Saturday, May 22, 2004

Jubiabá, by Jorge Amado

It wasn't until later in his career that Amado developed the surrealistic madcap sensibilities of, say, Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands or the languid sensualities of Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon. Early on his career he was the proverbial Angry Young Man (no, not Billy Joel), an active member of the Brazilian Communist Party, elected to the National Assembly. Jubiabá was first published in 1935, the year Amado graduated Law School.

This was a fascinating book for me, considering that up until now I've been primarily familiar with the later books. The protagonist, Antonio Balduino, is something of a Dickensian figure, drifting through roles as a houseboy, beggar, boxer, troubadour, migrant worker, longshoreman and finally rabble-rouser. Amado's affection for those who live with poverty and injustice is here as in all his works, but this text is both angrier and more hopeful. Balduino is a link between Brazil's African roots, symbolized by the Candomblé priest Jubiabá, and the future, which comes in the form of the labor movement and socialism/communism. With the weight of all these social concerns on the narrative, it doesn't flow quite as smoothly as say, Dona Flor, and it's a much darker, less humorous book. But it's a rewarding read, and Balduino's journey is (sadly) no less relevant today than it was then.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

Before I start, if you don't already own this book, go buy it now. I'll wait.

Seriously. There's a link to up there. Just do the 1-Click thing and then come on back.


Ready? OK. Now, you might have heard me rave about Karen Joy Fowler's work before . . . wait a minute. Some of you just opened another window and didn't follow through. You thought to yourselves, "I don't even like Jane Austen." Or maybe you've never read her. Big deal. Neither have I, although I plan to now. Quit whining and do as you're told.

All set?

Jane Austen wrote six novels. The Jane Austen Book Club has six members, most of them at least a bit irritating, all of them ultimately endearing and real. Karen Joy Fowler's novels are always rewarding, but none is as easy to love as this one. The voice of the club--the narrative "we" which runs throughout the novel--never runs out of devastatingly funny observations on the members, their relationships in and out of the club, writing, Austen, and itself. It's so damned funny that it's easy to overlook how much is going on behind the scenes--the sly commentaries, the metatextual riffs, and (I'm certain, although I'll have to read it again post-Austen to be sure) the mirrorings of its namesake. I don't know if I'm going to like Austen--I've resisted her for a long time, but KJF has convinced me that I must give her a shot. If nothing else, I have to read her so I can re-read this book.

So. Those of you who still haven't ordered it, what are you waiting for?