break reading

[Am in Raleigh; getting a network connection has been a real PITA. Wrote this last night while unconnected from the network; more coming on The Red Hat Experience ™ in due course. :)

A quick run-through (mostly for personal journaling purposes, but possibly of interest to others) of the books I read over my post-exam vacation in the mountains.

Latin American bits:

The Autumn of the Patriarch, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: like 100 Years of Solitude (which I started re-reading Thursday but have not yet finished) a sort of warped view into the history of Latin America and the Caribbean, in this case with a focus on the perspective of the dictators. Probably helps to be at least comfortable with Latin American history before reading it. The style is almost experimental (very stream of thought) so I found it a little harder and uglier to read than I had hoped. Still, brilliant in its own way, as is to be expected from Garcia Marquez.

Dreaming In Cuban, by Christina Garcia: a novel of Cuban women from ’72 to Mariel, with some pre-Fidel history as well. Couldn’t help compare it in my head to the recent (male-centered) pre-Fidel Havana movie I saw with my family last summer- could have almost been a sequel in some ways. Like the movie, I enjoyed it, but probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t deeply interested in the period.

Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution, by Louis A. Perez: a good but eventually troubling non-fiction history, covering the island from European settlement to virtually the present. I knew very little about Cuban history before Fidel, and now know a fair amount more, so that was great. The author’s framework for historical analysis is Marxist. This is completely reasonable, given the dynamics of poverty and power in Latin America, particularly in pre-Fidel Cuba. That portion of the book, at least, seems solid. But his apparent blindspots in his treatment of Fidel (no dissent or repression worth noting between Bay of Pigs and the US’s response to the Special Period? seriously? in a book which has dissent and repression as major themes?) make me wonder how accurate the rest of the history is- what else was left out? Was that a condition of his access to the libraries in Havana? Does he just not feel that is worthy of treatment? I’m very curious, and it marred what was otherwise a very informative and (apparently) rigorously analytic book.

couple Islamic authors:
Tariq Ali, Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree: a family novel, set in the years immediately after the Reconquista of Spain. Clearly written to make a politico-historical point, sometimes to the point where the caricatures of Islam and Christianity get dull rather than interesting or informative. Still, the core of the story is moving and historically accurate. Particularly recommended for anyone (sadly, like some of the folks I met this past week) who doesn’t realize that 500 years ago religious terrorists slaughtered and tortured innocents and destroyed a progressive, tolerant, mostly superior culture – in the name of Christ. Pot calling kettle black, yadda, yadda.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Rushdie: a really lightweight, fun story. Like Serious Rushdie but kid (or summer vacation) appropriate.

Also some scifi:

Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed: Don’t know if it is a great book, exactly, but an interesting thought experiment in writing about anarchism and ownership. Surprised I hadn’t been told about this earlier- exactly my kind of political theory/sci-fi mashup.

reread The Carpet Makers, by Andreas Eschbach, which is just as brilliant as it was the last time. Scifi is rarely spare and beautiful, but this is.

reread Vernor Vinge’s Deepness in the Sky. A fun romp, if a little long and a little predictable. Bonus for compsci geeks: the protagonist is a 1337 programmer. Bonus for serious compsci geeks: read closely enough and you’ll note that it is implied that, 9-10,000 years in the future, starships run on Unix.

Now that I’m back at a computer and back in a more serious mental mode, I’ll probably finish Hundred Years and then work on Wealth of Networks and Infotopia.