General Von Berenberg said that he would rather leave the laws to the judges and the criminal courts and if a judge said a certain act was murder, and if the judge and the court ruled it wasn’t, then it wasn’t, and that was the end of the matter.  The two general staff officers agreed.

General Entrescu confessed that his childhood heroes were always murderers and criminals, for whom, he said, he felt a great respect.  The young scholar Popescu reminded the guests that murderers and heroes resembled each other in their solitariness…. (681)

Look!  More giraffes!

Maybe I am reading too much into what was happening in Bolaño’s own life while he was writing this, but I think it might not be totally off base.  Maybe it’s not what Bolaño had in mind, but I’m certain it’s there.  All I want to do now that I have finished 2666 is start all over again.  I want to find all of the things that I missed.  I know that there is so much to this novel that I will never understand.  And that’s a hard thing to accept.  All I do know is that reading this book has changed me somehow, as a reader and as an artist, and I do plan on reading it again.  I’m hope hope hope hope hope hope that at some point in my life, some university I go to will offer a class on Bolaño’s work.  Maybe next semester is too hopeful?  Maybe the next?

What do you think the alternative “center” to this novel is?   What did you think of the ending?  Do you want to read more?  Were you less enchanted, or were you like me, feeling lost and lonely with Bolaño to go back to?

I’m really at a loss now that I have turned the last page and closed the cover on 2666.  I just can’t believe that it’s over.  I think there might be more for me to say, but I’m not sure.  Thanks to EL Fay, Claire, Steph, Frances, Richard, Gavin, Isabella & Jackie for participating and I’ll see you again in October with Kristin Lavransdatter!

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

TSS – 20 Sept 2009


Good morning!  This was an exciting week, but I’m even more excited for the week to come.  First, I’d like to say what an amazing time I had for Book Blogger Appreciation Week, between finding all the new blogs and participating in all the memes.  It was one giant love-fest for book bloggers.  Congratulations to all the blogs that won awards, but most of all, congratulations to everyone who has a book blog!  You are awesome!

This past week I read or listened to:





Next week I will read or begin reading:

belle ruin2666minders

el lazarillo



An exciting list of books to read, but I know most of them are going to take me quite a long time.  El Lazarillo is for class on Thursday, so that takes priority right now.  I like to read a YA book at the same time I read 2666, because I like something to lighten the load a little bit, prose-wise.  I chose Life As We Knew It for this time around.  I’m a little bit sad and extremely excited to begin the last book of 2666Minders of Make Believe will probably take me a month or two to finish, just because I have been reading my non-fiction books so slowly.

Does anyone know anything about Belle Ruin? Anyone read it?  I requested it at the library on audio for the commute, and it’s already been requested again, so it made it to the top of the list.  I think that’s plenty to occupy myself!

Then on Saturday it’s time for NATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL.  I’m excited!  Who else will be there?!  We must say hello!

Have a happy reading day everyone, I’m going to be spending most of the day doing homework!  Hopefully I’ll get a little reading in.  Maybe, just maybe!

2666 – Part IV: The Part About the Crimes


The fourth installment of the 2666 readalong, hosted by Steph and Claire.

What is it I want you to do? asked the congresswoman.  I want you to write about this, keep writing about this.  I’ve read your articles.  They’re good, but too often you pull your punches.  I want you to strike hard, strike human flesh, unassailable flesh, not shadows.  I want you to go to Santa Teresa and sniff around.  I want you to sink in your teeth.  At first I didn’t know much about Santa Teresa.  I had some general ideas, like anybody, but I think it was after my fourth visit that I began to understand the city and the desert.  Now I can’t get them out of my head.  I know everybody’s names, or almost everybody’s.  […]  Out of patriotism, ultimately, because no matter whom it disturbs (myself first of all), I’m a Mexican.  And also a Mexican congresswoman.  We’ll fight it out amongst ourselves, as always, or we’ll go down together.  (page 631)

After the Spanish Civil War, author Jorge Semprún wrote several novels and memoirs about his life during the war.  One of these works was a short story in which he published the names of all the barbers who died during the Spanish Civil War.  The reasoning is simple: who else will remember them collectively?  (I can not find the original story, so if you know it, please let me know!)

In Part IV: The Part about the Crimes, Bolaño does something very similar.  The majority of this section, about as long as the previous three parts combined, was dedicated to naming and describing the deaths of all the women killed in Santa Teresa.  The resulting effect is something disturbing: we are at once inundated with information about these killings, making them painfully real to the reader, but we are also numbed to their presence because it is a constant.

I think for the first time in the entirety of this novel, Bolaño’s purpose or purposes is finally something we can almost see.  Aside from being an interesting story, I believe that it is a commentary.  A commentary on what is actually happening in Mexico, not in Santa Teresa but it Ciudad Juárez, and a commentary on Mexican and Latinoamericano identity.  Bolaño is not Mexican (he is Chilean), but continuously parallels the problems of Mexico to those of Latin American.  They are distinctly “Latin American” problems, he says.

I am reminded of one movie in particular, called La muralla verde, or The Green Wall.  Released in 1970, the story is of a man who decides to leave city life and colonize the jungles of Perú.  Much of the movie is him waiting in government offices to get approval to finally move out of the city.  When he finally moves to the jungle, tragedy strikes.  While the movie is based on true events, it also acts as a commentary of the relentless red tape that can be so damaging in Latin American governments.  The people who should be looking out for you, the government, only make situations worse.  And to make it all worse, nature isn’t really looking out for us either.

Despondent, she went back to her house, to the other neighbor woman and the girls, and fora  while the four of them experienced what it was like to be in purgatory, a long, helpless wait, a wait that begins and ends in neglect, a very Latin American experience, as it happened, and all too familiar, something that once you thought about it you realized you experienced daily, minus the despair, minus the shadow of death sweeping over the neighborhood like a flock of vultures and casting its pall, upsetting all routines, leaving everything overturned. (528)

For a while he seemed to consider my proposal, or rather search for the right words for what he had to say.  Then he said he didn’t want to see me waste my money or my time.  Do you mean you think Kelly is dead?  I shouted.  More or less, he said without losing his composure in the slightest.  What do you mean, more or less?  I shouted.  For fuck’s sake, you’re either dead or you’re not!  In Mexico a person can be more or less dead, he answered very seriously.  I stared at him, wanting to hit him.  What a cold, detached man he was.  No, I said, almost hissing, no one can be more or less dead, in Mexico or anywhere else in the world.  Stop talking like a tour guide. […]  I’m sick of Mexicans who talk and act as if this is all Pedro Páramo.  (624)

I was also reminded of Octavio Paz’s Labyrinth of Solitude quite a bit while I was reading this part.  I have mentioned one essay in particular on this blog in the past  – “The Sons of La Malinche.”  I’d like to recap this essay again because I think it is very relevant: it discusses the origins of Mexico and, essentially, the two mothers of Mexico.  One is La Malinche, Hernan Cortes’s indigenous mistress who arguably destroyed her own people by translating for the colonizers (though some would argue she saved them), and the Virgin of Guadalupe.  La Malinche is la Chingada, or the raped mother who did not ask for the burden she is given.  The Virgin of Guadalupe is the sacred mother, who was at first a weapon of the church to force the Mexican indigenous population under their rule, but became a strong symbol of Mexico and what it means to be Mexican.   From “The Sons of La Malinche” by Octavio Paz:

Who is the Chingada.? Above all, she is the Mother. Not a Mother of flesh

and blood but a mythical figure. The Chingada is one of the Mexican represen-

tations of Maternity, like La Llorona or the “long-suffering Mexican mother”

we celebrate on the tenth of May. The Chingada is the mother who has suf-

fered–metaphorically or actually–the corrosive and defaming action im-

plicit in the verb that gives her her name. …

In Mexico the word [chingar] has innumerable meanings. It is a magical word: a change of tone, a change of inflection, is enough to change its meaning. It has as many shadings as it has intonations, as many meanings as it has emotions. One may be a chingón, a gran chingón (in business, in politics, in crime or with women), or a chingaquedito (silent, deceptive, fashioning plots in the shadows, advancing cautiously and then striking with a club), or a chingon-cito. But in this plurality of meanings the ultimate meaning always contains the idea of aggression, whether it is the simple act of molesting, pricking or censuring, or the violent act of wounding or killing. The verb denotes violence, an emergence from oneself to penetrate another by force. It also means to injure, to lacerate, to violate–bodies, souls, objects — and to destroy. When something breaks, we say: “Se chingó.” When someone behaves rashly, in defiance of the rules, we say: “Hizo una chingadera.”

The idea of breaking, of ripping open, appears in a great many of these expressions. The word has sexual connotations but it is not a synonym for the sexual act: one may chingar a woman without actually possessing her. And when it does allude to the sexual act, violation or deception gives it a particular shading. The man who commits it never does so with the consent of the chingada. Chingar, then, is to do violence to another. The verb is masculine, active, cruel: it stings, wounds, gashes, stains. And it provokes a bitter, resentful satisfaction.

The person who suffers this action is passive, inert and open, in contrast to the active, aggressive and closed person who inflicts it. The chingón is the macho, the male; he rips open the chingada, the female, who is pure passivity, defenseless against the exterior world. The relationship between them is violent, and it is determined by the cynical power of the first and the impotence of the second. The idea of violence rules darkly over all the meanings of the word, and the dialectic of the “closed” and the “open” thus fulfills itself with an almost ferocious precision.

I have to wonder what Paz would think about the new Mexico that Bolaño is writing about.

I could write a treatise on the secret sources of Mexican sentimentalism.  What twisted people we are.  How simple we seem, or pretend to be in front of others, and how twisted we are deep down.  How paltry we are and how spectacularly we contort ourselves before our own eyes and the eyes of others, we Mexicans.  And all for what?  To hide what?  To make people believe what? (596)

This brings me back to the discussion I began, but never quite finished, about Part III.  Why was the violence/sexism/homophobia etc. that much more insulting or painful in Part III versus the other sections, Part IV (easily the most violent) included?  It has to do with purpose and balance.  In the other sections, I found that while the instances and episodes that I objected to were difficult to read, they were still necessary.  For example, in The Part About the Critics, the two male critics beat up a taxi driver for no reason.  This was necessary for both the characterization of the critics and to begin building the atmosphere of an overly sexualized and violent society.  This balance was extremely well-done in the first section, I believe.  The biggest problem I have with the third section is that it did not do anything that the other sections didn’t already do (set the mood) and I’m still not sure how Fate is connected with the rest of the story.  I’m hoping the final section will shed some light on this for me, but as of right now, I’m still standing by what I said about the third section, though I would like to give it a closer read.

Finally, I want to discuss Florita, the psychic.  I loved the parts of the novel that were devoted to her story and I would have loved to see more.  I think she acted as an interesting character because we see the crimes in much the same way she does:

And then she said: I’m talking about visions that would take away the breath of the bravest of brave men.  In dreams I see the crimes and it’s as if a television set has exploded and I keep seeing, in the little shards of screen scattered around my bedroom, horrible scenes, endless tears.  […]  And finally she said: I’m talking about the women brutally murdered in Santa Teresa, I’m talking about the girls and the mothers of families and the workers from all walks of life who turn up dead each day in neighborhoods and on the edges of that industrious city in the northern part of our state.  I’m talking about Santa Teresa.  I’m talking about Santa Teresa. (459)

I also just loved her story.  She’s such a unique character.

[…] Her husband got into the habit of bringing back [books] each time he returned from his buying and selling trips to neighboring towns, books he purchased sometimes by the pound [….]  Sometimes she read… any kind of reading that providence placed within her reach, and she learned something each time, sometimes very little, but something was left behind, like a gold nugget in a trash heap, or, to refine the metaphor, said Florita, like a doll lost and found in a heap of somebody else’s trash.  Anyway, she wasn’t an educated person, at least she didn’t have what you might call a classical education, for which she apologized, but she wasn’t ashamed of being what she was, because what God takes away the Virgin restores, and when that’s the way it is, it’s impossible not to be at peace with the world.  (431)

Inside that book with a yellow cover everything was expressed so clearly that sometimes Florita Almada thought the author must have been a friend of Benito Juárez and that Benito Juárez had confided all his childhood experiences in the man’s ear.  If such a thing were possible.  If it were possible to convey what one feels when night falls and the stars come out and one is alone in the vastness, and life’s truths (night truths) begin to march past one by one, somehow swooning or as if the person out in the open were swooning or as if a strange sickness were circulating in the blood unnoticed.  What are you doing, moon, up in the sky? asks the little shepherd in the poem.  What are you doing, tell me, silent moon?  Aren’t you tired of plying the eternal byways?  The shepherd’s life is your life.  He rises at first light and moves his flock across the field.  Then, weary, he rests at evening and hopes for nothing more.  […]  You, eternal solitary wanderer, you who are so pensive, it may be you understand this life on earth, what our suffering and sighing is, what this death is, this last paling of the face, and leaving Earth behind, abandoning all familiar, loving company.  (432)

Her sections of the novel were truly beautiful.  I think I wanted Bolaño to explore her character more, but he did not.  What does it mean to have a clairvoyant character (who is accurately describing events that do happen) in a novel that is so hyperrealistic?

Overall I think I understood this section more.  I realized, more completely, just what it is that Bolaño is trying to do and I’m hoping that the last section brings everything and everyone together, hopefully in such a way that redeems part III in my mind.  While I found Part IV to be painful and extremely difficult to read, I found it necessary.  It is a necessary commentary on the murders that are happening not only in fictional Santa Teresa but also in the real-world Ciudad Juárez.