“Maite understood little, but she grasped this: that beneath banal phrases and appeals to the good of the nation something dangerous simmered.”
Velvet Was The Night is an historical novel written by Silvia Moreno Garcia. I love her book Signal to Noise, which I read about seven years ago, and was very excited to read other books by this Mexican-born author.
Both books are set in Mexico; this one is a political noir, as it takes place in 1970s Mexico City at the beginning of what is commonly known as the “Dirty War.”
The story is told in third person and narrated through the point of view of two characters who lead very different lives. Maite is a thirty-year-old woman who enjoys reading romance comics (which, according to the author, were pretty popular in Mexico during those years); she is a secretary at a law firm and her days are lonely. Since she has a somewhat estranged relationship with her mother and sister, she lives by herself and spends non-working days in the company of her comic books and her vinyl records (she has a huge collection of imported vinyls, which I found super interesting, as I am a vinyl collector myself). Her life suddenly turns upside down when her neighbor Leonora vanishes after leaving her cat for Maite to take care of, and the protagonist finds herself involved with political dissidents while trying to solve the mystery of Leonora’s disappearance.
“Trying to convey beauty in war was a technique to try to prevent the reader from looking away or turning the page in response to something horrible. I wanted them to linger, to ask questions.”
On August 19th we celebrated World Photography Day so I thought to review one of my favorite books about one of the most acclaimed conflict photographers.
“It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War” is Pulitzer-prize winning war photographer Lynsey Addario’s autobiographical memoir, published in 2015. She narrates her own story about being a freelance war photographer and documenting the hardest moments of the human condition. The book starts off with her being kidnapped by government forces in Libya but it is sort of a cliff-hanger because the narration of this brutal episode remains “suspended” almost until the end of the book. First we get to see her childhood, her falling in love with the camera and the hardships of building and nourishing relationships while being a war correspondent.
We witness through her words the beginning of her career in South America and her documenting of women in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime. She recounts how she managed to gain the trust of Afghan women, who allowed her to capture moments from their everyday life; the pictures she took during that time are evocative of the historical period Afghanistan was experiencing. Addario shows her respect towards these women as human beings rather than treating them as “objects” to photograph, and I think this shows her sensibility and empathy both as a professional photographer and a person with moral and spiritual values. The photos showcasing her talent and dedication are shown in three glossy sections in the middle of the book, which are also filled with amazing images from her home life. “I found that the camera was a comforting companion. It opened up new worlds, and gave me access to people’s most intimate moments. I discovered the privilege of seeing life in all its complexity, the thrill of learning something new every day. When I was behind a camera, it was the only place in the world I wanted to be.”
“I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”
The Song of Achilles is American writer Madeline Miller’s debut novel and it was firstly published in 2011.
I studied The Iliad and The Odyssey during my high school years, so I was familiar with the story, even though Miller puts a different spin on it and she entrusts the narration to Patroclus, Achilles’ kind and loyal friend since childhood.
Madeline Miller stays true to the homosexuality of Homer’s Iliad instead of telling a censored version of the story; in this book Achilles and Patroclus are madly in love with each other, they are soulmates, unlike what is told in the Iliad movie version Troy, where they are shown as cousins and man at arms. The attraction between them is slowly built up, even though Patroclus is struck by Achilles’ beauty after seeing him for the first time.
We get to see how they grow up together, learn together and fight together. They become inseparable and the sexual part in their relationship is something that matures alongside them in a very natural way (they still have some issues because their personalities tend to clash at times, as it may happen with all relationships).
No prior knowledge of Homer is required going into this, even though it is adapted from the Iliad. The story is set in Ancient Greece, has a great aesthetic and is told through a simple, elegant prose. As the narrator, Patroclus becomes the main character of the book, letting us see and perceive through his eyes every emotion, feeling and event that characterizes his life at Achilles’ side.
“How true is the saying that man was forced to invent work in order to escape the strain of having to think.”
This was my first book by Agatha Christie (I had heard about her mystery novels over the years thanks to the Murder on the Orient Express 1974 film adaptation by Sidney Lumet), so I was a bit nervous when I began reading it because I didn’t know her writing style, therefore I didn’t know what to expect.
Death on the Nile takes place in 1937 on a cruise ship along the Nile; the rich and famous used to flock there at the time to see Cairo (which was considered very glamourous in the 1930s) and the Egyptian pyramids.
Linnet Ridgeway, a rich and famous heiress, is traveling to Cairo with new husband Simon Doyle for their honeymoon; Simon used to be her best friend Jacqueline de Bellefort’s fiancé and the two of them had previously asked Linnet for help in finding work (they were having a hard time because of the Depression). Linnet has basically stolen Simon away from Jacqueline so the latter won’t go down without a fight and is stalking them on their Egyptian honeymoon.
Aboard the same Nile cruise there happens to be Hercule Poirot, a famous Belgian detective who is the main character in a series of Agatha Christie mysteries.
The other passengers include a large cast of characters and they all have an intriguing past; Linnet’s trustee Andrew Pennington, her maid Louise Bourget, American socialite Marie Van Schuyler, her cousin Cornelia Robson and her nurse Miss Bowers, Tim Allerton and his mother Mrs. Allerton, communist Mr. Ferguson, romance novelist Mrs. Otterbourne and her daughter Rosalie, solicitor Jim Fanthorp, an Italian archaeologist named Guido Richetti and well-known physician Dr. Bessner.
It all seems to go rather smoothly until one night Linnet Doyle (née Ridgeway) is found murdered in her cruise cabin.
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