Fernando Contreras Castro: Cierto azul (Blue Note)

The latest addition to my website is Fernando Contreras Castro‘s Cierto azul (Blue Note). This novel is narrated by a cat, but don’t let that put you off. Freddie Freeloader (named after a track on Miles DavisKind of Blue) has a jazz sextet in a San José-like. He finds a blind boy, lost and alone and the sextet adopt him, training him to be more cat-like. However, like Miles Davis, he takes up the trumpet and soon becomes a virtuoso, finding his way as a human, albeit with cat influences. It mixes humour with seriousness, particularly in its devotion to jazz,which comes from the music of slaves and is seen as both a liberating force and a force for love.

Fernando Contreras Castro: Única mirando al mar (Única Looking at the Sea)

The latest addition to my website is Fernando Contreras Castro‘s Única mirando al mar (Única Looking at the Sea). It tells the story of a group of scavengers (they are called divers in this book) who live in a shanty town on the main San José, Costa Rica, rubbish dump. They earn their living from what they can find in the dump, They are there because of bad luck, such as job loss or being abandoned, in the case of a child. We follow Única Oconitrillo, a former teacher’s aide, as she gradually becomes the mother figure of the other divers and finds, among other things, a son and a husband on the dump. Contreras Castro very much treats them all sympathetically but the locals, the police and the government do not. The locals want the dump moved and the divers are caught in the middle, as the government lies to all parties.

Yolanda Oreamuno: La ruta de su evasión [The Route of Her Escape]

The latest addition to my website is Yolanda Oreamuno‘s La ruta de su evasión [The Route of Her Escape]. This is a superb Costa Rican feminist novel, Oreamuno’s only published novel. It tells the story of the Mendoza family: Don Vasco, the cruel paterfamilias, his long-suffering and now dying wife, Teresa, and their three sons, Roberto, Gabriel and Alvaro. Don Vasco has consistently bullied and abused Teresa. Roberto gets Cristina pregnant and marries her but tells her that he does not love her and he has no affection for her. She dies in childbirth, having gone to the hospital on her own. Gabriel has two girlfriends, one of whom is under the control of her also bullying father, who rejects Gabriel, and the other one who is a victim of Gabriel, as the other women in this book are victims. Poor Alvaro cannot cope with his life or his family and just stays in his bedroom masturbating. Oreamuno paints a grim picture of male dominance, male bullying and men’s idea that they are inherently superior to women. Sadly, this novel has not been translated into English or any other language.

Rodolfo Arias Formoso: Guirnaldas (bajo tierra) [Garlands (Underground)]

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The latest addition to my website is Rodolfo Arias Formoso‘s Guirnaldas (bajo tierra) [Garlands (Underground)]. This is a first-rate Costa Rican novel, which was very well received in Costa Rica. It is based on the principle of a tube line, with each chapter being either a station or a connection on the tube line. (The tube line is entirely fictitious for, though the novel is set almost entirely in San José, San José does not have an underground railway system.) Each chapter tells us the story of one or more characters, though the stories develop over the course of the book. However, as well as the tube line principle, this book is based on the idea that everything (and everybody) is connected as well as the idea of the butterfly effect. Accordingly, characters that feature in one story will turn up in a minor role in another and, all too often, despite their minor role, will have an often unintended influence on the life of the other characters. We get a full range of characters and scenes – from the super hadron collider to James Bond’s pink E-type, from drug dealers to computer programmers, from lottery tickets to toy helicopters, from neo-Nazis to unwanted pregnancies. It is a very rich and cleverly constructed novel and well worth reading, if you read Spanish. Sadly, it has not been translated into another language and seems unlikely to be. However, who knows?, after their World Cup success, Costa Rica may start to get a bit more focus in the English-speaking world.