No One Writes to the Colonel Anymore by Gabriel García Márquez

“The only thing that comes for sure is death, colonel”

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 170 pages.
Read from January 16, 2018 to January 19, 2018.

Márquez has been on my TBR list for way too long. This novel was a gift and a perfect way to start reading this phenomenal author. Márquez won the Nobel prize for literature in 1982 and has been praised as one of “the most significant authors of the 20th century“.

An elderly and unnamed colonel and his wife live in a small village in Columbia during the 1970s. Columbia is in the midst of a civil war that spans nearly a decade and is called the “La Violencia Era” and the country is being governed by martial law as result. The novel opens with the colonel attending the funeral of an older man who has died of natural causes, an event that has not happened in a while, making the funeral a somewhat happier and noteworthy event. The colonel spends his days waiting for his pension that he earned during his service in the military. Each day he checks with the postman to see if it has arrived but to no avail, with the country in upheaval, pensions are not a top priority.

Unfortunately, as he and his wife are elderly, they need that money in order to survive as their funds are slowly dwindling. His wife begins to sell their prized possessions to make ends meet and to make matters worse for the couple, their son is believed to be dead as a result of the current war. The colonel has been taking care of his son’s fighting rooster as there is a fight scheduled in the near future. The wife wants the colonel to sell the rooster but the colonel cannot part with it. He claims it is because there is a lot of people who have bet money on the upcoming fight and that they might make some money if the rooster wins but, in reality, the colonel has not given up hope that his son will return.

The story of the colonel is a mix of tragedy and the awful realities of war but ultimately it is about hope. The colonel has lost his purpose in life but has not given up hope that things will turn around. He has to, as hope is all he has left.  The rooster becomes the colonel’s metaphor and symbol of his hope. Even at the end when he and wife have next to nothing he still insists on feeding and caring for the rooster, much to his wife’s dismay.

Márquez has a distinct, brusque and masculine style of writing that lends itself well to the emotional subtleties of his characters and the bitterness of a setting stricken with the pains of war and poverty. Indeed, Márquez’s prose is gorgeous, even in translation.  If you are not paying attention to this carefully worded story, however, you may misplace or not understand the colonel’s attachment to the rooster and thereby not see or enjoy the beautiful pinnacle of this story.

This book is a quick read and seems like a good place to start if you have not read anything by Márquez, as some of his works, like One Hundred Years of Solitude, are quite lengthy.  One Hundred Years of Solitude will be my next read by Márquez as this short novel has given me a desire to read more of Márquez’s outstanding writing style.

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler

“A boy can be two, three, four potential people, but a man is only one. He murders the others.”

4/5 stars.
ebook
Read from January 23, 2018 to February 4, 2018.

A Canadian classic; there are not many books that embody a French-Canadian setting and receive as much praise and success as this one did, especially with a protagonist as despicable as Duddy.

Saying that Duddy Kravitz is ambitious is an understatement.  After taking to heart what his grandfather said about a man owning land, Duddy is determined to rise above the Jewish ghetto in Montreal he has grown up in.

“A man without land is a nobody.”

As you follow Duddy’s life from a young age, you see that Duddy is as smart as he is cunning and his extensive risk taking is starting to pay off. The problem being, Duddy is a shithead con-artist who does not care about anyone but himself. A trouble-maker from a young age, Duddy wants to prove everyone wrong no matter what the cost. Before he has even turned 18, Duddy is trying to increase reputation and his finances to get that perfect plot of land. duddysmposter04 Despite Duddy’s extensive faults, there is an admirable and likeable quality to him that almost has your rooting for him even as he uses and abuses people in his ambitious pursuits. You feel as if, maybe Duddy isn’t as terrible as his ambitions make him and deep down he is a good person. From his obnoxious and hilarious youth to the hard working days of his early adulthood, Duddy befriends and makes enemies with a variety of characters that contribute to his overall success at the end of the novel. However, the success has come at a steep price, one that even Duddy has to question in the end.  I know that even I was a bit bothered, on both ends, when his relationships and friendships fell apart. One part of me wanted things to work out for Duddy and the other part of me wanted to scream at his friends to GTFO.

Richler does magic work with Duddy’s character in getting you, as a reader, to love and hate him. So that even when Duddy does something horribly selfish, you are not surprised and still keep reading to see if Duddy’s ridiculously ambitious and often crude plans come to fruition. The book balances the themes of greed and ambition perfectly, as well as encompassing a snapshot history of Montreal in the 1940s and 1950s. Richler also details some of the current views held on Jewish people during this time as well as some of the political stances of the local French-Canadians. The plot is mixed with humour, cigars, alcohol, and a little bit of violence here and there, making the book not only interesting but somewhat exciting as well.

I can’t say this book would be for everyone but if you enjoy a little of debauchery and can tolerate a less than likeable protagonist out of the sake of your own ambitious curiosity than this book might be for you.

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar

“Tomorrow. The word hangs in the air for a moment, both a promise and a threat. Then it floats away like a paper boat, taken from her by the water licking at her ankles.”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 321 pages.
Read from January 18, 2018 to January 19, 2018.

I need to listen to my friend’s book recommendations more often as I would never have found and devoured this book otherwise. I sometimes struggle with stories set around traditional Indian families because so many of them are filled with intense sorrow in being so heavily committed to family at all costs, even if it means sacrificing your own personal happiness (for example, The Hero’s Walk). tumblr_mlvuppSgUV1rtxj3eo1_500This massive commitment is a foreign concept for me as I grew up in a Western society, neither of which is good or bad, just different. This book, however, I did not struggle with as the characters are so well depicted and the story showcases both the good and the bad of being committed to your family.

This story centres around two women of very different classes in India. Sera is a Parsi housewife who has employed Bhima for many years as a housekeeper. Bhima is extremely poor yet the two women are close friends, practically family. However, the massive class difference between the two of them is a constant reminder that they are very different and each holds different resentments and a fierce loyalty to their own family no matter what.  Bhima has done everything she can for her one and only granddaughter, Maya, whom she was happily able to send to college with Sera’s assistance, but something has happened. Maya has returned to the shabby home of her grandmother and has abandoned her studies, locking herself away. Bhima soon learns that Maya is pregnant. Bhima is furious but Maya refuses to give her grandmother any details as to how it happened.  The cause of Maya’s condition has a tragic origin that when unfurled will devastate the two women and their families forever.

Bhima, poor Bhima, her strength and suffering are so intense. The author has a magical way with words and is truly gifted.

“She is tired of it all—tired of this endless cycle of death and birth, tired of investing any hope in the next generation, tired and frightened of finding more human beings to love, knowing full well that every person she loves will someday wound her, hurt her, break her heart with their deceit, their treachery, their fallibility, their sheer humanity.”

The ending is heart-breaking, yet tranquil and gives you some hope that things will get better fro Bhima and Maya. The author depicts Sera so well that you can even appreciate her own individual struggles without resentment as she too, suffers intensely. Sera may not be poor but she is trapped in the tradition of a high-end Parsi family and it has created its own form of suffering. Both Bhima and Sera suffer, yet that space between them keeps them separate and unable to come together.  The book broaches a wide array of distressing themes such as poverty, rape, abortion and domestic violence and how these affect the lives of women regardless of class.  I did not want to put this book down. I was so involved and committed to the characters and plot that I thought about Bhima for a week and felt intense empathetic feelings for a person that doesn’t even exist, though I imagine there are many women out there in similar situations.

I would recommend this book to any woman as think some of the conflicts presented in the story are unique to women. That is not to say that men won’t enjoy this novel too as it represents a lot of different family dynamics that they would also appreciate. If anything, read this book for the gorgeous prose!