Open Veins of Latin America

By Eduardo Galeano.

I’m not sure I will ever recover from reading this book. I had no idea the extent of pillage exacted against the latin American people for so many centuries.

You can read the PDF here. I think Galeano must have allowed the book to be copied and available at no cost as it can be found a number of places on the web.

There is too much to summarise, but the question I had never really asked myself was how a continent so rich in natural resources could be so poor? The answer is that the wealth of the country has been appropriated by the european powers for the last five centuries. Britain has probably gained the most in reality, though few of the countries were ever officially colonies. It was British business that looked after the  interests of the plutocracy. Initially, indirectly through the Spanish and Portugese but in the 18th and 19th centuries directly.

The issues and politics here are complex but what we are left with is a study of man’s inhumanity to man. A couple of excerpts:

“Latin America continues exporting its unemployment and poverty: the raw materials that the world market needs, and on whose sale the regional economy depends. Unequal exchange functions as before: hunger wages in Latin America help finance high salaries in the United States and Europe.”
“The IMF–which not disinterestedly confuses the fever with the disease, inflation with the crisis of existing structures–has imposed on Latin America a policy that accentuates imbalances instead of easing them. It liberalizes trade by banning direct exchanges and barter agreements; it forces the contraction of internal credits to the point of asphyxia, freezes wages, and discourages state activity. To this program it adds sharp monetary devaluations which are theoretically supposed to restore the currency to its real value and stimulate exports. In fact, the devaluations merely stimulate the internal concentration of capital in the ruling classes’ pockets and facilitate absorption of national enterprises by foreigners who turn up with a fistful of dollars.”


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Trips to the Moon

By Lucian of Samosata.

I loved this little book. Very Rabelaisian – or perhaps ‘Rabelaisian’ should be renamed ‘Samosatian’. What an imagination. There’s much that we lose here as many of the references that Lucian makes are to works that have not survived from his heyday – around AD125. Still, well worth reading. This made me chuckle:

The campaign thus happily finished, they made an entertainment to celebrate the victory, which, as is usual amongst them, was a bean- feast. Pythagoras alone absented himself on that day, and fasted, holding in abomination the wicked custom of eating beans.




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Study of a Woman and The Elixir of Life

By Honoré de Balzac.

Another two brief stories. The Elixir of Life is based on a Hoffman story about Don Juan that Balzac advises never made it into his collected works and so he has no qualms of conscience in borrowing. This omission may have been rectified by now. The story is more magical and fantastic that what Balzac usually writes. It is very intriguing and melancholy though. Study of a Woman contains characters from some of Balzac’s other novels. It is a snapshot of an episode that may occur in one of his full books. In the Elixir of Life Balzac references Rabelais which apparently he does in more than twenty of his novels:

…eyes were growing dull, and drunkenness, in Rabelais’ phrase, had “taken possession of them down to their sandals.”





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Adieu and A Passion in the Desert

By Honoré de Balzac.

Two great short tales. A Passion in the Desert quite different from Balzac’s usual stories – but still very entertaining. Some commentators have said that it is Balzac trying his hand at Orientalism. Adieu also involves an army officer but his passion is the wife of one of his superior officers and not a tiger in the desert. Both involve nature and adventure and are a departure from Balzac’s usual way of doing things. It is possible that the shorter tales were a ground for experimentation. Here is one of the final exchanges from A Passion in the Desert:

‘In the desert, you see, there is everything and nothing.’ ‘Yes, but explain—-‘  ‘Well,’ he said, with an impatient gesture, ‘it is God without mankind.’





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Gargantua and Pantagruel – Book Two

By François Rabelais.

Book Two is right up there with Book One however it is more linear. Part of what I liked about Book One was that it wasn’t dictated to by the story. The story was told, but chapters were sometimes ever increasing tangents. Book Two is far more straightforward as each chapter follows the other – the absurdity is within the episodes themselves. Frère Jean is a fantastic creation – a warrior ex-monk is search of the divine in a bottle:

But from good wine you can’t make bad Latin.

In Book Two you meet comic genius mixed with a sublime imagination and ideas. Rabelais is a revelation.




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By Ivan Turgenev.

This is thought one of Turgenev’s lesser works but I found it very engaging. The Characters were all very well drawn and there were some great lines:

A man who has lived and has not grown tolerant towards others does not deserve to meet with tolerance himself. And who can say he does not need tolerance?

The figure of Rudin should be much more well-known in lierature – a man of intellect and potential with the inability to act. Maybe not exactly the type of the ‘superfluous man’ but similar.



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The Village

By Ivan Bunin.

This novel had a real atmosphere to it and I was really reminded of Platonov. The characters just drift along and many details are given which don’t seem to add up to anything in the long run but you enjoy them because they are rich, and also interesting in what they mean and how they interact with all the other events and detail. Like a tapestry – though I could be over-egging things with the metaphor. This type of novel seems to mirror life much more so than the traditional narrative arc which we take for granted in our films, TV and books. This novel was still very satisfying but the goal wasn’t the end point, it was the narrative and your attention to it. The mood and the characters developed were quite something. Bunin was a master who you hardly hear about in the Russian literary canon (probably due to his exile in the west). So, canons should be ignored.




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Russian Fairy Tales

By Ivan Bilibin and Alexandr Afanasev.

Great fairy tales with fantastic illustrations by Bilibin. Digitally, only a couple of pounds from iBooks or Amazon. I did see this on eBay for £400. Tempting. Some of these tales I have read before and very interesting are those which are variations.





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The Created Legend

Reading this novel is an example of the usefulness of the Kindle. This book hasn’t been republished in English it seems and the translation I downloaded from was a hundred years old. It was quite engaging but seemed a little dated. I’m not sure if this was the translation or that if decadent symbolism was very much of its time. Maybe a combination of both. The novel was part magical, part pastoral and also political. The fact it was three quite dissimilar things was one of the reasons I liked it and carried on reading.






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