16. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
I wanted this book like a bag of candy. I'd seen it around bookstores in the States, but then I went to see the movie "Los Hombres Que No Amaban Las Mujeres" (Men That Don't Love Women) in Spain. The movie was made in Sweden, but I saw it dubbed in Spanish. I really liked it and was impressed that I was able to understand it fairly well,allowing for my mediocre level of Spanish. The author is Swedish and died, I believe, before his trilogy, beginning with this book, became internationally famous. Anyway, so the movie was good, even though the violent rape scenes are still haunting me. The book, I knew, had to be better. And I was right.
This is a mostly character-driven thriller, maybe a bit predictable in terms of plot, but since I already knew the ending, I couldn't analyze it for that. It also drives home a strong message about the prevalence of abuse of women and the problems of too much government in society and too much corruption in business. It's funny, but you (or I, at least) always think of Sweden as somehow being a happy, rich country above ugly problems like rape or fascism. Not that I really know much about Sweden, just that they're semi-Socialist and doing well financially. But Larsson's characters know a more dangerous, more morally bankrupt society. I'm not saying it presents the Swedish government as evil, I think it also shows the benefits of living in such a generally civilized place.
The "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is Lisbeth Salander, labeled a social misfit from childhood, she is saddled with a legal guardian, despite the fact that at age 24, she is a computer genius and earning plenty of money with her skills. Mikhail Blomkvist, a financial reporter, is the primary protagonist, and after falling for a scam that a big company sets up after he tries to investigate their operations,he leaves his magazine Millenium, and is offered a job by Henrik Vanger, head of another powerful corporation who is obsessed with finding the killer of his long-missing niece Harriet.
I've been recommending this book to all of my friends, as it's a fast-paced, enjoyable read, good for distraction, but still making you think a bit about serious issues and a different side of life.
17. La Familia de Pascual Duarte (The Family of Pascual Duarte) by Camilo Jose Cela
This has been my favorite of all my readings for my 20th Century Spanish Lit and Drama class. Jose Cela's novel is creepy and entertaining and simply well put-together. I love subterfuges of authorship and pieces of stories to put together (a la Don Quixote), so this "history" pleased me in that way. The bulk of the novel is written by Pascual Duarte himself, while he is serving a prison sentence for killing a man, which is the only crime of his not explained in the text. Pascual reminded me in some ways of Humbert Humbert though not nearly as despicable, charming or educated. In fact, Pascual, who is supposed to be a poor uneducated man, sounded a little too crafty at times, but I think that is part of the subterfuge of the novel. It has been edited by someone who "found" the manuscript, even though the person who first received it ordered it burned after his death.
Pascual Duarte's life is a series of rages and anger and odd observations. His parents, whom he hates, fights constantly, and the only one with any power over them is his sister Rosario, who runs off to become a prostitute. He has some small happiness with his first wife Lola, but leaves her when he feels the need to kill his mother, whom they are living with. After a series of other misfortunes, he does eventually kill his mother, where the story ends.
I don't know exactly what this novel is supposed to mean, perhaps to illustrate the life of a poor Spanish man and explain or explore his violence, and what kind of environment produces this kind of behavior. I thought it was definitely very interesting, and I will perhaps return to it sometime down the road.
18. Beloved by Toni Morrison
I knew what Beloved was about before I read it, but I don't think I can sufficiently describe how evocative and brilliantly written this book is. Morrison brings slavery to life in a way I have never read it before. She focuses on how slavery affects families, your sense of self and ownership, but she shows the emotional scars in a way that feels very modern...
Beloved is not only the daughter Sethe sacrifices for love and freedom, but she is all the children sold from their mothers, dropped into the ocean, forgotten, because nobody knows their name. Morrison shows how slavery took away love, even mother-love, because it was just too painful.
As a white person, a book like this is a reminder of how ugly people can be to other people, and even though my ancestors immigrated to the US after slavery, I know they and I have benefited simply from the color of our skin, because where some people are still prejudiced against for their skin color, others have the advantage. Like with the Holocaust, I don't know what to do though, except remember and behave without racism and any small thing that comes in my way to do, I will do.