Saturday, January 18, 2014

Las Hechizadas ****

Fern Gully, Avatar, and more. A multi-layered masterpiece.

Las Hechizadas by Anne Garcia begins with the evil mining company destroying the rain forest and the residents fighting back to defend their livelihood and home: Aguas Puras (pure water). In this telling, the defenders are Las Hechizadas ... rough translated as good witches, enchantresses, who work their magic through the wide variety of flowers cultivated in the area.

The story is in two parts. In part one, Juan Romero visits Abuela (grandmother), discovers the mining activity and leads to fight until he is murdered. In part two, twenty years later, Catherine, a Canadian writer, is drawn to to Aguas Puras to write a book about Juan Romero. The time since Juan Romero's death is incrementally disclosed as Catherine interviews the surviving Las Hechizadas  and their friends.

Beyond this story line is much discussion of the politics of power, money, and capitalism versus socialism. I found the long discourses distracting from the narrative, but not enough to spoil the story ... I skimmed over these lectures on the injustice of corruption.

Ignoring the politics, this is a book of women: love, children, collective power, magic, and pain. While many of the subplots are traditional stories of women as victims of men and power and love, the community of women is powerful and triumphant without resorting to violence.

In addition to saving the rain forest, discussing politics, and living a life of love and magic, this novel has aspect of science fiction and mystery. Twenty years from the present (part two) small holographic projectors are common and holograms have replaced videos, even in the rain forest. Also, the reveals at the end, are as surprising as any mystery, even if the reader has pleasantly ignored the existence of any mystery at all.

Thus, this is a book of women's stories that can be read and enjoyed on many levels.

One note on the language: The book includes a fair number of Spanish words, most of which I was familiar with from living the the U.S. Southwest, but I still kept my Spanish dictionary at my side as I read. Most of the words I looked up were various terms of endearment, but a few added to my understanding of the story.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on November 30, 2013. I received the book on December 14, 2013.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

White Indians by Michael Gills ***

White Indians by Michael Gills declares itself to be creative non-fiction. The creative part gives the author license to be as poetic and spiritual are necessary to communicate to feelings and aspirations of the people who travel across North America to the American Southwest to participate in the Native American Sundance ceremony.

The Sundance ceremony involves discipline, sweat lodges, fasting, and piercings ... the piercing are so brutal and painful that I found it necessary to skip over some of the descriptions. The narrative left no doubt that some participants found the ceremony to be an answer to their great inner need for connection and purpose. However, others -- myself included -- found the process to be brutal and frightening.

The author was a supporter, like a second in a duel, prepared to step in if the primary person could not continue. Thus, as an involved observer, the author brings the reader along for the experience. An intimate view into Native American culture, but not for all and not for me.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on December 10, 2013. I received the book on December 13, 2013. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Cold Storage Alaska by John Straley ****

Cold Storage, Alaska by John Straley is doing to do for Alaska what Carl Hiasson has done for Florida ... celebrate the region's unique cultures with a zany assortment of characters.

Cold Storage, Alaska is a small coastal Alaska community, home to two brothers. Phil, the older, good, brother was an Army Ranger and is now a Physician's Assistant ... the only medical professional in Cold Storage who sometimes tries his hand at veterinary medicine. Clive, the younger, bad, brother went into jail while Phil overseas with the Rangers ... drug deal gone bad. The story starts when Clive is released from prison, grabs a bunch of money from his partner in crime, and heads for home.

Life in Cold Storage is shaped by the environment of the Alaska coast, the precarious existence of fishermen, the isolation that makes travel expensive and inconvenient, and the small town intimacy that causes a 83-year-old women to complain that she is celibate because everyone would know if she had sex ... everyone in town has sex radar.

A fun romp in a land of the midnight sun and self-sufficient independence.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on November 22, 2013. I received the book on December 13, 2013.