Books, Bikes, and Food

Reviews, Recipes, Rides… and some other things, too.


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Goodbye, Books, Bikes & Food

This is a long overdue post, and if anyone is still reading here you probably saw it coming. After many months of not posting and having completely lost my blogging mojo, I’ve decided not to review the domain booksbikesfood.com. This here blog should automatically revert back to its original URL liburuak.wordpress.com after 25th March, if you’re still interested in perusing the recipe / books reviewed index.

Thanks for some wonderful years, dear blogging community. It’s been a blast.

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Anne Wizorek: Weil ein #Aufschrei nicht reicht: für einen Feminismus von heute (2014)

Ger_Lit_Month_2014This is my non-fiction instalment for German Lit Month. It hasn’t been translated because it only just came out (and the context is very specific to the German-speaking world and Germany in particular), but its title roughly translates to “Because an #Outcry is not enough: for a contemporary feminism”. It’s difficult to write about this book because I wanted to love it so much that I find it hard to acknowledge that I thought it was a bit of a disappointment. BUT, let me get this out first: I think it’s a hugely important book, especially for those who are sort of drawn to feminism but haven’t made contact yet. It provides a good introduction to some of the main issues and above all, it makes clear that feminism isn’t some sort of man-hating club of bitter female professors who sit around in stuffy offices and hate on each other and all things male. I just wish it was a bit better executed.aufschrei_book

I can’t stress enough how important feminism has become for me over recent years. The older I become, the more impatient I get with issues like the glass ceiling, male privilege, and everyday sexism. And I think the events of the last few weeks only prove me right. An ESA scientist wore a hugely unprofessional shirt on the day of us landing a robot on a comet and no-one thought to prevent him from it (if you’re going to read one final article about “that shirt”, please make it this one, it’s simply brilliant, and if you want one more, this one is also very good)*, resulting in Lewis’s Law being proven right on about a million articles. The morning after pill has to become prescription-free by order of a European agency and against the will of Germany’s most important political force, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). The compulsory 30% quota for women on the boards of listed companies in Germany – that will affect just over 100 companies in total because smaller companies are not obligated to implement it – is pushed through after years and years of negotiation and vitriol (the vitriol, of course, continues to be spilled all over the place). I think we have plenty of reason not to become complacent about “how far we’ve come” on gender equality.

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Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000)

kavalier_clay_smallHello world! I’m back! Let’s see how long my re-found blogging mojo lasts this time around. Anyway, before it leaves me again I want to talk to you guys about The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. It tells the stories of two Jewish cousins, Josef (Joe) Kavalier and Sam Clay (Klayman) during and after WW II. Joe has a a traumatic escape from Third Reich Prague and joins the side of his family who has emigrated to the US. Together, Joe and Sam start a comic book series, centred on a super hero called The Escapist. Joe is a gifted artist, Sam is the story man behind the outfit. As two slightly naive hot heads eager to get their ideas out there, they get royally ripped off by the people they sell their stories to, but they have a very good time of it. At the same time, the Escapist’s adventures sort of function like a therapy for them both: Joe uses the hero to fight the Nazis in his imagination, while his cousin, who suffered from polio as a child, can do things he can’t do in “real life” through him. Both meet people: Joe meets Rosa Saks, an artist, and Sam meets Tracy Bacon, the Escapist’s radio voice. For a while, they’re almost carefree, if it weren’t for Joe’s continuous obsession with helping his family escape from Prague.

But then a tragedy happens, and Joe joins the army. Sam goes on an adventure with Tracy Bacon that goes wrong as they’re arrested for homosexual action. Joe is sent on a mission to Antarctica, while Sam takes a decision that shows the deep relationship he has formed with his cousin. I won’t tell you what happens after Joe returns from the war, because I don’t want to give too much away – even though this isn’t a novel mainly built on the tension that comes from not knowing (but it’s nicer that way).

I liked The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay a lot. The story checks out beautifully and I really enjoyed the novel’s unpretentious style. There’s no over-the-top drama, which helps you use your own imagination, but the story line never lags. The same goes for how he deals with Sam’s homosexuality – it obviously causes problems, but it’s not the main subject everything revolves around, as seems to be the case with some books with LGBT characters. And even though I’m everything but a comic or graphic novel buff, I really liked the way Chabon works some of the stories Kavalier, Clay, and Rosa develop for their characters into the action.

To me, Kavalier and Clay never got boring, even though it’s a long book and it took me quite a while to get through it because of how little I get around to reading these days. I’d actually say it’s a great book to take on a holiday when you want an engaging, but not shallow, read and you have some reading time available. But this is also fine to read in bite-sized chunks like I did, just be prepared for it to take a little while.

German title: Die unglaublichen Abenteuer von Kavalier & Clay
Spanish title: Las asombrosas aventuras de Kavalier y Clay


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Caitlin Moran: How to be a Woman (2011)

This is another one of those posts I begin by going “I read this ages ago but never posted on it because…” This time, my excuse is that I wanted to do this review “properly”, but I’ve realised this is probably never going to happen, so I’ve decided to just post some more or less incoherent thoughts based on notes I took after finishing How to be a Woman. For more coherent thoughts, I’d like to refer you to the posts of the more put-together-than-me ladies Melissa and Iris – and there are probably a million other excellent reviews out there (if you’ve written one, please do leave a link in the comments!).

So, How to be a Woman. Honestly, it’s not often that a book produces such conflicting reactions in me. There were bits I wanted to shout from the rooftops because everyone needs to hear them loud and clear, but there were also parts where I wanted to get a hold of Moran and give her a good shake. I think the reason for this is that How to be a Woman doesn’t really know what it wants to be: a feminist manifesto, a “hilarious” autobiography, or a show of “I am Caitlin Moran and look how awesome I am”.

As it stands, it has a bit of each, and as a result, the fact that it has been heralded as the new awesome feminist manifesto is, at least in my view, a problem. How to be a Woman mixes Moran’s feminist with other views that don’t seem to be particularly well thought-out (e.g. her constant quoting of Germaine Greer, known holder of anti-transgender views – what is up with that?!*). Throw in some not strictly necessary episodes that seem to be there mostly in order to reinforce Moran’s own standing as The Coolest Woman On Earth, a.k.a. “Look at me, I party with Lady Gaga!!! Does that make me cool or what?!”), and you get a rather confusing jumble. If this is the New Feminist Manifesto Every Woman Needs To Read, I think we need to reassess our expectations, because we’re heading in the wrong direction.

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Javier Moro: El imperio eres tú (2011)

el-imperio-eres-tu_smallLately, I’ve become increasingly curious about Brazil, so El imperio eres tú, described as a historical novel about Brazil’s independence and its protagonists, seemed to fit the bill of educating myself on its history well enough. The book traces the story of how the Portuguese court emigrated in its entirety to Brazil upon being threatened by Napoleon invading the country, how João VI, King of the United Kingdom of Portugal and Brazil had to return to Portugal, leaving his son Pedro in charge of the colony, and how the circumstances led to the most singular independence of all the Latin American countries – practically peaceful, establishing the only monarchy on the American continent. Pedro married princess Leopoldina of Austria, who by stroke of more or less luck ended up becoming Empress of Brazil. Dom Pedro, however, was a man with an eye for the ladies, and maintained not just countless one night stands, but also a lengthy affair with a woman named Domitila.

Pedro and Leopoldina are at the centre of El imperio eres tú. It ends (not much of a spoiler here) with Pedro’s death and an epilogue of how things went on under the reign of his son Dom Pedro II, who protagonised the end of the Brazilian monarchic experiment.

Let’s make this short, I did not enjoy El imperio eres tú. It’s difficult to describe it as a novel. Its tone is sterile, there’s little direct speech and the bulk of the story is told from the viewpoint of an omniscient third-person narrator with a penchant for cultural stereotypes:

“Era una reacción propia de una mujer acostumbrada a controlar sus sentimientos de manera férrea. Sólo una alemana podía reaccionar así.”

[It was the reaction of a woman used to controlling her feelings with an iron hand. Only a German could react like this.]

Or:

“Domitila […] era voluptuosa en sus gestos, dulce como sólo una brasileña podía serlo.”

[Domitila (…) was voluptuous in her gestures, sweet like only a Brazilian woman could be.]

Judgement is also passed on the Spanish, the English, and any other nationality that appears in El imperio eres tú. It seems like the book was written for readers who want the world explained to them in an easily digestible way without having to move away from their preconceived notions of what different people are like. Dangerously enough – please forgive the arrogance – I worry that these are also most likely to be the sort of people who will take everything Moro writes for granted, thus further blurring the line between fiction and historical fact. The language, despite the sterility of the narrative, is often cheesy, giving parts of the book the feel of a cheap romance. Moro seems to love this kind of stuff; I should have been warned after previously having chewed my way through El sari rojo, which handles the life of Sonia Gandhi in a similarly sappy fashion. He sells well though, so good for him.

Conclusion: not recommended, although I do know something about Brazilian history now.

No translations yet.


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Santiago Roncagliolo: Abril rojo (2006)

Abril_rojo_smallI read Abril rojo ages ago, some time in the early autumn last year, I think Update: upon checking my Goodreads account, I realised it was in the summer. Just now it came back to me like a flash: I’d actually really wanted to review it when I read it, but somehow never got around to it, you know how it is. 

Well, this gem has spent enough time languishing on my “to review” list, because I think it really deserves having its praises sung (the Premio Alfaguara jury was onto something there). Abril Rojo is set in Peru in 2000, towards the end of the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso)‘s terrorist activities in the country.  But in Ayacucho, during Semana Santa (the week before Easter), a number of horrific murders are being committed. The person in charge of handling the crimes is Félix Chacaltana, a prosecutor originally from Ayacucho, but who has spent a long time in Lima and come back. He has moved back into his late mother’s house and kept her room as it was when she was alive, and he constantly talks to her. Chacaltana is a true thorough bureaucrat who believes in the power of institutions, and so he sits down dutifully and writes his reports on the murders. Perhaps, he concludes, the Shining Path has something to do with them?

But Chacaltana’s report doesn’t fall on fruitful ground. His investigative advances are blocked by high-level officials and he runs into a wall of complicity with the perpetrators. But Chacaltana doesn’t give up. With a mixture of obstinacy and daredevil naivety, he digs deeper and deeper into events. Elements of indigenous magic mix with crime and having spent a lot of time in the worldly city, Chacaltana has problems wrapping his head around the Andean infusion of catholic and indigenous traditions that surrounds the events. As he descends into the depths of a world where terrorism, corruption and political ambition mix, both Chacaltana and the reader become more and more confused. Never quite knowing who is who and on whose side people stand, his quest becomes lonelier and more dangerous.

I don’t really want to say more, because I don’t want to spoil  Abril rojo for you. I really enjoyed this excellent and easy-to-read thriller with a lot of tension. If, on top of it, you’re interested in Peru, this is most definitely your book (in which case, you may also be interested in this one). And even if you don’t have a Latin American or Peruvian predilection, if you’re European or North American, prepare to be immersed in a culture that is so close to our own in some ways, yet so fascinatingly different in others. Roncagliolo manages to treat an issue that is still quite thorny in his home country without too much pathos, and he’s really, really good at creating the corresponding ambience. Get ready to be sucked in.

English title: Red April
German title: Roter April