Warning: include(wp-includes/class-wp-term-connect.php) [function.include]: failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /home/content/46/5565346/html/wp-config.php on line 78

Warning: include() [function.include]: Failed opening 'wp-includes/class-wp-term-connect.php' for inclusion (include_path='.:/usr/local/php5/lib/php') in /home/content/46/5565346/html/wp-config.php on line 78
Mark Zero « bookmarkzero

Recent Posts:

Mark Zero's books on Goodreads
Blood & Chocolate Blood & Chocolate
reviews: 2
ratings: 19 (avg rating 3.74)

Give the Drummer Some Give the Drummer Some
reviews: 5
ratings: 9 (avg rating 4.11)

The French Art of Stealing The French Art of Stealing
ratings: 6 (avg rating 4.50)

The Scarlet Dove The Scarlet Dove
reviews: 1
ratings: 2 (avg rating 5.00)

Need the Feed? (RSS)

1171632 visits.

Posts Tagged ‘Mark Zero’

Book Trailer for Give the Drummer Some!

Thursday, July 29, 2010 @ 01:07 PM  posted by Mark
YouTube Preview Image

Official Website for Give the Drummer Some is live!

Saturday, July 24, 2010 @ 06:07 PM  posted by Mark

St. Louis from the Illinois side of the Mississippi River

The publisher’s website for Give the Drummer Some is live and full of features, funky songs and videos about soul music, St. Louis, the history of funk and the record industry. You can take virtual tours of Soulard (the neighborhood in downtown St. Louis where much of the book is set), East St. Louis and Brooklyn, Illinois. Because the novel takes place during winter and the snowy weather plays an important part in the story, it even snows all over the book’s website. Check it out!

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Other Side of What

Saturday, July 24, 2010 @ 10:07 AM  posted by Mark

Shannon Yarbrough’s first novel The Other Side of What, a languid coming-of-age story with vivid characters and memorable descriptions of its Memphis setting, mimics the process of growing up that it describes, becoming more confident as its story progresses. Ultimately, though, like its narrator, it clings to a naivete that doesn’t quite allow it to mature.

The novel begins as the gay narrator Matthew moves from a small Tennessee backwater to Memphis, the metropolis of his youth, and his search for love in his new home forms the meat of the story. Through the course of several deftly described romantic relationships of increasing seriousness, Matthew maintains a personal detachment from his new friends and lovers, keeping key elements of his past and identity hidden—partly out of embarrassment about his hicks-in-the-sticks family and partly in an effort to shape his friends’ perceptions of his still-developing new persona. The Other Side of What explores the emotional impact of Matthew’s secrets, both on himself and the people around him, who all have secrets of their own. In Yarbrough’s story, the human heart is the ultimate secret, and the struggle to reveal the heart’s secrets is the whole meaning of human relationships. Though the content of the story is not religious, its structure follows a classic Original Sin thesis: we all have secrets because we’re human, and to the extent that we can unburden ourselves of those secrets and live honestly, we achieve redemption and become worthy of love.

The Other Side of What gains its strength from a combination of glibness and meditative reflection. The matter-of-fact debauchery of Matthew’s introduction to the Memphis gay scene, which is also his introduction to the Memphis drug scene, adds grit to Matthew’s otherwise ingenuous, naive and self-deprecating narration. The colorful characters he meets as he navigates and then rejects the drug sub-culture remain friends throughout, and a spitfire art dealer named Zoe befriends Matthew and becomes his confidant. Through sharp dialogue, Matthew’s relationships develop intimacy and snappy camaraderie, and the three intersecting secrets that weave together Mathew’s lover Seth, his brother Ethan, and his friends Jacob and Vance illustrate common, even archetypal tendencies that we all share and that subvert our attempts to fully trust each other.

However, the novel itself suffers from an inability to be completely honest with the reader, so that its story remains unredeemed and its narrator doesn’t fully earn our trust. This is especially true of the story’s climax, when the novel changes narrators suddenly and inexplicably, alienating the reader and casting doubt on much of what has come before. Specifically, the novel switches from reliable first-person to omniscient third-person to unreliable first-person back to reliable first-person narrators in the span of just a few pages at the story’s most critical point, betraying an unwillingness to face the implications of its own plot. This narrative waffling is the more unfortunate because of the charm of the narrator and story up until that point, and because of the potentially explosive conclusion that the story shies away from, involving a love triangle, buried family secrets and the kind of gothic horror found almost nowhere else but in Southern fiction.

Yarbrough’s descriptions of a snowy Memphis, his clever mistaken-identities plot, and his tender handling of the first blush of romance between Matthew and Seth are all admirable and recommend the novel, but these virtues are mixed with an ending that settles for the comic instead of exploring the deeper emotional complexities of its plot and that becomes confused in its execution as a result. A good first novel that points toward Yarbrough’s more mature later work, The Other Side of What still leaves the reader wanting more.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Galleys of Give the Drummer Some Just Arrived!

Thursday, July 15, 2010 @ 03:07 PM  posted by Mark

Galley/review copies of my new novel Give the Drummer Some just arrived. We’re planning a release party in August when the novel becomes available for sale, and a tour in September and October!

Give the Drummer Some tells the story of Mouse Watkins, leader of the Bad Apples—the funkiest old school soul band in St. Louis. For twenty years, he’s been laying down smoking grooves, tasty rhythms and gutbucket funk in dance clubs up and down the Mississippi, always one break away from the Big Time. But Mouse is starting to wonder if his break will ever come.

Mouse’s best friend has disappeared with the Bad Apples’ last dollar, his tour van won’t start and a groupie stole his only warm coat at the band’s last show. Now, with no stomach for starting over (again) and a bleak winter on the horizon, Mouse washes up in East St. Louis, exactly where he started two decades ago. His dreams have come to nothing. Or have they?

Give the Drummer Some
is an odyssey into the heart of pop music and the soul of St. Louis, a book about the choices all artists, even great artists, have to make when the brilliant spotlight of stardom fails to shine on them.

I’ll announce details of the release party and tour when I know them. In the meantime, take a cue from the Godfather of Soul and Think (about the Funk!).

YouTube Preview Image
Enhanced by Zemanta

Castaway in Paradise

Thursday, April 8, 2010 @ 12:04 PM  posted by Mark

Castaway in Paradise, James C. Simmons’ compendium of South Seas adventures involving deserters, runaways, pirates and mutineers, has a breezy tone that belies the often horrifying nature of its hand-to-my-heart true stories. The tales of Europeans and Americans on South Seas expeditions that go terribly wrong, Castaway never romanticizes the idea of being abandoned to your own devices with no friends, yet somehow each adventure shimmers with romantic allure.  Even when Simmons is describing cannibalism, starvation, desperation and shipwreck, the siren song of the South Seas calls.

Alexander Selkirk‘s adventures on Mar a Tierra Island kick off the book in grand style. Selkirk (the real life adventurer on whom Defoe based Robinson Crusoe) chooses to be left on an out-of-the-way island rather than continue a voyage on an English privateer captained by a lunatic, but his voluntary isolation soon leads him to despair. He mopes on the beach, barely eating, waiting in vain for another ship’s sails to appear on the horizon, but what actually appears is a better cure for his loneliness than he ever could have imagined: sea lions! Mar a Tierra Island turns out to be the mating ground for a colony of sea lions, who arrive in such numbers that Selkirk is forced to flee his beach. Wandering inland, he discovers a paradise abundant in goats, clear streams, wild root vegetables and house cats that had been stranded on the island during previous shipwrecks. He finds a cave to live in, tames some cats and goats, and spends the next four years in isolated bliss, teaching his domesticated animals to dance to sea shanteys, until Captain Woods Rogers accidentally lands on the island in 1709 and “saves” him. When he returns to England, Selkirk’s story becomes a sensation, and we all now know him in fictional guise as Daniel Defoe’s unlikely hero.

Other castaway adventures did not end so well. Simmons tells the horrifying story of the whaleship Essex, which was battered to bits by an angry whale in 1821 (Melville based Moby-Dick on this episode). The crew of the Essex take to their lifeboats, but, fearing that cannibals inhabit a nearby island downwind from them, they set a course against the currents and tradewinds for South America. That nearby island was Tahiti and was actually inhabited by tribes friendly to Europeans, but because of the slow communications of the early 19th century, this discovery was not yet widely known. Had they steered toward Tahiti, they would have been saved; as it was, they exhausted their resources fighting the currents and began to die of hunger and thirst, and the survivors were forced to eat their starved shipmates for nourishment. By fleeing supposed cannibals, the crew of the Essex were forced to become cannibals themselves, and only five of the 21 crew members survived.

Simmons covers a wide span of time, from the early 17th to the mid-20th century, at an incredibly fast and entertaining clip. Herman Melville’s sojourn in the Marquesas gets a full treatment (Melville would base his first two books, Typee and Omoo, on his desertion from a whaleship), and Simmons recounts with loving, colorful detail every manner of shipwreck, armed conflict, desertion and melancholy that led men (and women) to the solitude of uninhabited islands, far from human companionship. The tales fall into two distinct camps: happy stories of paradise on earth and relentlessly horrifying nightmares, both of which become equally engaging to the reader.

By the end of the book, you’ll either want to drop everything and begin your own South Seas adventure immediately or you’ll curl deeper into your comfortable armchair and think twice about ever leaving the house again. These stories, of lives on the very edge of the existential abyss, cast your own day-to-day struggles in a new light and will make your daily cares either seem tedious by comparison or joyfully light and easy (or both).

Avast, ye lubbers!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Beyond Rangoon

Saturday, March 27, 2010 @ 11:03 PM  posted by Mark

The only film in our series of journeys Around the World & Into the Past, Beyond Rangoon features Patricia Arquette as American doctor Laura Bowman, who is traveling through Southeast Asia in 1988 when she gets caught up in the Burmese democratic struggle led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

Far from a vacation, the voyage is designed to help Bowman forget about the brutal murders of her husband and son, and Arquette plays Bowman as a blank, a woman with no affect and little connection to the world around her. As she tours the temples of Rangoon with her sister, she feels as dead as the great stone statutes of Buddha, and rather than soothing her grief, the exotic sights and sounds merely concentrate it.

One night, Bowman awakes to a racket of chants outside her window, and she steals out of her hotel room and into the streets, where she encounters a student protest against the repressive Burmese military dictatorship. She joins the protest, half in a dream, and witnesses Aung San Suu Kyi—the petite woman who would eventually win the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to bring democracy to Burma—as Suu Kyi stares down the guns of the Burmese military, sweeps them aside seemingly with the force of her will, and speaks to the masses of students gathered to hear her.

Bowman finds something to cling to in this rally, and she returns to her hotel room energized. Unfortunately, she has broken curfew, and the police are waiting for her when she returns; though they decide to allow Bowman to continue with her tour group to Thailand the next day, she discovers that she has lost her passport at the rally and is forced to stay behind while the American embassy issues replacement documents. Her sister travels ahead to Bangkok with her tour group, and Bowman is left to fend for herself as the Burmese government declares martial law and violently squelches the student uprising.

Left on her own for a day in Rangoon, with explicit instructions not to leave the embassy, Arquette’s character decides not only to go into the streets but to leave the city limits, which is strictly forbidden to foreigners. From there, the adventure really begins: grief-stricken and with nothing to lose, Arquette takes every dangerous opportunity that comes her way, and she eventually ends up among a group of student revolutionaries in hiding from the military. Now she has no papers, no way back into the city of Rangoon, and no clear idea what to do next, other than swim with the current of fate.

Partly a primer in Burmese politics, partly a taut thriller with an unlikely heroine, Beyond Rangoon grounds its tale in the struggle of Patricia Arquette’s character to feel anything at all after the loss of her loved ones, drawing frequent parallels between her personal tragedy and the sufferings of the Burmese protestors. At times heavy-handed and simple, the film’s politics can hit you like a sledgehammer, but the winning, warm performance of U Aung Ko—the central force in the movie’s little coalition of rebels—humanizes these politics, which, after all, champion democracy in the face of violent oppression.

Watch the Trailer

Arquette’s blank affect often acts as a cipher that allows each audience member to react individually to the action, and her transformation at the end of the film is convincing; but there are also many times during the course of the narrative when her blankness alienates the viewer, giving her dialogue a hollow, perfunctory ring. At these times, the extraordinary Malaysian locations and director John Boorman’s deft handling of both small interiors and massive crowds save the film from wallowing in its own pathos—Boorman knows when to ratchet up the thrills and when to linger on a poignant sunset.

Beyond Rangoon exemplifies the Euro-American tourist at the end of the colonial era, stumbling blithely into political turmoil partially of our own creation; and the film offers yet another example of complex local politics simplified through white Western eyes; but Beyond Rangoon also shows us the benefits of reaching out across borders, and it becomes a rare cinematic vehicle: a political thriller that thinks friendship is a transformative force.

You can find it on DVD or YouTube.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

A World Unto Itself: Riding the Iron Rooster through China

Friday, March 26, 2010 @ 07:03 PM  posted by Mark

Paul Theroux’s Riding the Iron Rooster begins like the first book in our Around the World and Into the Past series, Graham Greene’s The Lawless Roads, with a long train journey to the author’s eventual destination. In Greene’s case, the journey began in Austin, Texas, and wound circuitously down to Chiapas; in Theroux’s case, his year-long journey around the interior of China in 1988 starts in London. Vowing not to fly on his journey, in order to understand the true distance and foreignness of China, Theroux takes rail jaunts across France and Central Europe to the Trans-Siberian Express to the Trans-Mongolian, eventually finding his way to the Shanxi Province of Northern China. There, he begins twelve months of vagabonding, taking in major cities and rural backwaters, unwittingly at a critical moment in modern Chinese history: just before the Tiananmen Square Protests.

Theroux finds a paradoxical China, ill at ease with its own internal contradictions but nevertheless unified by an Orwellian bureaucracy that rules with an iron fist. Nearly everywhere Theroux goes, authorities force him to play their favorite game, whose name translates roughly as “making up new rules on the spot.” Theroux finds that Mao and his successors have wrapped the country in red tape like a Gang of Christos turning China into a communist art installation; yet, he also sees clear evidence of the liberalizing free market reforms that would eventually turn China into the industrial powerhouse that currently owns 25% of U.S. debt. Theroux writes that “the Chinese are the last people in the world still manufacturing spittoons, chamber pots, treadle sewing machines, bed warmers, quill pens, wooden yokes for oxen, iron plows, sit-up-and-beg bicycles, steam engines and the 1948 Packard car.” A mere twenty years later, though, they would be making cutting edge technological gadgets for export to the West, entering into manufacturing partnerships with European and American companies such as Beijing Benz-DaimlerChrysler.

Everywhere Theroux goes, he finds paradoxes: tiny local free markets operating parallel to the central command economy; local cultures and languages thriving alongside the dominant, homogenizing Mandarin and Cantonese cultures; and a simultaneous veneration and contempt for authority among the everyday people he encounters.

Theroux is a charming guide, by turns gruff, worldly-wise, perplexed, and arrogant, and he’s game to try almost anything but the black carrots in Mongolia. He escorts us around a local bazaar in the Uighur town of Turshan, listens to complaints about the Cultural Revolution in Shanghai’s People’s Park, and ascends to the vast plateau of Tibet, where he sympathizes with the Tibetan independence movement. Along the way, he gives us lessons in Chinese etiquette, agronomy and traditional folk beliefs, and he even reads a smuggled copy of a medieval pornographic novel banned by the government but not, after all, very pornographic by Western standards.

Theroux’s journey itself is interesting, and the author is an engaging storyteller; but what makes Riding the Iron Rooster so interesting today is the snapshot it captures of a remote culture still mired in post-colonial politics, but poised for its starring appearance on the world economic stage.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

King Leopold’s Ghost; or Why There’s No Club Med in the Congo

Friday, March 19, 2010 @ 03:03 PM  posted by Mark

The only non-travelogue in this series of books taking us Around the World and Into the Past, Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost is a history of Europe’s last major slave colony in Central Africa, where the devastating legacy of colonial exploitation continues even now. I have included it in the series because each of the books deals directly or indirectly with the European conquest of the globe, which colors American ideas of travel and shapes our experiences of foreign lands. Because it chronicles a slave empire so recently disbanded, and because the states that have followed in the colony’s wake in Central Africa continue to be war zones, King Leopold’s Ghost reminds us vividly of our own colonial and colonizing past, of the generations of exploration and violence that made today’s leisure travel possible, and of the ultimate sources of our disposable travel income.

King Leopold’s Ghost reads like a novel, with feats of derring-do, unlikely meetings and partings, and shocking revelations. The story of how King Leopold II of Belgium turned the Congo into his own private colony, this carefully researched book begins with the exploration of the Congo River by explorer Henry Morton Stanley (of “Livingstone, I presume” fame). It traces the subsequent employment of Stanley by Leopold as the king’s personal colonial emissary to Central Africa, explains the rise of the slave empire, and details the protest movement against Leopold led by E.D. Morel, whose coalition successfully brought international sanctions against Belgium and ended the king’s African fiefdom.

Briskly paced, Hochschild’s story includes the personal backstory of Leopold II’s early life, which led to the rapacious greed and corruption of his adulthood, explaining his lust for colonial wealth in context of his whoring, philandering and contempt for the Belgian state. Hochschild provides compelling evidence of the secret machinations of Leopold’s shady Congo dealings clearly and engagingly—no small accomplishment, given the millions of documents Leopold’s henchmen destroyed upon the king’s death—and he traces the very beginnings of Leopold’s idea of empire in the 1870s to its most gruesome success at the turn of the century and its final collapse with Leopold’s death in 1910.

Leopold’s network of dummy associations and foundations gave him sole private ownership of a territory as large as the United States east of the Mississippi—Belgium technically didn’t even have a Central African colony while Leopold was alive, because the king personally owned all of the Congo and personally kept all of its wealth.  Ultimately, this personalization of empire also makes him directly responsible for the 8 to 10 million Africans enslaved and murdered to fatten his bank account, a genocide that has largely been ignored in American school textbooks.

King Leopold’s Ghost hinges on the international protest movement against Leopold founded by E.D. Morel. Morel began his career as a shipping clerk for Leopold in the office of Elder Dempster, the bureaucrat largely responsible for cooking the books on Congolese exploitation. Dempster was responsible for making sure that the public accounts of Belgian trade with the Congo looked benign and that the profits were skimmed directly into Leopold’s pockets, and Morel simply couldn’t believe the truth when he saw it—of genocide, enslavement and corruption. He blew the whistle and his indefatigable efforts for over a decade around the turn of the twentieth century eventually drew President Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and a host of world leaders and internationally renowned authors to his cause. The pressure Morel brought to bear against Leopold made Leopold himself a pariah and caused no end of trouble for tiny Belgium, though in the end the King paid no real penalty for his abuses. Upon his death, the Congo became officially a Belgian colony and the worst of his abuses ended, though Belgian possession of the territory continued until 1960.

Morel’s movement was the first international human rights protest and laid the groundwork for subsequent organizations. It also helped shift public consciousness finally against violent colonial exploitation of the “Third World,” an important achievement just a generation after the end of slavery in the United States. But it did little real good for the people of the Congo.

Today, the hot and cold war that started in 1998 in Congo continues. It has claimed more than 5 million lives and directly involved eight African nations and 25 militia groups. The war has raged over a territory the size of Western Europe and troops have savagely butchered and raped civilians throughout the Congo, yet in America the conflict receives almost no attention. It is an inconvenient remnant of a failed colony and of a colonial past that the world would rather forget, and it seems to have little to do with America on its surface.

King Leopold’s Ghost appears in this series of travel books because it reveals a dark side of global adventurism that American and European travelers must always bear in mind when jetting off to “exotic” locations for pleasure. It reminds us that our forbears did not always have pleasure in mind when they set off to foreign lands and that, in many parts of the world, our faces still represent the face of death.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

An Antique Utopia

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 @ 11:03 PM  posted by Mark

Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere is Jan Morris‘s melancholy love letter to a city that, one hundred years ago, was one of the most bustling ports in Europe but is now largely forgotten. Though Trieste is the capital of the Italian province also named Trieste, 70 percent of Italians polled in 1999 didn’t even know it was in Italy! So what happened? And why write a travel book about a fading outpost of the long dead Austro-Hungarian Empire? For Morris, the transience of Trieste’s glory is a metaphor for the impermanence of life itself.

Morris has a long, complicated relationship with the city. She first landed in Trieste during World War II, as a soldier in the British Army, when she was a man (she had a sex change operation in 1972). She returned periodically throughout the second half of the twentieth century, always finding there a terrestrial limbo, a place of indefinable hiatus between more substantial destinations and activities.

The city is simultaneously cosmopolitan and solitary. Cradled in a crook of land that borders Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Croatia, Trieste is an easy drive from Austria and within steamboat distance of Greece, yet Morris finds that the very concept of nationality seems alien to the city. Formed by a dozen different civilizations over the course of four thousand years, Trieste’s character is shaped more by the cultural mementos of those past eras than by any present distinction.

Trieste sits on a plateau of karst (flinty limestone) above the Adriatic Sea, and the plateau is so formidable that, before modern roads and railways, the only people who ventured into the surrounding countryside were bandits and beggars. The land is essentially unarable, so large-scale agriculture is impossible, and hidden caverns and underground streams pock-mark the landscape: Trieste has therefore always been a port city that relies on trade. The Indo-Europeans known as Illyrians founded the city, then the Romans took it, the city-state of Venice colonized it, the Habsburgs occupied it, and finally the modern state of Italy got it after World War I. They gave it up briefly after the Axis defeat in World War II, but it returned to Italian control in 1954 and remains nominally Italian to the present day.

In each incarnation, Trieste’s role as a trading port was most prominent, and the Austro-Hungarians, by connecting railroads across central Europe to the terminus of Trieste, built the city into a commercial powerhouse. However, the ease of transport that made goods from Trieste so valuable continued only as long as the Austro-Hungarians controlled their vast territory, connecting Russia to France and Italy to Poland. When the Empire broke up after the First World War and dozens of international borders cut Trieste off from Central Europe, the city reverted to its older and more natural status as an out-of-the-way port disconnected from its neighbors by geological barriers, with no characteristic products of its own.

Jan Morris in 2008 and in the 1960s, when she was James Morris.

Today, with a population of just over 200,000, Trieste retains some commercial importance. It’s the headquarters of Italian coffee giant Illy, and its shipbuilding industry is still strong. And it still has a whiff of romance about it, at least for Morris: James Joyce wrote Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man there, and its architecture reflects its cosmopolitan past. But Morris is interested in Trieste mainly as a utopia: she conceives of it as the capital city of a people who form a secret worldwide diaspora, a people who don’t feel at home in the countries of their birth and are always longing for something at the edge of definition.

“They share with each other, across all nations, common values of humour and understanding. When you are among them, you will not be mocked or resented. . . They laugh easily. They are easily grateful. They are never mean. They are not inhibited by fashion, public opinion or political correctness. They are exiles in their own communities, because they are always in a minority, but they form a mighty nation, if they only knew it. It is the nation of nowhere, and I have come to think that its natural capital is Trieste.”

The desire for a place to call home remains after imperial glories fade. For Morris, Trieste is the eternal center of that nation of people whose unfulfilled longings are as important to them as their grandest accomplishments.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Journey to the Alcarria

Saturday, March 13, 2010 @ 08:03 PM  posted by Mark

Camilo Jose Cela’s Journey to the Alcarria captured a glimpse backward into Old World Spain just before it vanished and provided a peek forward at the coming struggles of everyday people under Franco‘s fascist regime. The record of a walking tour through the central Spanish countryside in 1948, Journey to the Alcarria is a sharply observed picaresque, a portrait of a moment in time between Spain’s agrarian antiquity and its slowly emerging—and troubling—modernity.

Cela undertakes the journey (one in a series of vagabundajes that he would write about) in order to escape the stifling despair of city life under Franco’s new regime. His goal was to observe the changes wrought by long years of armed conflict in the Spanish countryside and find out how people were living in the freshly forged peace. The Spanish Civil War, and then the economic privations of the Second World War, had wreaked havoc on everyday life throughout the country, and no one was sure whom to trust or what exactly to believe in now that the wars were over—republicans distrusted fascists, fascists distrusted royalists, royalists dreamed of a new aristocracy—and everyone was still nursing the literal wounds of war and the figurative injuries of betrayal. As Cela walks from one village to another toward the Alcarria, he finds that the psychological tensions of conflict remain, but so do the age-old virtues of community, family and civility.

The rural villagers Cela encounters— farmers, beggars, shopkeepers, and shepherds—have no model of behavior to rely on in Franco’s new order. Cela himself was of mixed allegiances—in the civil war, he fought for Franco, and, after he was wounded, he worked as a government censor, yet his sympathies lie with average people who are simply trying to make a living, without regard to politics. His idiosyncrasies make him both querulous and generous: he shares his scant resources with vagabonds he meets along the way, and he often relies on the kindness of strangers for food, lodging, information and companionship. Poverty creates its own community along the road and in the rural towns through which Cela passes, and the picture that emerges is almost medieval in its lack of wealth and prospects.

Cela’s journey becomes comic and tragic by turns. His battles with a stubborn mule, his conflicts with thieves and naifs, and his warmth toward fellow travelers are all colored by extremely romantic sensibilities. Cela seems completely at home with his own mixed emotions, and he assumes that everyone else has internal lives as complex as his own, which makes his narrative rich in detail and emotion. Though the people Cela meets are poor in worldy goods, they’re rich in spirit and have complicated lives that come through the page with humor and vitality.

In Cela’s post-war Spain, alliances and politics still matter, and everyone is still quick to judge everyone else; but the people Cela encounters also sense intuitively that they cannot maintain their old ways of life and that they must rely on each other to create something new, beyond the politics that are now out of their control. The fact that a whole generation would be born and live half their lives under Franco’s repressive dictatorship was not yet clear, but in Cela’s walk to the Alcarria, it is clear that the Old Spain has passed from the face of the earth, and it won’t be coming back.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]