Dear Friends – February has been a wonderful month for books: read, launched, generated and dreamt of for the future. First, news from University of Alabama Press that they will publish Ana’s book: Tell Mother I’m in Paradise: Memoirs of Ana Margarita Gasteazoro, a Political Prisoner in El Salvador. As many of you know, Ana was the original inspiration for the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation (CWEF). Last October her story was published in a Spanish translation by MUPI (Museum of the Word and Image) in El Salvador. My partner in the project – Andrew Wilson, based in London – and I went to San Salvador, along with Eva, Ana’s cousin in New York who was the final editor. There, celebrating the book launch, Ana’s siblings gave their blessing for an edition in English (a requirement of University of Alabama Press).
An oral history made when we all lived in Costa Rica in the 1980s, Andrew and I have been trying – off and on – to find an English-language publisher for Ana’s memoirs since her untimely death of breast cancer in El Salvador in 1993. Now her story will be made widely known in her own words, complete with photographs and newspaper clippings, with an introduction by Dr. Erik Ching, author of Civil War in El Salvador: A Battle Over Memory.
Here in Cañar we’ve had a more recent book launch. Juncal: An Indigenous Community in Ecuador, was first published in Denmark by two anthropologists who lived in the community of Juncal near here in 1973-74, and again in 1977-78. Eva Krener and Niel Fock agreed to fund a Spanish translation and that edition was published three years ago. Here they are in the photos below in their first years in Juncal – with their young daughter, Felicia, on Eva’s back.
And now last week, after years of translation work by three Cañari bilingual educators, and funding by the Municipality of Cañar, we have a new edition in Quichua. It was wonderful to return to the community to give away books and reunite with the señora on the cover (right, with baby, and in the photos below with a pink shawl on park bench and beside me holding the book). She told me the baby in now a grandmother! The older folks in Juncal remember Niels and Eva, who sent greetings from Denmark that I conveyed in my little speech. Over the years Niels and Eva have donated 800 digitized photos to the Cañar archive, also included in the digital collection of AILLA, Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America at University of Texas, Austin, where my photographs will eventually be housed.
I’m hoping my next book project will be a collection of photos of old Cañar from the Navas family collection. For years I’ve been printing and digitizing glass plates and early celluloid negatives, and it’s time we make something of this traditional town photographer’s monumental work (he lived into his 90’s). It will, of course, come down to a search for funding, but we never let that stop us.
Well, that’s all the book news this month except for…..the famous Cañar Book Club.
C A N A R B O O K C L U B
For me, reading this month has been a mixed bag, as they say. Some good books, some middling, some unable to finish. I read two young authors at the same time – both a bit self-conscious, newly minted MFAs seemed to me (lots of quoting Barthes and Brecht), and both focused on the urban experience of others or outsiders. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong was, I thought, beautifully written – as a long letter to his Vietnamese mother – and I was drawn in from page 1. There, There, by Tommy Orange, somehow never engaged me and I gave up about 3/4 of the way, as the various characters slowly traveled to the Oakland Powwow. I know it’s a big hit, and an Everyone Reads choice for Portland Public Library, so I don’t want to turn off fellow club members. Sometimes a book just doesn’t click with the reader. Also disappointing, for me, was the new biography of John Berger, A Writer of Our Times: The Life and Work of John Berger by Joshua Sperling. I discovered Berger with Pig Earth, the first of his Into Their Labours Trilogy, and was hooked by his novels (and film collaborations) up to his death in 2017. He was a sort of hero to me, so of course I wanted to know more about his life. But where the title says “…the life and work…” the emphasis is on “work” as it is in fact more of an intellectual biography with very little about his private and country life.
Otherwise, I enjoyed Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan and I’m just getting into The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett. I will count these as “middling.”
So – on to recommendations by other members:
From Joanne in Mexico: “I’m racing through an amazing bio of a one-legged woman who basically organized the French resistance during WWII (A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell, highly recommend). I loved “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk and Antonia Lloyd-Jones.I’ve put Flights by same author on my library list but I hope it doesn’t arrive too soon. Too many great books, which means life is good.”
From Arlene in Toronto: Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. A gripping short novel, beautifully written, set in Northumberland that takes on issues of domestic violence, misogyny and what the Iron Age walls of the past have to do with the present. A slender, completely absorbing counterpart to Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated.
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson. Two African-American families in Brooklyn, one middle class, the other headed by a single mother, are connected through their children who conceive a child. The characters are vivid and memorable, the language is exquisite.
Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner is not just a story of two sisters and, eventually, their extended families, but also a novel about the coming of age of women in America. “It’s about the ’60s, civil rights and the drug culture; it’s about the ’70s and Vietnam; and it’s about struggles with weight, the Jewish culture, feminism and sexual freedom.” A read that is fun and absorbing too.
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson. A touching story about 10-year old twins who have the disconcerting habit of bursting into flames whenever they get very agitated and the “loser” young woman tasked with caring for them who becomes their fierce defender. Reminiscent of Eleanor Oliphant is Perfectly Fine.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (can’t remember if I recommended this before). A reworking of the tragedy of Antigone, set within the context of a contemporary British-Pakistani Muslim family.
From Claire in London: “We (book club) have read, and all really liked, The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. For our next book club, William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy. It’s non-fiction, about the founding of the East India Company, it’s take-over of India and the beginnings of the British Empire.
From Mel in Vermont: “…reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered, which is good so far. Also, Down the Garden Path by Beverly Nichols? A jewel for gardeners!!
Macon in Boulder: (forgotten last time, sorry Macon): I am reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book Infidel – an interesting story about the upbringing of this talented woman, and her escape from the political and religious horror of Somalia and Islam.
And finally, from Maya in Portland: My recent reads: The Sun Does Shine, by Anthony Ray Hinton, who spent 30 years on Alabama’s death row before being exonerated. A compelling read. And Women Talking, the Miriam Toews about the women who were all raped in a Mennonite community in South America and have to decide what to do. Also strong. Unusual. And I’ve just started Ducks, Newburyport, by Lucy Ellman, the 1,000 page one sentence opus by Richard Ellman’s daughter. I’m hooked, and finding it quite funny.