Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Cellophane by Marie Arana

If you fly high above Peru's parched southern coast, you'll see one of the world's enduring mysteries, the Nazca lines: geometric shapes and renderings of animals and plants, some of them miles long, scratched into the surface of the desert. How did their ancient creators draft these gigantic patterns with such precision? According to one theory, their shamans drank a liquid that took them on soaring psychedelic journeys whose visions were later traced in lines on the ground. Today, as you hover above them, you come to a singular realization: in Peru, magic realism is more than a literary genre, it's embedded in the landscape.

Marie Arana's first novel, "Cellophane," is set not in the western desert but in the eastern rain forest, yet it's still steeped in the mysticism of Peru's pitiless nature and outsized human ambitions. Her protagonist, the aging engineer Don Victor Sobrevilla Paniagua, is obsessed by his desire to build a cellophane factory on the banks of the Ucayali River. To that end, he has dragged his family to this savage terrain from the coastal city of Trujillo, propelled by a prophecy he received as a child: "Beware! There are those who think you a dreamer. Pay them no mind. They are small-minded people with dubious motives." Doggedly pursuing his destiny, he builds a hacienda called Floralinda ("Beautiful Flowers") in a "wilderness of mud."

You can find the review here

Monday, July 17, 2006

Picasso's Closet by Ariel Dorfman - Stage Review

A Nazi officer, sickened by the depiction of prostitution in a famous painting, seeks the artist's head. A fiercely possessive lover desires the artist's undivided affection. An old friend, swept up in a Gestapo dragnet, needs the artist's help in avoiding the concentration camps.

And so Picasso bides his time in a Paris atelier, dodging, weaving, tap-dancing, weighing his options and, most of all, inveighing against the pressures of being a vulnerable, venerated figure in a time of madness. "Why the hell does everyone want a piece of me?" he wonders in "Picasso's Closet," Ariel Dorfman's intriguing if emotionally opaque drama, which examines the plight of a petulant iconoclast living under the Third Reich's fastidiously malignant thumb.

Dorfman, a poet, teacher and playwright, knows firsthand about the brutal fist of repression: He was an official in the government of Salvador Allende when the popular Chilean president was overthrown in a 1973 military coup. Dorfman's stage work, steeped in themes of retaliation and redemption, draws potency from the idea that the pain of totalitarian trauma is more chronic than acute. His most celebrated play, the 1992 "Death and the Maiden," tells the table-turning tale of a victim who exacts revenge on the man who raped and tortured her.

You can find the review here

Voices of Time: A Life in Stories by Eduardo Galeano

Eduardo Galeano is one of South America's most distinguished literary figures, best known for his brilliant Memory of Fire trilogy, a fictionalized history of Latin America that won him the 1989 American Book Award. He is also a journalist and historian, renowned for his probing criticism.

But his work can be charming, too. Some of the pieces in Voices of Time seem like throwbacks to Art Linkletter's "Kids Say the Darnedest Things" franchise -- except that Galeano's kids are verbally brilliant rather than cutesy. In "Curious People," a 9-year-old boy wonders, "If God made himself, how did he make his back?" In "The Teacher," a 6th grader in Montevideo confides to a visitor after everyone in her entire class has been given an award -- that "she loved her teacher . . . loved him very very very much, because he'd taught her not to be afraid of being wrong."

You can find the review here