Monthly Archives: February 2013

Style No. 72: Apheresis

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A gle ding on one leg mong the ches of a tree.

A gle ding on one leg mong the ches of a tree.

(Apheresis is the linguistic process whereby initial syllables come to be omitted from words.)

A young boy ssed in orange blows his stle, deep in thought. His best friend, arm wrapped round him, eyes the crowd in the ance. A vous mother sses by, a cret ject den neath the shawl on her head. While, hind them a rious man looks ingly the ther way.

Review: Threads of the Heart by Carole Martinez

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The Threads of the Heart is an epic tale exposing the magical gifts and peculiar sufferings of a family of impoverished Spanish women. Already a publishing sensation in France and Italy, this beautiful descendant of the 20th century masterworks of magic realism deserves further attention from English readers.

Set in 19th-century Spain, Threads charts the dramatic fate of Frasquita Carasco and her five children as they struggle under the thumb of a host of madmen, and eventually find themselves walking to Africa. Ostracized in her hometown of Santavela because of the magic gifted by her mother in an ancient wooden box, Frasquita is married off to an insane wheelmaker who gambles her away in a cockfight. And so she flees this hamlet in the closed-off world of southern Spain, taking her young children with her — each of whom is endowed with an extraordinary quality that will determine the course of his or her adult life (the gift of light, the gift of death, the gift of words, etc.).

On their way they encounter revolutionaries battling the aristocracy, ghosts grinding chalk at a ragged windmill, and a host of friends and enemies who fail to halt the implacable march of Frasquita and her brood. As the journey unfolds in the scorching heat of Andalusia and Algeria, the children slowly come of age and inherit the magic contained in the wooden box. They each go on to grapple with this inheritance, one that brings opportunity and danger in equal measure. Eventually, as they marry and make their way in the world, the children must decide whether the magic passed through the Carasco women is a treasure to preserve or a burden to shake off.

 

The beauty of this book is in its lyricism. The sentences consistently stir emotion and conjure vivid, fantastical worlds. Carole Martinez’s imagined universe is ornate, sensitive, and well worth spending time in.

The scenery she depicts is enchanting and replete with childlike wonders rarely found in serious literature. The characters, too, are well-drawn and mysterious. Each woman in the Carasco family is incredible in her own way. Each is also flawed in a unique manner, and suffers accordingly.

The painful subordination of Spanish women to their men — a recurring motif — is acutely rendered in a series of tragic episodes as surprising as they are uncanny. So when Frasquita gets on the road without a penny or a destination, you understand why, and you hope she makes it wherever she’s going. Her footsteps are potent symbols of her wish for freedom at all costs.

Centred on this unending march, the book is something of a road-trip novel, and at times has the meandering pace of a journey whose destination is unknown.  When Frasquita and her children get involved in an anarchist uprising, for example, it isn’t clear what role this episode will have in helping or hindering them find liberty at the end of their walk. That being said, such detours are rich and pleasant in themselves, and the novel as a whole has a compelling narrative with a tender and elegant ending.

The translation is satisfying, save the occasional typo, and it’s easy to forget you’re reading work originally penned in French. On the other hand, there’s something quintessentially français in Martinez’s disposition, and the book provides a pleasant window on an emotional framework that differs subtly from our own. In this regard, The Threads of the Heart is a horizon-broadening testament to why reading translations is worthwhile.

From a debut author more used to teaching middle school than writing epics, this is an extraordinary effort, and her next novel is eagerly awaited in Europe. So far Martinez has picked up nine prizes there for The Threads of the Heart. You might think of picking it up yourself.

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Thanks to Europa Editions for providing a review copy of this work.

Style No. 71: Nature

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The orange-breasted whistleblower is a species rarely observed in social settings. It’s penchant for solitary rumination is well-known to those who study it. Imagine, seeing two of them together, one holding the other with his arm! We are, at this instant, witnesses to one nature’s great wonders. Particularly as there’s a herd of pilgrim bison not far from here. Indeed, an instance of orange-breasts eyeing pilgrim bison in the distance has never been captured on film.

But what’s this! A tufted jittercache flitting by! And look at the plumage on her head! So bulbous, almost like she’s hiding a secret object! Astounding. Remarkable. Wonders beyond imagining.

Yet that’s not all. This is truly a banner day for nature lovers! He’s not as flashy as the others, but if you look carefully behind the two orange-breasts you’ll see him reclining in the underbrush — a peculiarus monkey, rarely seen during daylight hours. It’s an ancient species famed for its knowingness. Don’t you see? There — it has just turned its head the other way.

Adjacent to the orange-breasted whistleblower we also found a canus lupis familiaris licking his lips over a fallen leaf.

Adjacent to the orange-breasted whistleblower we also spotted a canus lupis familiaris licking his lips over a fallen leaf.

Style No. 70: Statistical

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19 times out of 20, the likelihood of spotting two boys in orange t-shirts is not more than 18% on a given day. That one might be whistling while the other gazed at the congregation some ways up the road was just as improbable. Which is what led me to stop, and finally to observe a chain of happenings that, taken together, were as unlikely as being struck by lightning while being attacked by a shark during a plane crash. 

The subsequent event in this lottery of happenings was the passage of an elderly woman under a great deal of stress. This in itself wasn’t statistically improbable, the exigencies of age and womanhood being what they are. Rather, it was her strange garb that astounded me, for one doesn’t stand a better than 1 in 16 million chance of seeing such a person concealing an object atop their head by means of a colourful scarf, particularly in broad daylight. Then, to make this whole procession of goings on even more unlikely, I lay eyes on a grave man who gazed in the other direction with the sort of knowingness only observable twice a century, 9 times out of 10.

On average, this configuration of stuffed tomatoes is to be adopted by those roasting at 375 degrees.

On average, this configuration of stuffed tomatoes is the most likely to be adopted by those roasting at 375 degrees, 14 times out of 15.

Style No. 69: Drugged

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Although he sustained serious injuries, the salmon did eventually carry the match.

Although he sustained serious injuries, the salmon did eventually carry the match.

I was stumbling home from Chad’s place, looking for somewhere I could get a snack till I remembered I didn’t have any money, when suddenly this friggin’ orange tree just sprouts in the middle of the street, and a bird with a huge green beak starts playing this crazy song like “Whaaaaa, whaaaaa, errrrr, weeeee!” Dude, freaked me right out. Then I notice there’s a second tree growing around the first one, and its orange branches are all waving toward this unicorn farm down the way. At least five hundred unicorns over there, all walking around like they’ve got an appointment to get to.

So I’m tripping major sack, and I turn around to make sure I’m not gored by a mythical stallion. But just then an ancient wombat scurries past with a mad look in her eye and some secret documents hidden inside a pink chinchilla briefcase tied to her head with a piece of licorice. I was like, “Wombat, don’t worry,” but it was too late.

As you can imagine, I was pretty hungry by this point, and all this craziness made me forget I had no money. So I’m scouring the street for the nearest donair shop, when behind the orange trees I spot this strange painting of George W. Bush playing mahjong with a Coho salmon. Immediately I dropped to my knees and was like “I love you, salmon.” Then I got up and ran around trying to find some wood and brown sugar so I could smoke it before it beat W in mahjong. But that’s when it looked the other way with this mad glint in its eye, and I was like “Yeah. You know something don’t you.”

 

Style No. 68: Incompetent

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How ought I to describe the appearance of a young boy garbed in orange? How might I convey the feeling generated by his distracted whistling? What manner of words might sufficiently depict the countenance of his young friend who, arm wrapped around him, studied the distant crowd? And how possibly to demonstrate the nervousness of the grandmother who passed by just at that moment, concealing strange goods under a cloth on her head? Or the peculiar aspects of gentleman behind them whose wily glance in the opposite direction provoked a certain sentiment for which the words elude me?

How to characterize the spectacular clarity of the light on Ladakh’s grassy plains?

Style No. 67: Zoological

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A juvenile orangutan whistles with pleasure as he chews a spiky durian, reflecting on the garlicky nature of the fruit he’s ingesting. His companion, an orange-faced Pacific Swallow with claws clamped firmly on the orang’s shoulder, gazes at the crowd of rambunctious rhinoceroses in the clearing below. Just then, a flying lemur glides past with a strange object hidden on her head by a leaf whose stem she’s anxiously chewing. Meanwhile, a few trees back, a grave-looking gibbon hangs knowingly the other way. 

A Malabar Giant Squirrel. Periyar National Park, Kerala, India (2011).

A Malabar Giant Squirrel. Periyar National Park, Kerala, India (2011).