I’ll start with my book from Jennie- Signs Preceding the End of the World, which is translated from Spanish to English. The translation is part of the reason Jennie gave me this book– the interesting choice of words is memorable. For example, instead of the word ‘left’ as in ‘we left the room’ Dillman wrote ‘we versed’ — verse is such an interesting and thought provoking choice in terms of its common use in English.
The story is equally as interesting as the translation! The story is about a girl who is Mexican and has to cross the border to the US to find her brother– that’s the short end of it. She is an operator and speaks 3 languages to help connect people and is the only one in her village with such talent. You get the impression Makina feels the weight of her responsibility to her community– a gentle reminder that hopefully permeates the reader to inspire them to feel such commitment to their locale–
Makina also is a messenger and is brave and solitary– she carries notes to gangsters and yet is seemingly untouchable and maybe even a little unknowable. She’s this staple of the village that helps make it all work together.
Makina’s brother joins the military, seemingly the US military (since they speak anglo). She is not impressed by the change she sees in her brother but she also respects his decision to create such opportunity for himself– the historical concept of the American Dream may apply here.
The end of the book (spoiler alert!) Makina gets herself a new identity and stays in the US–
This is all set in a sort of ‘underworld’ — science fiction like. The beginning of the novel she is pulling herself out of a sink hole that seems (and must be) otherworldly– other scenes in the novel make one wonder if this is ‘real’ or not. In the end, her being in the US, the human divide between her native country and her country of residence– the sci fi twist helps elevate the reader into disbelief and confusion– which perhaps is essential to trying to explain the very nature of migration, immigration and any other sort of flux that we humans have complicated ourselves with.
A powerful short read (107 pages) and I am thankful to Jennie to have had this book brought to my attention.
I couldn’t stop there– I started reading Burning Bright by John Steinbeck last night and finished the first act. If you’ve been around the reading blog a while, you may remember I am a sucker for Steinbeck. If you have PTSD from being forced to read The Pearl I encourage you to give The Wayward Bus a chance– it is not as intimidating as some of his longer works.
Act– did that catch your attention? It should. This is a play-novelette, in fact, the first one ever to exist! There is an introduction written by Steinbeck introducing the concept as well as his rationale for why he thinks such an approach has value. He said that he struggled with reading plays and that most people who read plays are in theater– there needs to be greater context for a ‘regular reader’ to fully appreciate what is happening.
This book is a 4 act play with a little extra prose for a reader to get the gist. I read the first act (38 pages) and it was about a man, Joe Saul, who is in the circus. His wife Cathy died and they never had children, but he’s been remarried to Mordeen for 3 years and they have not been successful at conceiving. Joe Saul is very depressed because he wants a child. Mordeen knows it’s not her and towards the end of the act she discusses this with a male friend/coworker at the circus. Mordeen confides in him that she knows Joe Saul is sterile but knows telling him will spoil their marriage forever– he will feel useless, powerless. She knows he is sterile because he had rheumatic fever for a year when he was young– she got a hold of his medical records.
End Act 1! How cool is John Steinbeck?
4 comments on “901 pages down; a swap book read & Steinbeck in the works”
I’m knocked off center by left (the room) translated to versed (the room.) I’d really like to know or figure out what that’s about. Exited is something like re-versed?? Probably not.
I’m a Steinbeck fan, too, so I’m happy to know that he was in favor of the reading of plays. I do enjoy imagining characters when I’m reading stories or novels, and am sometimes not happy to be confronted with someone who seems entirely different when a film comes out. (Mordeen’s confiding her husband’s personal business to someone else sounds like trouble…do let us know.)
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I finished reading the play novelette today and will be following up– this might be my latest Steinbeck fave!
I love an interesting translation!
I also enjoy reading plays, I was rereading a New Zealand play recently, called The Pohutukawa Tree. I will post about it at some point, I think the concept of the Act is lovely. I don’t think I have read any Steinbeck, and with my current stack, I won’t commit to anything yet. Regardless, it is and interesting idea that I might come back to in the future. Isn’t it wonderful this blog will allow us to do that.
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What a great takeaway that maybe the scifi-ness of the book actually puts in perspective the migration/immigration world most of us have no idea of; to keep it in the ether makes it more tangbile. Possibly?? I’m glad you enjoyed it!