Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar (Argentina)

Title: Șotron

Author: Julio Cortazar

Original title: Rayuela

Original language: Spanish

Rating: 4 out of 5

“She would smile and show no surprise, convinced as she was, the same as I, that casual meetings are apt to be just the opposite, and that people who make dates are the same kind who need lines on their writing paper, or who always squeeze up from the bottom on a tube of toothpaste.” 

“We went around without looking for each other, but knowing we went around to find each other.” 

“As if you could pick in love, as if it were not a lightning bolt that splits your bones and leaves you staked out in the middle of the courtyard. (…) You don’t pick out the rain that soaks you to the skin when you come out of a concert.” 

Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra (Chile)

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Title: Bonsai

Author: Alejandro Zambra

Original title: Bonsái

Original language: Spanish

Rating: 4 out of 5

“What’s the purpose of being with someone if they don’t change your life? She said that, and Julio was present when she said it: that life only had purpose if you found someone who changed it, who destroyed your life.”

Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands by Jorge Amado (Brazil)

dona-flor-si-cei-doi-soti-ai-ei_1_fullsizeTitle: Dona Flor si cei doi soti ai ei

Author: Jorge Amado

Original title: Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos

Original language: Portuguese

Translation from Portuguese to Romanian by Laura Bădescu

Rating: 3 out of 5

“He is your outward face, I your inner, the lover whom you don’t know how and can’t bear to evade. We are your two husbands, your two faces, your yes and your no. To be happy you need both of us. When you had only me, you had love and lacked everything else, and how you suffered! When you had only him, you had everything, you lacked for nothing, and you suffered even more. Now you are Dona Flor, complete, as you should be.”

“On departing this for a better world, the aforementioned Gil, the nincompoop without any backbone, had left his family in a very tight spot, in a precarious situation. In his case the phrase ‘departing this for a better world’ is not just a cliché, but the literal truth. Whatever the mysteries that might await him in the beyond – a paradise of light, music, and glowing angels; a murky hell with boiling cauldrons; damp, limbo; circling through sidereal space; or nothing, simply not being – anything would be better by comparison than his life with Dona Rozilda.”

Jorge Amado is perhaps the most loved author in Brazil. His novels such as “Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon”, “Tent of Miracles” or “Dona Flor and her Two Husbands” are classics of contemporary Brazilian literature, noted for evoking the people and customs of Amado’s native Bahia state, particularly its capital city, Salvador.

“Dona Flor and her Two Husbands” is, after “Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon” probably the best known of Amado’s novels, some of its popularity having come from the success of the film version.

The novel is divided into five parts, each part recording a fragment of Dona Flor’s life. Four of these sections open with a culinary lesson taught by Dona Flor at her school and one opens with a program for a classical music concert in which Teodoro (Flor’s second husband) plays the bassoon.

The story begins with the sudden death of Flor’s husband, Vadinho, a lowlife, a gambler notorious for never winning, who collapses in the midst of Carnival celebrations. He passes away smiling while dancing the samba, dressed as a woman. Many townspeople attend Vadinho’s funeral, from politicians to prostitutes, and share their individual memories of him. He was joyful, extroverted, and full of life, but at the same time, he was also an unfaithful and abusive husband, a gambler, a scammer.

The second section narrates Flor’s deep mourning period through a series of flashbacks describing her life as a girl, Vadinho’s courtship of Flor and moments, good and bad, of their married life. Memories of her life with Vadinho haunt her at every turn. Now, with Vadinho gone, it seems as if she lies buried with him, and only the shell of Dona Flor remains, going through the motions of living. Not until she has pushed these memories aside is she able to resume her life. In a symbolic gesture at Vadinho’s grave, she lays a bouquet of flowers as a sign of her acceptance of his passing.

In the third section, although Flor is still in mourning, she has clearly become more independent and confident in her own abilities. She devotes herself to her cooking school and her friends, a group of old ladies, most of them widows, who urge her to remarry. Her sleep becomes increasingly agitated and consumed by desire and longing for Vadinho. By the end of this section, Flor attracts another admirer, Teodoro Madureira, a well-respected local pharmacist who is everything Vadinho was not (faithful, respectful, highly intelligent, introverted, and meticulous) and is happy to marry him.

The fourth section, the one that opens with Teodoro’s concert, begins with Flor and Teodoro’s honeymoon. Flor quickly realizes that Teodoro will never be able to take Vadinho’s place. Although he has all the good qualities of a husband and treats Flor very well and could provide for her and care for her in ways Vadinho never had, he is duller and more reserved. Especially in bed. Flor starts to miss the heat and passion that existed between her and her first husband.

In the last section of the novel, on the first anniversary of Flor and Teodoro’s marriage,Vadinho returns from the dead, as lusty as ever, to claim his marital rights. He is now a ghost, but has lost none of his old ways. After much interior conflict and resistance, torn between her attraction to the ghost and her desire to continue as the faithful wife of Teodoro, who has no idea what is going on, Flor accepts her new condition and lives “happily ever after” with the living Teodoro and the dead Vadinho.

Dona Flor is a perfect example of the classic theme for women in Latin American literature: Mary vs Eve. You’re either a saintly virgin or a despicable whore, with no grey area in between. But it seems like an awful lot of pages to illustrate this point. I felt that there are multiple chapters that could have quite easily been left out. The story is too predictable and could have been easier to read had the plot been richer. Not that it’s a bad book, but it didn’t really hit the spot for me. And after 500 pages, any book that didn’t really grab you, seems like a chore.

I’m not sure why the actual experience of reading the book was not that great. It does have all the clichés you’d hope for from a great Brazilian story-teller: it starts with a character dying unexpectedly during carnival while dancing, and the whole book is full of gamblers and whores; serenades, social satire, sex and food; but, like someone said in a review that I was reading, “It’s like being stranded on an island with an uncle who loves telling stories. At first, it’s interesting and funny, but after a while, it just gets to be too much”. Sadly, at one point I’ve reached the “too much” phase as well.