The Siege (El asedio)

In a city under siege, the bodies of gruesomely murdered young women begin to appear. And at every spot where the police finds a corpse, a bomb has fallen. Is there a connection?

This is the (brutally simplified) premise of The Siege, a historical novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. A novel set in Cádiz during the French siege in 1811 and 1812, in the era of the Napoleonic Wars, two years during what the Spanish call the War of Independence.

Cádiz. [Public domain via Pixabay]
En una ciudad bajo sitio aparecen cadáveres de jovencitas asesinadas en una manera horripilante. Y en cada lugar en que el policía encuentra un cadáver, ha caído una bomba. ¿Hay alguna conexión?

Eso es la premisa (simplificada de manera brutal) de El Asedio, una novela história por Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Una novela ambientada en Cádiz durante el asedio francés en los años 1811 y 1812, la era de la Guerra de la Independencia. 

Continue reading “The Siege (El asedio)”

Canoeing in the Wilderness

In the summer of 1857, the American writer Henry David Thoreau – best known for his book Walden detailing his experiences of living in a log cabin for two years in the wild – went on a canoe trip in the still unspoilt regions of Maine, with a friend and an Indian guide from the reservation of Old Town.

Continue reading “Canoeing in the Wilderness”

Don’t Panic!

Stop the World, I want to get off!
Stop the World, I want to get off!

There’s an Argentinian cartoon from the late 1960s-early 70s, about a little girl called Mafalda, whose exclamation, ¡Paren el mundo, que me quiero bajar! (Stop the world, I want to get off!) became an internationally known phrase. As we all have moments in which we want to get off (I did, yesterday afternoon), perhaps it might be a good idea if you keep The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at hand?

As the title suggests, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the only – electronic – book you’ll ever need if you should actually succeed in getting off by hitching a ride on a passing UFO. It will also provide you with light relief while you’re waiting by the roadside, as it were, with your thumb stuck in empty air as those heartless aliens are driving by without stopping.

Continue reading “Don’t Panic!”

The World According to Tolstoy (El mundo según Tolstói)

Over a year ago I read an article by Mario Vargas Llosa, who was at the time engaged in re-reading War and Peace by Tolstoy. It was so damnably well-written that not only it made me re-read War and Peace myself but it also made me to read Mario Vargas Llosa.

El año pasado leí un artículo por Mario Vargas Llosa (enlace al final del post), quien en aquel momento se dedicaba a releer la Guerra y paz de Tolstói. Y estaba tan condenadamente bien escrito, que no sólo me causó volver a leer Guerra y paz, sino también me animó leer el proprio Mario Vargas Llosa. 

Continue reading “The World According to Tolstoy (El mundo según Tolstói)”

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (of 2016)

Last year I borrowed the title of this well-known spaghetti western of my childhood for an end-of-year post, choosing a book for each category. I don’t see why I shouldn’t cast a look back at this year’s reading and do so again… (And I hope you appreciate that I’m sparing you an embedding of Ennio Morricone’s theme tune to play in the background while you’re reading this!)

Continue reading “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (of 2016)”

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Philosophical Books (and the Death Sentence)

Okay, so there are books and there are philosophical books and when you hear the adjective philosophical in this context, you slam the book shut and run a mile or more, without so much as looking back – and by god, I don’t blame you. Twice I had to study philosophy at university and twice it bored me to tears.

Continue reading “The Bridge of San Luis Rey”

Federico García Lorca: Impresiones y paisajes

Read this in English (written in two parts)
⇒ Sketches of Spain: CastileSketches of Spain: Granada

Hay libros de los que no hay nada que escribir porque todo se ha dicho ya. Y hay otros de los que no hay nada que escribir porque lo único que puedes hacer es citarlos. Impresiones y paisajes por Federico García Lorca es uno de esos últimos.

La noche tiene brillantez mágica de sonidos desde este torreón. Si hay luna, es un marco vago de sensualidad abismática lo que invade los acordes. Si no hay luna…, es una melodía fantástica y única lo que canta el río…, pero la modulación original y sentida en que el color revela las expresiones musicales más perdidas y esfumadas, es el crepúsculo… Ya se ha estado preparando el ambiente desde que la tarde media. Las sombras han ido cubriendo la hoguera alhambrina… La vega está aplanada y silenciosa. El sol se oculta y del monte nacen cascadas infinitas de colores musicales que se precipitan aterciopeladamente sobre la ciudad y la sierra y se funde el color musical con las ondas sonoras… Todo suena a melodía, a tristeza antigua, a llanto.

Continue reading “Federico García Lorca: Impresiones y paisajes”

Chewing Gum for the Mind

Three quarters through War and Peace (for the fourth time; I’m blaming Mario Vargas Llosa), I’m in need of some light entertainment. You know the kind I mean: the sort of book in which you can just keep moving your eye along the line, keep turning the pages and never once be bothered by a single thought arising. A chewing gum for the mind.

So I dug out an outrageous space opera by Stephen Ames Berry.

Continue reading “Chewing Gum for the Mind”

Two Versions of The Old Man and the Sea

Leer esto en castellano

Two Versions of the Old Man and the Sea

My teenage daughter borrowed my copy of The Old Man and the Sea and read it one afternoon. I had been about the same age when I first read it, thirty years ago. “You’ll either love it or it will bore you to tears,” I warned. “It’s that kind of book.”

“I’ve finished it,” she said later at dinner, looking a bit sheepish.

“You didn’t like it.” It wasn’t hard to divine. She knows that it’s one of my favourite books. “You didn’t click.”

“No,” she said. “It’s just about an old man who went fishing. It’s boring.”

Continue reading “Two Versions of The Old Man and the Sea”

A History of The Great Sea

In 2015 it took me an entire year to work my way through The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean by David Abulafia, a book I had been very keen to get my hands on. And it is a substantial book but that was not the reason it took me so long; after all, I only recently read The Bible in Spain, all 550 pages of it, in less than a week. So what held me up?

Continue reading “A History of The Great Sea”

Francis Drake and the North-West Passage

Franklin’s Lost Expedition

A few years ago, in one of the galleries of the National Maritime Museum of Greenwich there was exhibited a life-size model of a boat trapped in pack ice, with a suitably gruesome frozen hand protruding from under frozen canvas: a striking illustration of the fate of Captain Sir John Franklin and his crew for the younger visitors. Franklin’s expedition set out in 1845 with 129 men on board of two ships to search for the North-West Passage – a route from the Atlantic into the Pacific through the islands of Northern Canada – and was never heard of again. Despite repeated search missions in the following years and decades, the exact fate of the lost expedition remained unknown until 2014 when a Canadian research team finally located one of Franklin’s ships, the HMS Erebus.

On Monday morning, when I started to write this post, of course I couldn’t have imagined the news that broke in the media that same afternoon: that Franklin’s second ship, HMS Terror, has now also been found – the last piece of the puzzle falling into place? But although Franklin’s expedition is without doubt the most famous among all the attempts to navigate the North-West Passage, I wanted to write about another sailor who searched for the passage nearly three hundred years earlier and from the opposite direction: Francis Drake on the Golden Hind in 1579.

Continue reading “Francis Drake and the North-West Passage”

They that Go Down to the Sea in Ships

A fit of September blues, accompanied by September skies. (That means grey; where I come from September skies are famous for their particularly beautiful deep blue colour.) My September blues, however, are not merely due to the fact that summer is over; my plans for rowing up the Thames à la Three Men in a Boat are over too. For reasons I don’t want to discuss here not only we didn’t succeed in following the Three Men upriver this summer, we didn’t even have a holiday. Maybe better luck next year?

So – for a while at least – this is the last post in the Upriver series. And what better way to wind up and lighten the September blues at the same time than to immerse ourselves into some books set on boats (and envy the people who get to sail on them)?

Continue reading “They that Go Down to the Sea in Ships”

The Novel Life of Britain’s Greatest Frigate Captain

For me, a good non-fiction book is not one that simply gets its facts right; it also has to read well, like a novel. (Showing my lack of sophistication here.) It helps of course if the author of the non-fiction book has a good subject to work with; and the Royal Navy in the time of the Napoleonic wars certainly makes for a good subject.

Continue reading “The Novel Life of Britain’s Greatest Frigate Captain”

A Digression On Pepys (Throwback Thursday)

About a year ago I started to write a post comparing two books that I had happened to be reading simultaneously, one of which was boring me to tears. I was not going to waste my breath on it too much – I was going to point out how good the other book was in comparison. As luck would have it, both were on the subject of history, so I started the post with an introductory paragraph about having read some good history books in my time… Unfortunately, the introductory paragraph ended up running to several paragraphs, neatly hijacking the entire post. The chief hijacker was Pepys – whom I found myself quite unable to dismiss in one summary sentence.

I feel Pepys deserves a post to himself, so here I proudly present you with:

Continue reading “A Digression On Pepys (Throwback Thursday)”

Problemski Hotel

In 2001 the Belgian journalist Dimitri Verhulst was commissioned by a Flemish magazine to write an article and, in order to gather material, he had himself locked up in the asylum-seekers’ centre at Arendonk. His sojourn there clearly gave him more material that he needed for a simple article for he ended up writing a whole book: Problemski Hotel.

I came to read this book as a direct consequence of the recent Brussels bombing. I felt then, and I still feel, that if we allow terrorists to dictate the agenda, they half won the battle. And so I invited you all to take part in a reading challenge – to read a Belgian book.  If we were going to talk about Belgium, I’d rather talk about Belgian literature. Of which, I had to realise, I knew absolutely nothing.

Continue reading “Problemski Hotel”