Tag Archives: fiction

Thoughts on “The Queen of the South” by Arturo Perez-Reverte

I found this book a while ago while visiting a university campus for an event. There was a display of books for the taking, asking a mere 25 cents each donation, so I picked this and a few others and left my dollar. I had decided to grab this one because I had read The Club Dumas by Perez-Reverte years ago and loved it, so I figured I would check this one out. It sat on my shelf for a while, but I finally started reading it. It took me a while to finish because of all the other stuff that’s been happening, but I finally completed it and am ready to share some thoughts.

The book is classified as an “intellectual thriller” and it’s about a woman who becomes involved in the drug trade and works her way up to a position of power. There’s a lot of intrigue, as well as some twists, which makes it an interesting read.

There are some psychological themes that are explored in the book, and I thought about focusing my blog post on those, but then I opted to write about another theme that is near and dear to my heart: books and reading.

While doing a stint in prison, Teresa, the protagonist, starts reading, which has a profound impact on her life.

“Books are doors that lead out into the street,” Patricia would tell her. “You learn from them, educate yourself, travel, dream, live other lives, multiply your own life a thousand times. Where can you get more for your money, Mexicanita? And they also keep all sorts of bad things at bay: ghosts, loneliness, shit like that. Sometimes I wonder how you people that don’t read figure out how to live your lives.”

(pp. 163 – 4)

While I believe that there are life lessons that you cannot learn from a book, I also believe that the knowledge and experience shared through books are indispensable when navigating life’s winding roads.

Reading, she’d learned in prison, especially novels, allowed her to inhabit her mind in a new way—as though by blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction, she might witness her own life as if it were happening to somebody else. Besides teaching her things, reading helped her to think differently, or think better, because on the page, others did it for her. Although it was also true that with novels you could apply your point of view to every situation or character. Even to the voice that told the story: sometimes it would be that of the narrator, either with a name or anonymous, and sometimes it would be your own. She had discovered with surprise and pleasure that as she turned each page, the book was written, as though for the first time, all over again.

(p. 189)

While I don’t know if I believe that reading blurs the “boundaries between reality and fiction,” I think that reading acts as a mirror, that books reflect our human experiences and allow us to examine them from a new perspective. Additionally, we all bring our own experiences to what we read, and therefore, books and poems take on different meanings for different readers based upon their individual histories. But, like Teresa, I often project myself into stories that I read, and that feeling is what resonated strongly for me when I read this paragraph.

I’ve heard it said that everyone has a book within them, waiting to be told. Essentially, we all have a hidden story, a personal tale, so to speak. This is a realization that Teresa has later in the book.

Then he poured more vodka, until the bottle was empty, and it occurred to Teresa that every human being has a hidden story, and that if you are quiet enough and patient enough you could finally hear it. And that that was good, a lesson that was important to learn. A lesson that was useful, above all.

(p. 244)

This is definitely true. If you listen and allow people the space to become comfortable, they will eventually share their story with you.

While I personally feel that The Club Dumas is a better book, this one is definitely worth reading. I also hear that there is a TV series based on this book. I may have to check that out.

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“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

HPCursedChild

A couple weeks ago I was walking past the local indie bookstore and noticed a sign in the window advertising a midnight release party for this book. I mentioned it to my daughter and asked if she wanted to go, and she enthusiastically said yes. So we gathered together with all the Potter fans, participated in games, and enjoyed the costume contest. Then we queued up with the rest of the folk there and purchased our copy of the book. Of course, I had to wait until my daughter was finished reading it before it was moved into my pile, but she read it fairly quickly and I was able to start reading it.

Since the book is in play form, it is a quick read. I was a little apprehensive about whether I would like the book, especially since so much of what I love about the Harry Potter series is Rowling’s wonderful narrative. But because these characters are such a part of our social fabric, it was easy to envision the scenes even without the descriptive narrative.

Without giving too much away, the tale features Harry’s son, Albus, and his friend Scorpius (Draco Malfoy’s son). After an argument with his dad, Albus decides to use a time-turner to go into the past and save Cedric Diggory, thereby proving his worth. As you can expect, changing the past has unforeseen ripple effects. Enough said.

What I enjoyed the most about this book is the exploration of the conflict between father and son. It’s an age-old theme that hearkens back to Sophocles. Children at some point usually rebel against their parents, and it is often during the teenage years that these tensions and conflicts begin to surface.

There is a great scene early in the play where the tension between father and son finally erupts into a fight, and as is often the case, things are said in the heat of anger that are not intended but nevertheless have painful results.

HARRY: Do you want a hand? Packing. I always loved packing. It meant I was leaving Privet Drive and going back to Hogwarts. Which was . . . well, I know you don’t love it but . . .

ALBUS: For you, it’s the greatest place on earth. I know. The poor orphan, bullied by his uncle and aunt Dursley . . .

HARRY: Albus, please—can we just—

ALBUS: . . . traumatized by his cousin, Dudley, saved by Hogwarts. I know it all, Dad. Blah, blah, blah.

HARRY: I’m not going to rise to your bait, Albus Potter.

ALBUS: The poor orphan who went on to save us all. So may I say—on behalf of the wizarding kind—how grateful we are for your heroism. Should we bow now or will a curtsy do?

HARRY: Albus, please—you know, I’ve never wanted gratitude.

ALBUS: But right now I’m overflowing with it—it must be the kind gift of the moldy blanket that did it . . .

HARRY: Moldy blanket?

ALBUS: What did you think would happen? We’d hug. I’d tell you I always loved you. What? What?

HARRY (finally losing his temper): You know what? I’m done with being made responsible for your unhappiness. At least you’ve got a dad. Because I didn’t, okay?

ALBUS: And you think that was unlucky? I don’t.

HARRY: You wish me dead?

ALBUS: No! I just wish you weren’t my dad.

HARRY (seeing red): Well, there are times I wish you weren’t my son.

(pp. 40 – 41)

I suspect we have all said things that we regretted saying. I know I have. And that is what makes this book worth reading. It holds up a mirror and allows us to look at our flaws. And we all have flaws; it’s part of being human. But how we deal with our flaws determines the type of person we become in life, or as Harry puts it:

They were great men, with huge flaw, and you know what—those flaws almost made them greater.

(p. 308)

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“Midnight in Europe” by Alan Furst

MidnightEurope

So this is not the type of book I normally read. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a spy novel, especially when it’s considered “historical fiction,” it’s just that it is not the type of book I would generally go out of my way to purchase. But, I was at a fundraising event not too long ago which had a silent auction; so of course, I had to bid on the package of books. I won the bid and this was one of the books in the cache. Anyway, I felt like reading something different, so I opted for this one.

Overall, I thought the book was pretty good. Not great, but I didn’t feel like I had wasted my time reading it. I suspect fans of the spy genre would probably find it more interesting than I did. Still, it held my interest enough for me to finish the book.

The story is about a lawyer in Paris just before the start of World War II. He gets recruited to assist an organization securing arms for the resistance against the Franco regime in Spain. And from there, the plot thickens, to use the old cliché.

Early in the book, Furst describes what it was like for a family to be displaced as a result of the political upheaval, something I have thought about but thankfully have never had to experience.

Two days later they left for Paris. Ferrar, twelve at the time, would never forget the journey: this rupture in the family life had frozen them into silence. Nobody said a word, their minds occupied by the refugees’ litany: Where will we live? How shall we survive? What will become of us? In time, these questions were answered as the family adapted as best they could.

(pp. 26 – 27)

Since I am a bit of a word geek, I liked coming across the etymology of the word Gestapo,

Ferrar and de Lyon were led through the busy waiting room—inspiring the occasional furtive glance—to an office with a sign on the door that said GEHEIME STAATSPOLIZEI, abbreviated in common usage to “Gestapo.”

(p. 79)

While in college, I took a class that explored totalitarian government, and how fascist regimes come into power is something I found fascinating, albeit somewhat frightening. In this book, it is asserted that the goal of fascism is to destroy the established order.

“There is a good possibility that his malice is political. Fascism is a revolutionary force, it wants to destroy the established order and take its place—take its money, its businesses, everything it has because, to these people, the governing class in Europe is hesitant, ineffective, effete. So, destroy it. That’s what they’ve done in Germany and Italy and what they will do in Spain, with the excuse that they’re fighting Bolshevism.”

(p. 152)

I would have to say, though, that the descriptions of the various cities and towns in pre-WWII Europe are this book’s strongest aspects. There were times when I was actually able to envision myself walking along dark, wet streets, taking in the sights and sounds.

As I said, I thought the book was pretty good. If you’re a fan of spy novels, you might want to check it out. If you do, I’d be interested to hear your impression of this book.

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