one blogger in search of a character

Posted on January 29, 2014


ny_st_horse_20131030Character is the ability to carry out a good resolution long after the excitement of the moment has passed. — Cavett Robert

It’s probably a bit late to say Happy New Year, and a bit early to say Kung Hei Fat Choy, so I’ll say happy beginnings to any new endeavours and renewed vigor for old ones.   It is the latter of these two that I need at the moment.  I find that between the Christmas break and the break fast of returning to work I’ve lost my momentum.  I can hardly remember what I was reading or where the gear handle is to crank myself up again for the reading ahead.   I will try to do better now nearly 12th of this year is behind us already.  Which fact alone scares me into loin girding.

As far as the Dominican Republic and East Timor are concerned, I will say a little bit about both here before I start reading Salvadoran Manlio Argueta’s Un día en la vida and Equatoguinea Donato Ndongo’s Las tinieblas de tu memoria negra (gratefully paid for with a gift voucher from the lovelies – Henry Hyde and Annie Prescott).

So, Dominican Republic first and Ambilet’s el secreto de Neguri. Any novel that has the words cockroach, Birkenstock and cloaca in its opening pages is off to a good start.  The opening sentence, however, should have put me on notice of the type of novel this would be overall:– ‘esta singular historia demanda absoluta fidelidad a los eventos que la componen.’   Sometimes it felt a bit too much like an exercise in a writing class – ‘describe in detail your protagonist waking up and eating breakfast.  Describe how his pyjamas feel on his skin, the flimsy remnants of his dreams, his walk to the bathroom. Remember to draw on every one of his senses…’   Scenes that in a film would be the matter of a second stretch over pages in the novel, requiring effort and patience on the part of the reader. There were times when my patience nearly failed.   But it was worth persevering as the author has his reasons for this intense scrutiny of Neguri’s life.

This is the tale of Neguri, a single man thoroughly stuck in and defined by his daily routine, hence, I’m sure, one of the reasons for the minutiae.  One day Neguri chasing a cockroach, sandal in hand discovers a secret passage under the sink.  From this passage he can spy on the other occupants of the block of flats in which he lives.  On the surface the moral dilemma is straight forward, what do you do if you learn that a crime has been committed? Do you intervene or simply observe. But this is a novel that works on many levels, and this is just one of the games Ambilet is playing with us, the reader/observer, as Neguri observes/reads the occupants of his block of flats.

If you can read Spanish with any fluency, I would recommend this novel with the proviso that, if like me, you’re not keen on too much description you persevere against your natural inclinations.


Now to Luís Cardoso’s The Crossing.  This is a simple, beautiful memoir of growing up in East Timor.  While it touches on political upheavals it never strays from being the straight forward telling of Cardoso’s life as he grows from boyhood to manhood.  The struggle for identity and independence in East Timor, a country influenced by Portugal, Japan, Indonesia, and Australia mirrors Cardoso’s own searching.    As he crosses from boyhood to manhood, from East Timor to Portugal, from citizen to immigrant, he records with a poet’s eye the changing face of his homeland and himself.    Ultimately, Cardoso suffers the fate of all exiles; he lives in a liminal space, no longer East Timorese, not yet/ever Portuguese.   Where Cardoso differs, is that he has always embraced this crossover space, moving happily and naturally between his deeply held Catholic beliefs to the pre-Catholic spiritual world of his Timorese ancestors.   This spirit worlds enables him to inhabit fully the thoughts and feelings of those around him. Uniquely, this gives his autobiography an, at times, unsettling, at times, refreshing multi-character viewpoint.    The Crossing though a slight book is one I enjoyed immensely.