I have officially completed the extreme level of the 2010 Global Reading Challenge.
This required me to read 3 books set in different countries of Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, North America, South America plus two books set in Antarctica and a wildcard book set in any time or place new to me. Because that wasn’t quite complicated enough I added my own slant that all the books had to be by new-to-me authors.
Participating in this challenge opened my reading up to 21 new authors, many of whom I wouldn’t otherwise have read. For some of them a single exposure will be enough but many will be reappearing on my reading list in the not too distant future. In fact I’ve already read and/or ordered additional titles from several of the terrific authors discovered on my virtual tour around the globe where I met an array of fascinating people and learned a thing or three I didn’t know.
Thanks to Dorte of DJs Krimiblog for conceiving of and hosting the 2010 Global Reading Challenge. It was a hoot and lived up to all aspects of its name and I would encourage you to sign up for the 2011 version of the challenge (in which I am reliably informed you won’t have to read books set in Antarctica to be considered an extremist).
My 14th stop on the Global Reading Challenge took me to Peru in South America.
Ostensibly this book is about the disappearances of three men in the mountains of Peru which two Civil Guards are sent to investigate. However this is not much more than a plot device for the author to explore broader themes such as poverty, violence and hopelessness. And he throws in a dash of romance (of the cruder variety) for levity.
If I’d read anything about this book before picking it up from my local library I wouldn’t have brought it home with me because it is exactly the kind of book my brain cannot process. Although it didn’t take me as long, reading it reminded me very much of the long four months it took me to plod through Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera a few years ago because everyone said it was so wonderful. I once again thought I’d have made about as much sense of the book if I’d read it in its original (and to me incomprehensible) language. In short I don’t ‘do’ magical realism and this book is full of it.
The two investigators, Captain Lituma and his sidekick Tomás, treat the local villagers as little better than savages or simpletons, especially when they discover that the locals still practice ancient spiritual beliefs and attribute the disappearances of the three men to these mystical elements. I won’t even pretend I understood these beliefs which seemed to have a heavy supernatural element and the only thing I’ll remember is the ‘pishtacos’ which are some kind of fat-sucking spooky thing that I don’t think it would be pleasant to meet.
Aside from this element the book is extremely violent, not surprisingly I suppose as it looks in-depth at the brutal reign of the communist guerrillas known as Sendero Luminoso (or Shining Path) and their impact on local people and politics. Lituma believes they’re responsible for the disappearances rather than any mystical being and he spends a lot of time talking about murders, rapes and torture he has witnessed or knows of. There wasn’t much room for sunshine and happiness in all of this. I imagine Lituma’s endless fascination with his off-sider’s romantic attachment to a prostitute he went on the run with when he shot her client while she was servicing him was meant to provide that lighter element to the book but honestly I just found it needlessly crude and bordering on repulsive.
The combination of a narrative told from a constantly changing point of view, a major fantasy element and the endless violence and crude language did not appeal to me at all. Even the translation provided a bit of a struggle as many words were left in the original language with no explanation provided as to why. There were moments where I was engaged enough by a snippet of narrative to want to learn more about the plight of the people (or, heaven forbid, find out the outcome of the mystery) but these were few and surrounded by too much surrealism for me. In fact I wouldn’t have bothered finishing the book at all if it weren’t for the fact that South American books have proven elusive to track down for the Global Reading Challenge. However, there are plenty of very positive reviews of Death in the Andes at Amazon and elsewhere so don’t take my non-fantasy-loving brain’s word on it.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 2/5
Translator Edith Grossman; Publisher Faber and Faber ; ISBN 0571175481; Length275 pages
were terrific. Having read Theorin’s previous book I fully expected The Darkest Room to be excellent whereas I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Bauer’s debut. It’s always particularly exciting to find a great new author.
Honourable mentions for the month go to a couple of top quality police procedurals from opposite sides of the planet
It’s marvellous to see this sub-genre being so well represented by relatively new authors as some of my old favourites have kinda lost their shine of late.
Of the 18 books that made their way into the house this month highlights include
Andrea Camilleri’s August Heat (I’ve already started this one, it’s the 5th of 6 books on the shortlist for the CWA International Dagger Award that I want to read before the winner is announced later this month)
Elly Griffiths’ The Janus Stone (which I received from my reading fairy godmother and will leave on the shelves for a while as I like to leave it a few months between books in a series and I’ve only read the first book in May)
Stuart Neville’s The Ghosts of Belfast (I’ve read a couple of reviews of this that made it sound very, very tempting)
Deon Meyer’s Thirteen Hours (the last book on the CWA International Dagger shortlist which I need to read before the winner is announced later this month)
Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road (my copy has been despatched from the UK and I await its arrival eagerly, having thoroughly enjoyed Diamond Dove)
Mario Vargas Llosa’s Death in the Andes (thanks to a recommendation from Jose Ignacio at The Game’s Afoot I tracked this one down for the 2010 Global Reading Challenge as it’s set in Peru)
Mystery Man by (Colin) Bateman (the subtitle is murder, mayhem and damn sexy trousers and I have Mack of Mack Captures Crime to thank for this funny recommendation)
John Hart’s The Last Child (this one’s next up on my audio book playlist, it’s won a bunch of awards so hopefully I enjoy it – a book needs to be especially good to take my mind of chattering teeth these winter mornings)
Chart of the Month
I’ve felt too busy to read as much as I wanted to this month and this chart of how many pages my eyes have scanned and hours my ears have absorbed shows it’s true: June has been my second lowest month of the year for printed pages and the lowest for hours listened
What about you? What did you really enjoy in June? What are you looking forward to reading in July?