Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Galíndez by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1992)

I bought this copy of Galíndez by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1992) a looooooooong time ago when it was a super bargain book while I worked at Barnes and Noble. I've moved it around with me for years but never read it, mostly, I think, because the cover is particularly ugly and indistinct. I've been trying to weed my bookshelves a bit to make room for more books, so I decided to get rid of old Galíndez, but I have a hard time getting rid of a book I owned for years but never read. I'm still letting Galíndez go, but I'm very glad I read it and I'm interested in checking out some more Montalbán in the future.

This is a novelization of the true story of Jesús Galíndez, a Basque nationalist and Spanish exile after the civil war who ended up in the Dominican Republic for several years before moving to the United States. After writing a thesis exposing the violence behind the Trujillo dictatorship in in the Dominican Republic, Galíndez disappeared from the streets of New York in 1956 and his body was never found.

In Montalbán's novel, an ex-Mormon American graduate student named Muriel Colbert takes up the life of Galíndez for her doctoral thesis in the late 1980s and begins to interview people in New York and Madrid who knew him. Chapters alternate between the intertwining of Muriel's research and personal life, flashbacks to the last hours of the life of Galíndez, and the present-day work of two FBI agents who want Colbert to stop her digging before she uncovers too much and disrupts relations between the U.S. and the Dominican Republic during the not-entirely-frozen Cold War.

The prose style veers between experimental chapters with pages of text unbroken by paragraphs or quotation marks to snappy dialogue and fast-paced action worthy of a spy novel. In Agent Robards, Montalbán has created one of the most creepy and hilarious salmon-paste eating drunken characters ever put to the page (the scene where he pisses on the hot rocks in a sauna is particularly evocative of his nature). But even in the experimental sections, Montalbán never loses his readers' attention or the suspicious mood of the book. This is the kind of book that could be weakened by the wrong ending, but Montalbán doesn't let us down: The ending is brutal but perfect, and tightly snaps together the structure of the novel.

I'm not sure why this famous Barcelonaean novelist slipped through the cracks of my reading pile, but I'm glad he eventually found his way to the top. This is a nice very Spanish feeling novel, and worth a read despite the ugly cover.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

As You Like It: edited with a life of Shakespeare, an account of the theatre in his time, and numerous aids to the study of the play by William Shakespeare, Samuel Thurber, Jr. and Louise Wetherbee (1599, 1922)

In my continuing quest to read all of the books I won in a big giveaway from the Forgotten Bookmarks blog, I recently finished reading the epically titled As You Like It: edited with a life of Shakespeare, an account of the theatre in his time, and numerous aids to the study of the play by William Shakespeare, Samuel Thurber, Jr. and Louise Wetherbee (1599, 1922).

This nicely constructed little book consists of the text of the play, extensive schoolmarmish notes (Rosalind: "Thou losest thy old smell." Note: "Remember that Rosalind's vulgarity was very common at the time."), a glossary, discussion questions for each scene, a selection of literary criticism from the 19th century, a biographical sketch of Shakespeare, and a discussion of Elizabethan theatre.

But, better than all that, the book contains extensive annotations made by a certain schoolboy named Edward R. Scudder in 1929. How do I know his name? Because he wrote it about 200 times throughout the book.
This is the inside back cover, but you can see a larger selection of the annotations here. Note that one of the drawings is pretty racially insensitive, but it seems that kind of thing flew at Oneonta High School in 1929.

How did I know Mr. Scudder lived in Oneonta? Why because I am an amazing information professional, that's why! I noticed that he put "OHS '29" on the inside back cover of his book, which told me that he lived in a town that started with an "O" and that he graduated from high school in 1929. A little searching on the Social Security Death Index showed me an Edward Scudder who was born in 1911 and who died in Oneonta, New York in 1981. That would make him 18 in 1929, and a perfect candidate for our book. Further research showed that this Edward Scudder's middle initial was R., which sealed the deal.

Other random facts: In 1938 Edward visited Mr.and Mrs. Edgar Boyce in Kingston, NY in the company of Mr. and Mrs. Lee D. Crouch and their daughter Dorothy (as reported in The Kingston Daily Freeman, February 25, 1938); in 1953 he served on the Oneonta Chamber of Commerce election committee (as reported in The Binghamton NY Press, February 7, 1953); and he was a member of the Men’s Chorus in Oneonta in 1957 (as reported in a flashback feature in the Oneonta Daily Press, December 7, 2007).

I won't deny that I have amazing search skills, but it also helped that Mr. Scudder had a very googleable name. It seems that Mr. Scudder did get married, although I wasn't able to find the names of any of his children. If by some chance a relative comes across this post and would be interested in the book, just let me know and I'd be happy to mail it to you. Otherwise I'm going to keep this little gem forever -- it is a nice copy of a great play, with some wonderful history inside!

[Curious how Edward felt about "As You Like It"? He didn't really like it.]