This Poison Will Remain by Fred Vargas; a review for Women In Translation Month and a Give-away

The rumors all over the internet, after five bites in three weeks and three fatalities -all old men- are starting to make people come up with theories and spreading panic. The police hierarchy doesn’t like panic, because it could lead to violence.

Recluse spiders are named just that because they are prone to hide away. How is it, then, that three deaths have occurred apparently from recluse spider bites? Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and his team work to uncover the reason behind these deaths which mounted to ten total, with six in the last month; exactly how and why are they occurring?

Like all beloved detectives, from Inspector Gamache in Louise Penny’s series, to Robert Parker’s Spenser, Adamsberg is brilliant and quirky and fascinating to read about. His team of lieutenants and commandants have their own peccadilloes, which he must manage, from Froissy knowing she is under the eye of a Peeping Tom in her apartment, to Danglard who is undermining every decision Adamsberg makes.

Fleetingly, Adamsberg thought that life in his squad was very complicated. Had he been too lax? Allowing Voisenet to litter his desk with magazines about fish, allowing the cat to dictate its own territory, allowing Mercedes to take a nap on the cushions whenever he needed to, allowing Froissy to fill her cupboards with food rations as if in wartime, allowing Mordent to indulge his love of fairy tales, Danglard to wallow in his encyclopedic erudition, and Noel to persevere in his sexism and homophobia? And allowing his own mind to be open to every wind.

Yet, they persist in trying to ascertain the reason why recluse spider venom has been used to kill, and how that can be when a recluse spider’s venom is flesh eating, but not always deadly.

You needed at least forty-four venom glands to kill a medium-sized adult man, so you had to find the impossible number of 132 spiders, then get them to spit out their venom. And how on earth did you do that?

Could the motive be revenge against a gang of youths from La Misericorde orphanage, now grown up, who were notoriously cruel by putting recluse spiders into others children’s beds and clothing? Could the meaning of “recluse” be expanded beyond that of applying to spiders in order to solve the case? I read eagerly to the conclusion, fascinated by the intricate web woven within this mystery to its brilliant and unexpected end.

Fred Vargas writes an intriguing story of an unusual nature, a welcome respite from the typical American murder mystery of The Woman In…or The Girl On…(fill in the blank). She is “a #1 bestselling author in France, Italy, and Germany. She is the winner of four International Dagger Awards from the Crime Writers’ Association and is the first author to achieve such an honor. In 2018, Vargas won the Princess of Asturias Award for letters.” ~Penguin

Penguin has offered a give-away of This Poison Will Remain (U.S. only, please). If you would like to enter to win a copy of this book, to be published August 20, 2019, please leave a comment below. I will choose a winner one week from today.

Moby Dick (Chapters 11-20)

AEAEE80D-2F9E-4108-94F4-620CB9F6D13CChapter 11: I was only alive to the condensed confidential comfortableness of sharing a pipe and blanket with a real friend.

Chapter 12: Queequeg was a native of Kokovoko, an island far away to the West and South. It is not down in any map; true places never are.

Chapter 13: (Queequeg saves a greenhorn who had been teasing him before he was swept overboard.) “It’s a mutual, joint-stock world, in all meridians. (He says.) We cannibals must help these Christians.”

Chapter 14: The Nantucketer, he alone resides and riots on the sea; he alone, in Bible language, goes down to it in ships; to and fro ploughing it as his own special plantation.

Chapter 15:  “So, Mr. Queequeg (said the inkeeper’s wife), “I will just take this here iron (harpoon) and keep it for you til tomorrow morning. But the chowder; clam or cod tomorrow for breakfast?”

”Both,” says I; “and let’s have a couple of smoked herring by way of variety.”

Chapter 16: You may have seen many a quaint craft in your day, for aught I know…but take my word for it, you never saw such a rare old craft as the Pequod. She was a ship of the old school, rather small if anything; with an old-fashioned claw-footed look about her…a cannibal of a craft, tricking herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies.

Chapter 17: As Queequeg’s Ramadan, or Fasting and Humiliation was to continue all day, I did not choose to disturb him until nightfall; for I cherish the greatest respect towards everybody’s religious obligations, never mind how comical…

Chapter 18: Without saying one word, Queequeg, in his wild sort of way, jumped upon the bulwarks, from thence into the bows of one of the whale-boats hanging to the side; and then bracing his left knee, and poising his harpoon, cried out in some such way as this: “Cap’ain, you see him small drop tar in water dere? You see him? Well, spose him one whale eye, well, den!” and taking sharp aim at it, he darted the iron right over old Bildad’s broad brim, clean across the ship’s decks, and struck the glistening tar spot out of sight.

Chapter 19: Names down on the papers? Well, well, what’s signed, is signed,; and what’s to be, will be; and then again, perhaps it won’t be, after all.

Chapter 20: But when a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes happens that if he be already involved in the matter, he insensibly strives to cover up his suspicions even from himself.

***

Critics now want to say that Ishmael and Queequeg have a homosexual relationship; I disagree. I think they have a friendship that is formed of the tightest bonds from two lonely people who understand each other.

The chapter in which Queequeg displays his skill with the harpoon is entitled “Queequeg’s Mark.” He is far more adept at making his mark with a harpoon than he is with a pen as he is asked to do near the end of the chapter. What a clever title Melville used.

Melville’s humor, descriptions, setting, characterization, and foreshadowing are incredible. It is a book I carry on reading with the greatest of zeal.

Moby Dick: a sentence or two from each chapter; a type of Cliff notes, if you will. (Chapters 1-10 so far.)

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I never expected to be so thoroughly entranced by Moby Dick. I knew I wanted to read it because a reader should be aware of such classics, because Herman Melville’s birthday was 200 years ago on August 1, because it has been sitting on my shelf for years. But, I never knew that each chapter, even each page, would have something significant to say.

In order to remember such a long novel accurately, I am writing down quotes which seem to highlight each chapter. I will post them in groups of ten, to access them more easily. (And Brona, I realize this was to be a slow read-along, but I am compelled to sail along.)

Chapter 1: Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.

Chapter 2: …it became a matter of concernment where I was to eat and sleep meanwhile. It was a very dubious-looking, nay, a very dark and dismal night, bitingly cold and cheerless. I knew no one in the place (New Bedford, Massachusetts).

Chapter 3: Upon entering the place ((The Spouter Inn) I found a number of young seamen gathered about a table, examining by a dim light divers specimens of skrimshander. I sought the landlord, and telling him I desired to be accommodated with a room, received for answer that his house was full – not a bed unoccupied. ‘But avast,’ he added, tapping his forehead,  ‘you hadn’t no objections to sharing a harpooner’s blanket, have ye? I s’pose you are goin’ a whalin’, so you’d better get used to that sort of thing.’

Chapter 4: Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg’s arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner…The counterpane was of patchwork, full of odd little parti-colored squares and triangles; and this arm of his tattooed all over with an interminable Cretan labyrinth of a figure, no two parts of which were one precise shade…this same arm of his, I say, looked for all the world like a strip of that same patchwork quilt.

Chapter 5: Queequeg’s greatest admirer could not have cordially justified his bringing his harpoon into breakfast with him, and using it there without ceremony; reaching over the table with it, to the imminent jeopardy of many heads, and grappling the beefsteaks towards him. But that was certainly very coolly done by him, and everyone knows that in most people’s estimation, to do anything coolly is to do it genteelly.

Chapter 6: …in New Bedford, actual cannibals stand chatting at street corners; savages outright; many of whom yet carry on their bones unholy flesh. It makes a stranger stare.

Chapter 7:  In what census of living creatures, the dead of mankind are included…how it is that we still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheless maintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss.

Chapter 8:  Yes, the world’s a ship in its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.

Chapter 9: Woe to him who seeks to pour oil upon the waters when God has brewed them into a gale!

Chapter 10: No more my splintered heart and maddened hand were turned against the wolfish world. This soothing savage (Queequeg) had redeemed it…He seemed to take me quite as naturally and unbiddingly as I to him; and when our smoke was over, he pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me around the waist, and said that henceforth we were married; meaning, in his country’s phrase, that we were bosom friends; he would gladly die for me, if need should be.

Can’t you just see Queequeg’s tattoos? The harpoon with which he first shaves and then spears his beefsteak for breakfast? The church with its pulpit and tombstones and somber foreshadowing of what one feels certain will come? This book has me by the throat, and I love it.

Sons of Chaos by Chris Jaymes, illustrated by Ale Aragon: a modern story of an old war that helped shape Western civilization.

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I stayed up well past midnight reading this book. I was utterly entranced by the story, and the illustrations, while the sheer size gave me an almost cinematic experience.  The hardcover is 13.5 inches by 10.5 inches, and the full color illustrations pull you in as if you are watching a film.

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Sons of Chaos tells the real-life history of the Greek War of Independence, set on the Mediterranean shores in 1821. Ali Pasha, known as the “Napoleon of The East”, was an Albanian who appointed himself the leader of Northern Greece. Even the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire feared him, for Ali Pasha cared more about destroying the Suliotes (a small number of Greeks who denounce their oppressor) than supporting the Ottoman Empire.

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Struggling against his evil power is Kitsos Botsaris, leader of the Suliotes. Kitsos Botsaris’ son, Marcos, becomes the hero of the story. Born into chaos, Marcos must learn to become a warrior, even though as a child he hid in the shadows as he watched the killing all around him.

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Imprisoned in the dungeon of the Pasha, Marcos falls in love with Eleni, who was intended to marry Ali Pasha’s son, Muhhktar. They are both there against their will, similar in feeling the same pain if not the same circumstances.

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The story is one of drama and intrigue, lies, manipulation and violence. In some ways it resembles The Game of Thrones, but the events in this book really happened. It is fascinating.

Sons of Chaos was written by Chris Jaymes (@chrisjaymes), a multiple award-winning American writer, director, producer, actor, and musician. It was illustrated by Ale Aragon (@ale_aragon_), a comic artist from Argentina. Together they have done a magnificent job of bringing a piece of history that helped shaped Western civilization to immediate attention.

This epic graphic novel of the Greek people fighting for their independence brings into focus a widely unknown portion of world history for modern readers.

The Greek War for Independence was a conflict that quietly influenced the entire world and participants ranged from the London Stock Exchange to celebrities such as Lord Byron. Average impassioned Americans also were willing to transport themselves across the Atlantic to fight alongside the Greeks. This conflict was the pinnacle of what we now know as the Romantic Period and yet, it’s a war that few know ever existed outside of the Greek and Turkish cultures; a war that stimulated the fall of the Ottoman Empire and shaped what we now know as the Western World, and in a sense is being fought today under a different heading amongst the political leaders of the Eastern and Western worlds.

The son of a Greek leader, Marcos Botsaris, was taken prisoner as a child and raised within the dungeons of an Ottoman Pasha. Ten years later, it’s 1821 and he heads back to Greece intent on leading his people in revolution.

~Penguin Random House

Paris in July, at the last moment: Manet and Modern Beauty at The Art Institute of Chicago

On this, the last day of July, my mother, niece and I went to Chicago to see the Manet exhibit at the Art Institute. It was a truly spectacular day to be in the city as you can see from these pictures of Millennium Park:

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But, the Manet exhibit was really special. Combined with the gorgeous paintings were artifacts from the fashion of his time, such as these:

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And there were drawings and handwriting on notes and envelopes which charmed me:

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This is a picture of his watercolor set, a tin box with two brushes and dried watercolor pans:

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And here are some of my favorite paintings:

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(The audio said that this picture above depicts “the loneliness of urban modernity”.)

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The plaque by this last painting struck me as being quite lovely. It says this:

Mandarins appear frequently in Manet’s final works. According to Antonin Proust, the collector who bought the picture sent Manet a crate of mandarins from Marseille as a kind of gentlemanly exchange. Manet reportedly told Proust, “When I go out, I take lots of mandarins. I fill my pockets with them and give them to the local children who come begging. They’d probably prefer money, but I prefer to give them a share in something I enjoy. The pleasure of this world! Well they’re made of things that mean little to some people but a lot to others.”

In the nick of time, I have an entry for Tamara’s Paris in July event . There were no books for me, after all, but the art of Edouard Manet, combined with this gorgeous day in Chicago, were more than enough celebration for me.

 

 

One Hundred Years of Solitude, for Spanish Lit Month, for Stu’s read-along

20190731_064801It’s almost a mystical experience, to read One Hundred Years of Solitude. Exaggeration abounds, and emotions take on physical qualities like this:

…the persistence of Amaranta, whose melancholy made the noise of a boiling pot. (p. 216)

Seemingly endless streams of sons are named Aureliano, or Arcadio, until I become thoroughly confused, giving up on their specific heritage and simply reading for what I wanted to know: the meaning of the title.

Melquídas, an ancient gypsy who visits the Buendía family through its many generations, refuses to translate his manuscripts, the letters of which “looked like clothes hung out to dry on a line, and they looked more like musical notation than writing.”

“No one must know their meaning until he has reached one hundred years of age,” he explained.  (p. 201)

The novel contains war, and firing squads, gold coins and illegitimate children. There are explanations for religion and political parties which seem as if they could apply to America today.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, who had received their power directly from God, proposed the establishment of public order and family morality. They were the defenders of Christ, of the principle of authority, and were not prepared to permit the country to be broken down into autonomous entities. (p. 104)

But.

It has become so tedious to continue. I feel I am treading water, getting no where, and sinking deeper. The story has lost its magical quality for me as I become mired in its opacity, and I cannot go any longer with no clear story line…nothing happening but more sons of the same name being born.

More than three-quarters of the way through, I’m laying it down. Sorry, Stu, I tried. And I look forward to your thoughts on a book so many people love more than I can.

Google is pressing me to renew my domain, while I am busy cycling. Coloring. And, reading.

My favorite new pace is “slow.” That way I can hear the late summer insects singing as I ride through their domain, trying to identify the wildflowers whizzing by. I’ve got Queen Anne’s Lace, lilies, thistles, and Brown-eyed Susans, but those pink ones? I haven’t a clue. And, it doesn’t matter.

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When I color in Johanna Basford’s books, this one is Magical Jungle, I can make them any color I wish. You might think I’m a bit old for coloring, but I think not. School supplies are out now, at the best price they’ll be all year, and I recommend getting yourself a pack of Crayola colored pencils for under $7.00 and having a party.

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August is time for Brona’s read-along of Moby Dick, a few chapters a week as I recall. So, there’s that to read on the plane to a family wedding in Virginia next week.

Meanwhile, I keep deleting the most tiresome texts from Google threatening the banishment of my blog if I don’t renew my domain by August 3. I feel a little like John Belushi in Animal House: “Great, 13 years of blogging down the drain,” with two pencils protruding from my nostrils. And yet, if they take it away, I’ll be [dolcebellezza2.wordpress.com]. Would you still come visit me then? If I promise to return the favor?

 

For Women In Translation Month this August, Ten of My Favorite Authors

 

From Japan:

Hiro Arikawa (The Traveling Cat Chronicles)

Yuko Tsushima (The Territory of Light)

Kanae Minato (Confessions and Penance)

Sayaka Murata (The Convenience Store Woman)

From Italy:

Margaret Mazzantini (Don’t Move, Strega Prize winner)

Sylvia Avallone (Swimming to ElbaStrega Prize nomination)

Elena Ferrante (the Neapolitan novels, author not pictured)

From Poland:

Wioletta Greg (Swallowing Mercury, nominated for the Man Booker International Prize, and Accomodations)

Olga Tokarczuk (FlightsMan Booker International Prize winner, and Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of The DeadMan Booker International Prize nomination)

From India:

Anuradha Roy (Sleeping on Jupiter and All The Lives We Never Lived)

 

Find more information about Women In Translation Month from Meytal Radzinski, the woman behind it at all, at @Read_WIT and/or #WITMonth.

 

 

For Spanish Lit Month: The Linden Tree by César Aira

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I have chosen The Linden Tree by César Aira for Spanish Lit Month, and like so many books I read for blogging “events”, it has enriched my reading pleasure and knowledge of another country. (I think of José Saramago’s books, both Blindness and Skylight which are deeply memorable to me, or Javier Marias’ most excellent books such as Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me, or Fever and Spearor Thus Bad Beginsor A Heart So White.)

César Aira creates a fictional town of Pringles in Argentina under the leadership of Perón; he is the boy telling us of life in his town, and it could be the first person voice that makes it so resonant of my own childhood, or the innocence of youth some of us are lucky enough to experience.

A child’s father is a model, a mirror, and a hope. More than that, he’s a typical man, a specimen of fully formed, adult humanity. A kind of Adam constructed from all the fragments of the world that the child progressively comes to know…The father is like a big, complex riddle whose answers appear one by one over the course of the child’s life. I would even venture to say that those answers are the instructions for living. “What about people who don’t have a father?” somebody might ask. But to that I can reply: Everyone has a father. (p. 22)

His father is black, his mother is dwarf-like, with glasses so thick they resemble marbles, and these two form the backbone of his understanding. They live in one room of an empty building containing 24 rooms, which they rent. But, since the landlord will not give his father a receipt, his father will not pay the rent, and so there they reside in a stalemate which seems to work for everyone.

Throughout the novella, we glimpse the life of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, the decade under which Péron led Argentina.

…anti-Peronism eventually came from the same direction as Peronism, that is, from above. And when the dream of being able to forge one’s destiny evaporated, the result was disillusion, and shame at being so naive. (p. 54)

But, I didn’t find it to be as concerned with politics as I did with the life of a child in a small, poor, Argentinean town. It brought to mind memories of my own youth, for in some ways, childhood fears and dreams are universal.

I felt nostalgic for time itself, which the Plaza’s spatial stories made as unattainable as the sky. I was no longer the small child who had gone with his father to collect linden blossoms, and yet I still was. Something seemed to be within my grasp, and with the right kind of effort, I felt that I might be able to reach out and take hold of it, like a ripe fruit…So I set out to recover the old self. (p. 92)

I read this for Spanish Lit Month hosted this year by Stu; it is also my sixth book for Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer.

I have never read a “locked-room mystery” before; Murder in The Crooked House by Soji Shimada

20190701_065958.jpgApparently, a locked-room mystery involves a murder which occurs in a room that has been locked from within. The room seems to have no way for someone to enter, so how did the murder occur if it wasn’t a suicide?

Soji Shimoda takes us to the northern tip of Japan, to Hokkaido, where Kozaburo Hamamoto has built an eccentric house. The floors slant; the tower next to it leans like the Tower of Pisa. Guests gather in late December for a Christmas holiday, as the snow falls, and the mood is created for three bizarre murders to follow.

Each murder finds the victim fallen, with a knife wound, and one limb tied to a piece of furniture. Clues are meticulously laid out, but they are for a reader far more astute than I.

In some ways, this novel reminds me of Sherlock Holmes because it is all so logically presented (and solved). It also, strangely enough, reminded me of Agatha Christie; the guests become suspicious of one another and gather in the salon with their suppositions.

I liked it. But, I didn’t love it. I kept reading to the end because I wanted the solution, not because the story gripped me relentlessly. What I really wanted was to visit Hokkaido…