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South America

Chile and The Private Lives of Trees

Chile! Possibly the thinnest country in the world. Due to that long, skinny shape, the country has an incredibly varied climate, going from super dry desert in the north to snow and lakes in the south. It is one of the most politically stable countries in South America.

My book for Chile is The private lives of trees by Alejandra Zambra, translated by Megan McDowell.

In this very short novel (98 pages!), we meet a young literature professor named Julian, who is telling his stepdaughter a bedtime story while they wait for his wife, her mother, to return home. The story he tells her is about the private lives of trees (hence the title).

As the night goes on, Julian becomes more and more nervous, as his wife is much later than usual, and he fears that something terrible has happened to her – perhaps a car accident? A robbery? Is she stranded on the highway somewhere? Has she run away and left him with her daughter to raise on his own?

I thought this was an interesting analysis of the insecurities that many people have regarding their relationships. What have you read from Chile?

Peru and Death in the Andes

For Peru, we have:Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa!

This is definitely a book that I’d describe as a classic. It draws on a lot of classic, ancient Greek mythology – specifically, the god of wine Dionysus and the cults that surrounded him, and the sun god Apollo. Which kind of makes it sound less South American, and more Greek or European…until you hear about the pishtacos.

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Ahem. I give you, the pishtacos of Peru! They’re like vampires, except instead of drinking human blood, they drink human fat. Yummy!

Anyway, this book is half-mystery, half classical discussion on life versus death, party versus responsibility, with a good dose of political commentary on the state of Peru from 1980-2000 while it fought a deadly guerrilla war thrown in for funsies.

This book has LAYERS!

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What have you read from Peru?

Nicaragua and Chorizo and Ripe Plantain Hash

So, since I was so harsh on my book for Nicaragua (Infinity in the Palm of her Hand), I thought I’d follow up with something nice to say about my experience with Nicaraguan food.

Guys. This recipe is the shit.

I give you: Chorizo and Ripe Plantain Hash! I loved it, my husband loved it, my brother loved it when he came to visit, and it’s super easy. What more can you ask for?

Unlike some of the other recipes that I’ve tried out, this one didn’t have hard-to-find ingredients, which was nice. I’m willing to hunt a little for an ingredient or two here and there, but a few of the recipes that I’ve looked at I’m like “I think I’d have to actually live there to find that.” So. Those recipes were not chosen.

This recipe is highly recommended. Pro tip: when you buy your plantains, don’t buy the super hard ones 0.o I definitely thought mine would soften up in a couple days…not so much. And store them on your counter, not in the fridge.

This recipe has already become a staple in our house. Love it!

Check out my Pinterest board for more recipes from around the world!

Nicaragua and Infinity in the Palm of her Hand

Spoiler: I didn’t really like this book. Like at all.

The book in question is Infinity in the palm of her hand by Gioconda Belli, who was part of the rebel group that toppled the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza in the 1970’s.  I’d like to read something else by her someday, because she sounds like a badass, and I don’t really think one book is enough to judge an author’s entire writing career. Unless that’s all they have published, I suppose. Then that really IS their entire writing career.

Anyway.

The title for this book was so intriguing, I couldn’t pass it up. And would you look at that cover? The flowing hair! The beautiful woman! I HAD to read this book.

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The story follows Adam and Eve in an imagined what-it-must-have-been-like-to-be-thrown-out-of-Eden sequence. It focuses entirely on Eve’s view of everything, rather than Adam’s, so that was cool. But it also gets really weird.

The story kind of focuses on Adam and Eve’s relationship, which makes sense as they’re LITERALLY the only people on earth, but it was also kind of weird. Like, Adam was being all macho and authoritative, and I’m all over here like “Where the fuck did he pick that up?” And at certain points it does seem like he is learning these things from God, who talks to Adam and Eve throughout the book, but that just leaves me wondering where Eve was supposed to learn to be a woman if Adam was busy learning to be a man from God. Also, I was always taught that God is actually neither man nor woman, because gender is too human of a trait and God is above human…I digress.

So, OK, Adam and Even get kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and they ‘re trying to figure out how to live, which is interesting and awkward (for instance, they didn’t know they were going to poop). Then Eve has kids, and it gets MORE weird. I won’t spoil the ending for you, in case anyone is interested in reading this for themselves, but I was weirded out by everything with their children. It’s also not Biblical – which is fine, this is fiction – but I also wasn’t quite sure where Belli was going with this.

I think maybe this was just a bad choice for this project, because I wanted books that made me learn at least a little bit about the culture of the country that they’re from. A book about Adam and Even is definitely not going to help me out with that. So maybe that’s just on me for picking the wrong book for this project. Nevertheless, I don’t think I’ll be recommending this title to anyone anytime soon.

Have any of you ever read this book? What did you guys think of it?

Colombia and Colombian-style Chicken Stew

I thought I would take a brief break from talking about books today to talk about one of the other great loves of my life – food!

Cliché, I know.

But nevertheless, food is one of the things that brings people together, just like books. After I had started in on this reading project, I had the sudden epiphany that it might also be fun to cook something from every country, too!

Think about it. Usually, when you read a book, the food they’re eating gets mentioned, and often it’s important in setting a tone or overall theme. And if you have no idea what food they’re talking about, you miss all of that context.

For example, when I read my book for Australia, they kept talking about damper. I thought it was some kind of soup. Nope! Turns out it was a type of dry bread that keeps well, and is thus used often by travelers. In the book, that’s all they had to eat. Dry bread.

A bit different than soup every night, huh?

So, now that I’ve talked about my book for Colombia, The Dark Bride, I want to tell you all about the delicious Colombian soup I made as well.

You can find the recipe here . It is also available on the site in Spanish, if anyone needs that as well.

Most of the recipes I try are healthy dinner recipes, but I’ll probably end up trying some desserts as well 🙂 Check out my Pinterest @ProjLibrarian for more recipes from around the world! And if you try this recipe, let me know what you think!

Colombia and The Dark Bride

Today’s featured book will be The Dark Bride by Laura Restrepo, from the beautiful South American country of Colombia!

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If you’ve watched any episodes of Narcos on Netflix, I know you’re getting super excited right now.

I’m not sure I can give a better description that what the back of my copy says, so here goes:

“Once a month, the refinery workers of the Tropical Oil Company descend upon Tora, a city in the Colombian forest. They journey down from the mountains searching for earthly bliss and hoping to encounter Sayonara, the legendary Indian prostitute who rules their squalid paradise like a queen. Beautiful, exotic, and mysterious, Sayonara, the undisputed barrio angel, captivates whoever crosses her path. Then, one day, she violates the unwritten rules of her profession and falls in love with a man she can never have. Sayonara’s unrequited passion has tragic consequences not only for her, but for all those whose lives ultimately depend on the Tropical Oil Company.”

Guys. This is every bit as good as it sounds like it’s going to be.

Like any good Latin American novel, The Dark Bride is full of magical realism that makes scenes worm inside the readers skull, through the many wrinkles and crevices of the brain, losing and regaining their original shapes and meanings until you can’t quite seem to come to a conclusion as to what actually happened, after all.

Usually a good example of magical realism would be the ending of a book, but I REALLY don’t want to ruin this one for you. I had a difficult time choosing a scene that didn’t feel like it was giving too much of the story away, while still capturing the vaporous spirit of the story that I want to portray. I think particular scene does the job well enough:

“One elusive morning, bathed in the perplexing light of an eclipse, beautiful Claire, the ethereal traveler, left this world into which she had perhaps never finished arriving. Her passing through Tora was sad and fleeting, like the shadow of someone who is present without really being there and who is not aware of the laws of gravity. Her death, however, fell upon La Catunga with the full weight of the calamity. It took everyone by surprise, leaving the barrio suspended between horror and shock and bringing to the fore how little we natives know of the foreigners who live among us. It doesn’t matter that ten years, or twenty, pass: The outsider is still a stranger – in good measure suspicious – who has just arrived. Of Claire one could think, in accordance with her pale beauty and the fleeting lines of her character, that she rose in body and soul to heaven in the ecstasy of an assumption, like the Virgin Mary. But it wasn’t thus; hers was an earthly and brutal death.

‘One foul day Claire threw herself into the path of the train,’ Todos los Santos tells me. ‘Don’t be alarmed, it was a common means of death among the prostitutas of Tora. Many of them killed themselves by the train out of despair, or loneliness, or indifference. Sometimes simply out of weariness or pure drunkenness. Never before three in the morning or after five, and all at the same spot: the corner they call Armería del Ferrocarril, in the poorer part of the barrio Hueso Blanco.’

Now there’s a gas station located there, and a car repair shop and a stand that sells newspapers, snacks, and drinks, just like on any other corner on the planet. But Todos los Santos assures me that if you watch carefully, you can see people still making the sign of the cross as they pass that corner, because they know they are stepping on unholy ground: the site of immolation.

According to tradition, Claire’s remains were gathered up in a cart and taken to the place where she had lived…Todos los Santos was summoned to the deceased’s room…She was to carry out the compassionate act of arranging the cadaver’s parts as lifelike as possible inside the coffin, officiate over the ceremony of closing the eyelids, and, to the degree it was possible, cross the arms over the chest, wrap the body in a shroud, and cover the head with a veil of silk lace.

‘My heart shriveled when I entered that place,’ she tells me. ‘Claire was one of those who earned the most from her work; she saved what she earned and had become a rich woman. If she didn’t live like a queen it was because she didn’t want to, and because she always believed that she was here temporarily.'”

I thought this book was one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read in my entire life. I definitely cried at the end. And I’m not even sure what happened! SEE WHAT I MEAN ABOUT CONCLUSIONS?! Ugh. It’s rough life.

Overall, a highly, highly recommended book. There are several scenes, like the one above, that just haunt you afterwards. The writing is beautifully tragic, haunting, and almost spiritual in its language. Honestly, I can’t say enough about this book – except GO READ IT! Go go go!

What other books have scenes that haunt you long after you’ve finished reading them?

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