Skip to main content

Review of Mulata de tal (The Mulatta and Mister Fly) by Miguel Ángel Asturias, journal entry 2 and review

This is the second book I finish in the Global Reading Challenge, the North-American one. Guatemala, the author’s home land and setting of the book, is part of Latin America which makes people with a not-too firm grasp of geography sometimes assume it’s in South America. This novel is the first I read that takes place in Guatemala, although I had read about the country in travelogues before.

Year originally published: 1963; English translation: 1967
Transleted by: Gregory Rabassa
Genre: Literary novel (fantasy, magic realism, surrealism)
Setting & time: Guatemala, timeless

The story begins with a humorous description of one Celestino Yumí’s disgraceful behaviour at a realistically described village fair, then moves into magic realism territory and from there on to fantasy, finally culminating in a vortex of surrealistic descriptions. The story tells the tale of Yumí, his wife Catalina Zabala, and the Mulatta, a magical, sexual being connected to the moon, who charms Yumí and enrages Catalina and causes a struggle between them. All three then get drawn into a battle between the old Mayan demon-gods and the Christian Devil, and between the Christian Devil and some Catholic priests, for the hearts and souls of the people of a small town. Part two of the book can easily be seen as a metaphor for the destruction of the old Mayan beliefs by Christian ideas.

This is a colourful narrative, full of metaphor and descriptive language, and must surely draw on the author’s knowledge of Mayan folklore and beliefs (he was, among other things, a student of ethnology), although I can’t really be certain it isn’t all straight from his imagination, because I know very little about the subject of Latin American folklore (I would like to change that, so if anyone can recommend a good book on the subject, I would appreciate it).

What I do know is that I would have enjoyed Mulata de tal a lot more had there been some sympathetic characters in it. I could only ever sympathise with any given character for a few pages at a time, because they would always go and do something that would prove that they were irredeemably bad, and not in any kind of charming or even particularly hateful way. I feel that in order to really enjoy a book, there has to be at least one character one can either sympathise with or enjoy hating, and this book has neither. It’s a little like watching a troupe of monkeys enjoying a day out. You see flashes of genuine feeling that are immediately smothered in excess of some kind and it isn’t until the last 50 or so pages that you begin to see genuine depth of feeling, but those feelings are felt by characters it is also hard to sympathise with, and they are negative feelings, of fear and lust that lead the characters astray.

The best thing about this book is the language and the imagination that went into the storytelling. I can only imagine what it must be like to read some of the more colourfully expressive and glorious passages in the original Spanish.

Because of the problem with the characters I can not give this book more than 3 stars, but if it had given me a character to really like or really hate, it would certainly have got one more.


Popular posts from this blog

How to make a simple origami bookmark

Here are some instructions on how to make a simple origami (paper folding) bookmark:

Take a square of paper. It can be patterned origami paper, gift paper or even office paper, just as long as it’s easy to fold. The square should not be much bigger than 10 cm/4 inches across, unless you intend to use the mark for a big book. The images show what the paper should look like after you follow each step of the instructions. The two sides of the paper are shown in different colours to make things easier, and the edges and fold lines are shown as black lines.

Fold the paper in half diagonally (corner to corner), and then unfold. Repeat with the other two corners. This is to find the middle and to make the rest of the folding easier. If the paper is thick or stiff it can help to reverse the folds.

Fold three of the corners in so that they meet in the middle. You now have a piece of paper resembling an open envelope. For the next two steps, ignore the flap.

Fold the square diagonally in two. You…

Reading report for January 2014

Here it is, finally: the reading report for January. (February‘s report is in the works: I have it entered into Excel and I just need to transfer it into Word, edit the layout and write the preface. It will either take a couple of days or a couple of months).

I finished 26 books in January, although admittedly a number of them were novellas. As I mentioned in my previous post, I delved into a new(ish) type of genre: gay (or M/M) romance. I found everything from genuinely sweet romance to hardcore BDSM, in sub-genres like fantasy, suspense and mystery and even a quartet of entertaining (and unlikely) rock star romances. Other books I read in January include the highly enjoyable memoir of cooking doyenne Julia Child, two straight romances, and Jennifer Worth‘s trilogy of memoirs about her experiences as a midwife in a London slum in the 1950s. I also watched the first season of the TV series based on these books and may (I say 'may') write something about this when I have finis…

List love: A growing list of recommended books with elderly protagonists or significant elderly characters

I think it's about time I posted this, as I have been working on it for a couple of months.
I feel there isn’t enough fiction written about the elderly, or at least about the elderly as protagonists. The elderly in fiction tend to be supporting characters, often wise elders (such as  Dumbledore in the Harry Potter books) or cranky old neighbour types (e.g. the faculty of Unseen University in the Discworld series) or helpless oldsters (any number of books, especially children’s books) for the protagonist to either help or abuse (depending on whether they’re a hero or not).
Terry Pratchett has written several of my favourite elderly protagonists and they always kick ass in one way or another, so you will see several of his books on this list, either as listed items or ‘also’ mentions.
Without further ado: Here is a list of books with elderly protagonists or significant, important elderly characters. I leave it up to you to decide if you’re interested or not, but I certainly enjoyed…