Tigre Blanco (Aravind Adiga) – reseña

tigre-blanco

Reseña publicada en El Libro Durmiente.

 

Este es un libro sobre la India a través de los ojos de Balram Halwai, uno de esos personajes que hacen un libro inolvidable. Aravind Adiga usa a este personaje singular de una manera chocante, dibujando un retrato oscuro, pesimista y al tiempo cómico de la India contemporánea.
Balram Halwai se llama a sí mismo un emprendedor social, protagonizando una historia sobre el enfrentamiento entre clases sociales, tradiciones y la evidente crueldad e indiferencia de las clases dominantes en India.
La novela se estructura como una carta que Balram escribe al primer ministro de China, Wen Jiabao, lo que en sí mismo es puro sarcasmo sobre el papel que India suele atribuirse como la mayor democracia del mundo. Balram narra su evolución desde sus orígenes como miembro de una casta inferior, y por tanto un sirviente, con una mezcla de humor negro y rabia contenida. Su transformación personal representa el círculo vicioso que domina a la sociedad india, él no cuestiona el sistema, se ve engullido por el mismo, por la corrupción dominante y por la relación de semi-esclavitud entre sirvientes y castas superiores.
Aravind Adiga usa un estilo sencillo, se asegura de que Balram se muestre como lo que es, un superviviente, alguien que sabe escuchar como él mismo dice. Adiga llama a su personaje un “emprendedor”. El término va más allá de lo económico o empresarial. Se burla de la moderna India, capaz de gestionar los call-centres de medio mundo pero incapaz de garantizar a sus ciudadanos los servicios más básicos. Y al tiempo aplica al término emprendedor un doble sentido, el del emprendedor “social”, el hombre que altera el sistema de castas, la servidumbre imperante. Eso sí, usando la misma violencia sin escrúpulos que él ha sufrido.
Aravind Adiga muestra a la India como es, menos poética que otros autores como Rohinton Mistry por ejemplo, pero con una gran fuerza.

Our souls at night (Kent Haruf) – a review

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It is hard to write about “Our souls at night”. It is always hard to write about a way of writing, Haruf’s, that is so simple and yet at the same time so meaningful. So I’ll just try to be precise and eloquent.

This is a book about living. A man and a woman who have lived most of their lives next door to one another, come together at an age when everybody assumes that loneliness is the natural state for human beings. The old lady invites the man to spend the nights with her, to talk, to listen to her. And at the same time she opens up, the man relives his past, he talks her through it, his mistakes and failings, his lost ambitions.

Haruf’s prose is direct, candid, devoid of any pretentiousness, just beautiful. He asserts people’s right to live fully to the very end. And just with that he managed to write a beatiful novel.

The Ipcress file (Len Deighton) – a review

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This is as cool as you can get in spy novels. Before black rimmed glasses became fashionable vintage items, there was Michael Caine and this story about the Cold War, brain-washing and Gauloises cigarrettes.

The appeal of Deighton’s novel lies in a blend of wisecracks, a mysterious plot and its protagonist, the cheeky cockney Harry Palmer (although that is his name in the film, the narrator of the book remains unnamed). Palmer is as distant as you can get to George Smiley and smokes far too much to overshadow Bond, but he is always several paces ahead of the bad guys and gets to travel to really cool places.

The plot is Cold War stuff from beginning to end, but Deighton sets himself apart from Fleming and le Carré. There is nothing of the dark, brooding style of le Carré’s novels, far from it Deighton’s characters are real in a way that makes the action in the novel the sort of stuff you would expect from day-to-day spies. And although Palmer is very arrogant in his own humble way, he is not on a par with James Bond, let alone the gadgets and the almost supernatural powers.

Deighton’s style shows that he was a publicist, or more precisely an illustrator by trade. Some of his descriptions of particular moments in the story (the safe house in Lebanon, the American restaurant in the atoll) are colourful, powerful snapshots, ready to be used as advertisements for some trendy drink.

Palmer is both unassuming and clever, cheeky and almost an erudite, sophisticated when it comes to food but never flamboyant. The spy who came in from the cool.

 

The Russia House (John le Carré) – a review

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This review was published in Spanish in melibro.com

The wave of news about JLC (his new autobiography “The pigeon tunnel” for instance), made me write this review about one of his most famous books, “The Russia House”.

As it is often the case with JLC, what looks like a spy novel on the surface, is in fact quite a different story. In my opinion “The Russia House” represents JLC’s transit from the Cold War to the “modern” world. For that transit JLC uses an unlikely tool, an unlikely hero, “Barley” Blair.

Let us put the story into perspective. The USSR is about to collapse and the spy games that made possible so much literature in the 70’s and 80’s are coming to an end. JLC gives centre stage to Scott Blair, a small time editor, fairly unreliable but surprisingly a man of strong convictions. Blair gets involved in a plot to pass military secrets to the West by a Russian scientist.

The British (The Russia House department) and American intelligence services try to manipulate Blair to their own advantage. JLC is at his best describing the interrogations to which Blair is subject. He provides portraits of the various characters full of irony and poignancy.

The novel is narrated by a member of The Russia House, an in-house lawyer who provides an elegant and somewhat melancholic atmosphere to the story.

JLC is always consistent with his main character: a stubborn hero who acts on principles, rather than interest, someone who rebels against power. That is absolutely the case in “The Russia House” as in his subsequent post Cold War novels where the hero remains and the enemies are more diverse (large corporations, arms dealers, and so on).

 

The White Tiger (Aravind Adiga) – A review

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India through the eyes of Balram Halwai, one of those characters that make a book worth reading.

This is a book about India, its main character being just the tool to draw a dark, pesimistic but at the same time humorous portrait of the Asian nation.

Balram Halwai, a social entrepreneur as he calls himself, is the protagonist of this story about class struggles, traditions and the apparent ruthlessness of the ruling classes in India.

Aravind Adiga uses a shocking artifact for his narrative. The novel is written as a letter to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, in itself a sarcastic blow to India’s self appointed position as the world’s largest democracy.

Balram narrates his evolution from a low caste servant to a successful Bangalore entrepreneur with a mixture of dark humour and contained rage. His personal changes epitomize the vicious circle dominating Indian society. He does not question the system, he is drawn into it, into the corruption that pervades all levels of the administration, into the serfdom that dominates the relationship between the middle class and their servants.

Aravind Adiga uses a simple style, making sure that Balram comes across as a street-wise survivor, a good listener as he describes himself. Adiga’s use of the concept “entrepreneur” applied to Balram is very interesting. He makes mockery of the entrepreneurial new India, capable of handling the whole world’s outsourcing projects but unable to provide its citizens with basic services. And he applies a second meaning to the word, that of the social entrepreneur, the man who disrupts not only the caste system, but particularly the semi-slavery system of the servants in India, although to do so he must reach the same levels of ruthlessness of his masters.

Aravind Adiga shows a real India, less poetic than for instance Rohinton Mistry’s, but eaqually powerful.

Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel) – A review

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The 2009 Booker Prize is a tense description of Thomas Cromwell’s ambition and above all of his personality.

When reading this novel one may fall into the trap of giving too much weight to the historical facts: the importance, or lack of it, of Anne Boleyn; Henry VIII’s mercurial personality or the emergence of England as a world power. But what is truly unique is Mantel’s ability to narrate Cromwell’s relentless ascension to power.

What most fascinated me about Mantel’s narrative was the way she creates Cromwell as a character. She sketches his past using anecdotes, comments from the other characters or in some cases Cromwell’s own interior monologue. His complex personality grows, expands, reaches beyond his apparent vulnerability as Wolsey’s secretary when the Cardinal falls into disgrace. From that moment onwards the chain of events flows smoothly, Henry becoming oddly dependent on Cromwell, even more dependent than he already was on Anne.

Mantel’s style is not easy to follow with continuous flashbacks into Cromwell’s life. Particularly interesting is his relationship with his son Gregory, one that it is difficult to read, it either shows disappointment or the relief of the father who rather prefers his son’s choosing of a less ruthless, violent path in life.

Although the story unfolds in a rather uneventful way, it is difficult to surprise with historical facts, the build up to Thomas Moore’s execution is beatiful and intense. Cromwells shows in his dealings with Moore at that stage that he is human too, that he would much prefer the former Lord Chancellor to compromise, to act as a politician. It is clear that what irritates Cromwell about Moore’s attitude during his trial is his intellectual arrogance, whereas he, Cromwell, is the modern style minister, a man always driven by his objectives and those of his master the King.

The book is a beatiful painting of a modern politician set in pre-modern world.

Finale (Thomas Mallon) – a review

finale

Entertaining reading for anyone who enjoys politics.

This is a novel not about the Reagan Years, as the subtitle claims, but rather about Reagan’s period of decline. Although decline may be too strong a word.

Mallon captures the mood of the 80’s extremely well. Drugs, AIDS, the Cold War, these are his “main issues” in the background which he uses to set the tone of the political agenda at the time. He does it swiftly, always mixing the strictly political with the personal touch by using individuals who epitomize those issues.

What I found more entertaining was his description of Ronald and Nancy Reagan. His construction of the Great Communicator character is subtle, at times complimentary, at times almost comical, but above all conveying the message that no one ever got to crack what Reagan was really about. In fact, not even his wife who throughout the book is depicted as a control freak who clashes furiously with whoever threatens to taint the legacy of his husband as a President.

Mallon throws in a few other fictional characters who carry the plot. That supporting cast makes the reading a bit heavy going, particularly if you are not very familiar with US politics.

A special word for the epilogue of this novel (not really a spoiler). I thought Reagan’s interior monologue when his Alzheimer was well advanced is crafty and at the same time respectful, a sort of tribute to the Great Enigma.