lunes, 17 de febrero de 2014

Trafalgar - Benito Pérez Galdós

Trafalgar is the first of the 46 National Episodes, a series of historical novels set in 1805-1880 Spain, written by Benito Pérez Galdós (he was the Spanish equivalent of Émile Zola, but he is not even half as well-known, who knows why).

In Trafalgar, the fictional Gabriel de Araceli narrates his younger years living in Cádiz, on the southwest coast of Spain, and serving Alonso de Cisniega, a retired sea captain. When Gabriel turns 14, he becomes involved in the Battle of Trafalgar to impress a young girl and prove himself a man. Of course, all of this is secondary to the real focus of the novel: the Battle itself. This battle was a naval engagement fought on the 21st of October 1805, off the southwest coast of Spain. During the Napoleonic Wars, the combined Franco-Spanish fleet fought against the Royal Navy and lost. The intention of Napoleon was to try to break the naval blockade imposed by the British and ease the way for a French invasion of Britain, which never happened. This little event gave the name to one of the best-known squares in Europe: Trafalgar Square

I've always wondered why Galdós chose this battle as a starting point for the Episodes, since his motives for writing these historical fictions are usually said to have been nothing more than national propaganda to help raise the national pride. And yet, Trafalgar was a low point of Spanish history - a humiliating episode even, at least in 1873, when this was published. It seems he rather wanted to give us Spaniards a measure of our own close-mindedness instead, which is nothing to be proud of. I like to imagine Galdós as an intelligent and sarcastic writer who scorned his own milieu, but whose irony was often overlooked. I should read a biography to see whether I am right, but that would take the fun out of it.

The Episodes seem like a good way to learn about Spanish history in an entertaining way, since they are really well researched. If it was up to me, I would include this novel in the high-school History curriculum - it would be better than learning the facts and dates by heart, which was a pointless chore. Of course, some of the views of Galdós are quite dated, especially regarding the Prince of Peace, Manual de Godoy. He was a much reviled historical figure for a long time, but in the new light of historical revisionism, it seems that his apparently bad strategic decisions were the lesser of two evils, since Napoleon was exerting control over Spanish resources in order to annex Spain to his empire.

Trafalgar is well-written, although the prose itself is nothing ground-breaking. Galdós created endearing characters - the young Gabriel, his master Alonso de Cisniega, Paca, the older Malespina and Marcial (spoiler: his death almost brought me to tears). His descriptions of the battle itself were excellent - even for someone so obtuse as me when it comes to understanding maritime and military terms. He makes sure to be clear about the cruelty and the pointlessness of it all, and even if I had already read this, it was even more poignant and distressing on audio.

Have you read this book? Please, leave a link to your review in the comments and I will link you here!

This book is part of the Everything España Reading Challenge 2014 and for the Reading by Ear category of the Reading Outside the Box Challenge 2014 that I'm participating in.

domingo, 16 de febrero de 2014

Currently | Getting my energy back

shamelessly stole got this idea from Kim, who blogs at Sophisticated Dorkiness. She reviews the most amazing books, so go read her blog!

Cafebrería El Péndulo, Mexico City, Mexico
Time: 16:00

Place: At home

Eating & Drinking: Strawberries with Orange Juice. A vitamin C kick to avoid the winter flu!

Reading: I haven't been reading (or doing) much lately, since I had to prepare a really important presentation for my committee. I have reviewed lots of papers, though. Now that it is finally over, I'm enjoying a quiet weekend at home. I was so tired I slept through most of the Saturday. Today I'm reading A Tale for the Time Being and Watchmen. And since the results of the CC Spin #5 was Greenery Street, I should start reading that, too.

Writing: A couple of book reviews before I have to get back to writing papers.

Watching: I'm catching up with Downton Abbey, which I had stopped watching because it was falling into soap opera territory. It's not much better than I expected, but I'm too invested in some characters to not watch it. Besides, the costumes are so pretty! I've also started watching A Young Doctor's Notebook, which came highly recommended by a friend. It also helps that John Hamm (of Mad Men fame) and Daniel Radcliffe play the main character. It is darkly funny, fast-paced and short - I'm really enjoying it.

Listening: Nothing much - I've recently finished an audiobook, but don't want to start another one just yet, so I've listened to a couple of episodes from WTNV. 

Loving: Free time! I hadn't had so much free time in a while. This weekend has felt like a mini-holiday. 

The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes - Anonymous

Summary from Goodreads:

The bastard son of a prostitute, Lazarillo goes to work for a blind beggar, who beats and starves him, while teaching him some very useful dirty tricks. The boy then drifts in and out of the service of a succession of masters, each vividly sketched and together revealing the corrupt world of imperial Spain. Its miseries are made all the more apparent by the candor and surprising good cheer with which young Lazarillo recounts his ever more curious fate.

Being Spanish, I should have read this book in high school. I started it, but couldn't get into it, so I sparknoted my way through that particular exam. It was a huge gap in my classics knowledge, so I decided to start the year with this novel. After all, it is really short. I couldn't have chosen better. I was surprised by how well this novel stands the test of time.

The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes was published in 1554. To put that in context, Don Quixote was published in 1604, 50 years later. It is really old, and I was afraid that the language would be a barrier. Fortunately, that wasn't the case - old Spanish sounds funny, but it is easily understandable. This novel set the bases of the picaresque novels, since it follows the adventures of Lázaro de Tormes, a rogue who lives by his wits in a corrupt society. I haven't read much from that genre, but know a thing or two about rogues, who are represented widely in fantasy, videogames and role-playing games. How awesome is it that this classic novel started it all?

It packs a harsh critic to the hypocritical Spanish society of the time, which I find all the more relevant nowadays because of our current economical and political situation. The young Lázaro, the bastard son of a prostitute and half-brother to a mulatto, has no trade, no money and impious origins: he is in a rough place. He finds a way of earning a living by becoming the apprentice of a blind beggar, who teaches him the skills of a rogue. This first episode is my least favorite and it is exactly where I stopped the first time I tried to read Lazarillo. It is bleak, sad and revolting. This time, I decided to go on, and I was in for a treat. Once Lázaro runs out of patience with the constant abuse of the beggar, he has his revenge and abandons his master. Then, Lázaro goes from master to master in search of a safe position, and every episode is funnier than the previous one, in spite of all the miseries he has to endure.

After the beggar, he serves a priest, a squire, a friar, a pardoner, a chaplain, a bailiff and finally, and archbishop. The harshest critic is against the church members - the priest starves him almost to death, the friar frequents prostitutes, the pardoner swindles people out of their savings and the archbishop has an affair with a maid, who ends up marrying Lázaro to silence rumours. All of them preach something and do the very opposite. For this reason, The Life was published anonymously to avoid being judged by the Spanish Inquisition - it is very blunt in its critic. The ending itself is rather bittersweet, since Lázaro secures a position by becoming one of the people he despises - he is falsely pious and he sacrifices spiritual happiness in favor of material well-being. I'm glad I read it!

See what others have to say:

Leggygal @ Fictional Fix said "It is impressive that such an old work is so easily accessible - both literally and figuratively. [...] The novella [...] is, put simply, a hoot. The twisting, picaresque tale of the eponymous 'hero' who is a delightful innocent that goes from one drama to another." (Full review)

Have you read this book? Please, leave a link to your review in the comments and I will link you here!

This book is part of the Everything España Reading Challenge 2014 and for the Second Chance category of the Reading Outside the Box Challenge 2014 that I'm participating in.

lunes, 3 de febrero de 2014

The Classics Spin #5

Although it's been 4 months since I signed up for the Classics Club, I've only read two books on my list. The Classics Spin should be a welcome nudge in the right direction! Here's my list:

5 classics I'm dreading:
1. The Iliad - Homer
2. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce
3. The Guermantes Way - Marcel Proust
4. The One Thousand and One Nights - Anonymous
5. To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf

5 classics I can't wait to read:
6. The Hound of the Baskervilles - Arthur Conan Doyle
7. The 19th of March and the 2nd of May - Benito Pérez Galdós
8. It's Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty - Judith Viorst
9. Wigs on the Green - Nancy Mitford
10. The Annotated Alice - Lewis Carroll & Martin Gardner

5 classics I'm neutral about:
11. A selection of Anton Chekhov's Tales
12. The Call of the Wild - Jack London
13. The Last of the Mohicans - James Fenimore Cooper
14. The Currents of Space - Isaac Asimov
15. Robot Dreams - Isaac Asimov

5 Persephone classics:
16. Minnie's Room - Mollie Panter-Downes
17. The Victorian Chaise Longue - Marghanita Laski
18. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day - Winifred Watson
19. Miss Ranskill Comes Home - Barbara Euphan Todd
20. Greenery Street - Denis Mackail

I can't wait to find out the result of the spin!

sábado, 1 de febrero de 2014

Currently | Cozying up at home

shamelessly stole got this idea from Kim, who blogs at Sophisticated Dorkiness. She reviews the most amazing books, so go read her blog!

Source by Vintage's Life

Time: 1:20

Place: Back home, at my parent's house. It's my niece's first birthday :)

Eating & Drinking: Tea & Veggie Crisps. I happen to love veggie crisps, and my mom has raided the store to buy every single bag in sight to celebrate my visit!

Reading: The last Currently section made me ashamed of not having finished my Christmas reading, and pushed me out of my reading rut. This week I have started reading Alan Moore's Watchmen, Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being and Galdós' Trafalgar.

Writing: Not much lately. I should finish some drafts and reviews.

Watching: I finished S3 of Sherlock (it blew my mind) and have started watching Scrubs. I somehow missed it when it aired - it's a great comedy.

Listening: Again, Welcome to Night Vale. I've also started listening to audiobooks! I was starting to get tired of the humour in WTNV (it's great, but I was listening to too many episodes a day), so I decided to try audiobooks and they're great. I know, I've been wasting my time (and being such a snob for so long)! Now I listen to them while I get ready in the morning, while I do long and mindless tasks at work and while I cook. So much reading time found.

Loving: Being home! Eating nice food and cake. Spending time with my family. It's all so nice and heartwarming. I don't want to leave :(

Hating: That horrible flu that kept me down for over a month? It was swine flu. I freaked out. Fortunately, I'm fine now. Weak, but fine.