Monday, March 15, 2010

13. La Casa de Bernarda Alba (The House of Bernarda Alba) by Federico Garcia Lorca

Garcia Lorca, is one of Spain's best known poets and dramatists. He is also famous for his short and tragic life, he was shot by Franco's soldiers in 1936, at the age of 33, both for his political leanings and his sexual orientation. The House of Bernarda Alba is one of Lorca's most famous plays and the last to be written before his death. It wasn't actually performed for the first time until almost thirty years after it was written, and that in Argentina. The play depicts the life of one household of women in Andalucia, Lorca's native region and the subject of most of his plays and much of his poetry. Lorca also wrote poetry about the gypsy life in Spain, in the collection Romancero Gitano and about his depression during the two years he spent in New York, Poetas de Nueva York.

Bernarda Alba is the mother of five daughters, under whose tyrannical thumb she keeps daughters, servants, and her own aging mother. Bernarda's strict ideas of propriety and social class are the constraints against which the inhabitants of her house define themselves, either succumbing knowingly or unknowingly, or rebelling openly. The tension comes to a head when the youngest daughter Adela insists on loving the intended husband of the oldest daughter Angustias. The young man is marrying the older sister because she stands to inherit considerably more money. Although Adela has her way, she cannot escape the consequences of defying Bernarda.

The play became considerably more interesting to me when a fellow student suggested that it was meant as a portrait of the impending political situation in Spain. To me, it appeared more a portrait of the repression and self-repression of women of a certain class at that time in Spain, a worthy yet tired theme.

14. Daisy Miller by Henry James

I'd wanted to read this novella for a while, ever since it was discussed in Reading Lolita in Tehran, and when I finally spotted it on the library shelf in the "Literatura Norteamericana" section, I decided to go for it. It was a quick read in an excellent style, leaving me with plenty to think about.

I really enjoy Henry James' novellas, but I can't seem to get through any of his novels. I've tried The Bostonians and The Ambassadors and had to stop reading both because I was just too bored and had to spend too much time dissecting the language. Normally, I like that kind of thing, but I think Henry James is just a bit over my head for now. This gave me hope that I can try again in the future.

Daisy Miller is about a young man, an American raised in Switzerland and his encounter with the young lady of the title, a young American lady improperly fond of the company of men, among displays of other social vulgarities. He is drawn to her, but also judges her constantly. There are several themes at work; the different social standards for men and women, social differences between Americans and Europeans, and also a sort of high school-ish feel of cliques and exclusivity that Daisy threatens and one feels is the real reason she is thought to be improper. In the end, the reader can be the one to judge the narrator and I, for one, was not kind in my thoughts! However, I definitely recommend the novella as thoroughly enjoyable.

15. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

I had never read Stephen King before. At one point, I had some sort of idea he was intimidating, another time that he was beneath my notice, and finally, that I would get around to him, but I had better things to read in the meantime. Well, I got around to him and don't regret it. I think I would even continue reading the Dark Tower series.

In some ways, it's very standard fantasy, but it's well-focused with just a few characters and settings and pointed symbolisms to work out. This is definitely escapist, in that it addresses all the hardest things to face about life in an environment where it seems appropriate to face them first. The Gunslinger is a mysterious character, whose past we learn about while he is chasing a Man in Black, who presumably has some answers, across the desert. The character is interesting. He's sympathetic, but ultimately everything falls to his one goal and ambition, to find the Dark Tower.

King writes in an afterword that when he wrote the book, he was unsure of many things he alluded to or hinted at. I look forward to seeing what he comes up with.

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