Grammar Lessons

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My dear friend Michele Morano has an amazing book just out, Grammar Lessons: Translating a Life in Spain. The book is a compilation of thirteen personal (and beautifully crafted) essays, one of which was included in Best American Essays 2006. Her book, Ruth Behar says, “is prose poetry, a traveler’s tale, reflexive ethnography, a meditation on the possibilities of translation, and a gorgeous memoir of a woman’s search for a new language that can help her to know better who she wants to be.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? Incidentally, Michele was chosen, by Time Out Chicago, as one of the twenty people to watch in 2007! To learn more about Michele and her Grammar Lessons, visit her website here——>.                                                                             

» Posted by Santiago, on Tue, February 27, 2007
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The Disappeared (Los Desaparecidos)

The Disappeared, a remarkable traveling exhibition organized by the North Dakota Museum of Art and curated by Laurel Reuter, opened last night at El Museo del Barrio. It brings together visual artists’ responses to the tens of thousands of persons who were kidnapped, tortured, killed and “vanished” in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay by repressive right-wing military dictatorships during the late-1950s to the 1980s, and, more recently, in Colombia’s fifty-year civil war. The Disappeared gathers 14 contemporary living artists from seven countries in Central and South America, all of whose work contends with the horrors and violence stemming from the totalitarian regimes in each of their countries. Some of the artists worked in the resistance; some had parents or siblings who were disappeared; others were forced into exile. The youngest were born into the aftermath of those dictatorships. And still others have lived in countries maimed by endless civil war. These artists are fighting “amnesia” in their own countries, but they’re also asking North Americans to question what role the US played in supporting the Latin American governments which killed, and still do, their own people. Any resemblance to what’s going on in Irak and Afghanistan is a pure coincidence.
For more information, visit El Museo’s website.

» Posted by Santiago, on Fri, February 23, 2007
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The Washington Post Book World Review of “Tales from the Town of Widows” is finally here!

THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE
When a village loses all its men, the women find themselves in paradise.
Reviewed by Jonathan Kirsch
Sunday, February 18, 2007

Among the colorful characters who populate James Cañón’s first novel is an American reporter who carries a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude in his backpack, an incidental detail that turns out to be a wink and a nod to the reader. Cañón’s owes a creative debt to the literary tradition of South American fabulism, as pioneered by Gabriel García Márquez and as more recently practiced by Isabel Allende.
Cañón, born and educated in Colombia and now living and writing in New York, sets his story in a Colombian village in the last decade of the 20th century. Mariquita is a charming backwater that boasts a priest with a congregation of one, a rather more active brothel with 13 bedrooms, a medical doctor and a witch doctor, a constabulary whose officers spend their days playing Parcheesi under a mango tree and an open-air market where “older women under green awnings sold everything from calf’s foot jelly to bootleg cassettes of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.” Then, one day, the men of Mariquita are gone, and the place abruptly turns into “a town of widows in a land of men.”
No magic is necessary to explain the disappearance of the menfolk. Rather, when a passing band of guerrillas fails to inspire a single villager to join up, they conscript the entire male population, leaving behind only the hapless priest and the 13-year-old son of his sole congregant, a formidable widow who dresses her son in a frock and hides him among her three daughters. The boy feels so comfortable in his new garb that he resolves to remain a girl. So begins the transformation of Mariquita and the women and children who were left behind, a rollicking and often shocking tale that Cañón tells with charm and bite.
The absence of men poses a number of practical problems, including the fundamental question of how to repopulate the village. The new female magistrate declares a Procreation Campaign, and the priest offers to compromise his vow of chastity for the public good. His encounter with a young virgin, appropriately named Virgelina, is rendered with a blend of eroticism, dark comedy and muted horror. The girl’s grandmother teaches her the arts of seduction in seven easy-to-remember steps: “Commend yourself to God and let him do the rest” is Step Six. “I hope that your grandmother considers putting your name down for a second visit,” says the selfless priest.
Cañón’s enchanting tale is punctuated with first-person accounts by various male voices who testify, sometimes poignantly and sometimes ironically, to the human capacity for brutality. “One thing I’ve learned in the army is that the less contact you have with your victim, the easier it is to kill him,” muses a 32-year-old officer in the Colombian army. “I once let a man talk to me for too long before I shot him, and I still regret it.” And the guerrillas, too, are capable of committing rape, mayhem and murder against the people they claim to serve: “You see the two boys over there, just to the right of the burro?” one of the widows asks a newcomer. “The taller one’s Trotsky, and the other one’s Vietnam. The poor things were forced to witness the killing of their fathers at the hands of the guerrillas.”
Male violence rather than magic realism, in fact, is the unsettling subtext of Tales From the Town of Widows, and the occasional moments of atrocity go off like land mines among the more frequent moments of sexual adventure and sexual ambiguity that decorate this otherwise comic account of the rise and fall of a gynocratic utopia. “If not having men around meant that Mariquita had to end with the present generation,” argue the widows who condemn the Procreation Creation campaign in favor of bedding down with each other, “perhaps an entire generation of harmony, tolerance and love would be preferable to an eternity of misery and despair—not to mention war.” ?
Jonathan Kirsch is the author, most recently, of “A History of the End of the World: How the Most Controversial Book in the Bible Changed the Course of Western Civilization.”
The Washington Post Book World Review

» Posted by Santiago, on Sat, February 17, 2007
» category: Press
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If you love to read.

Harper Collins has a program called First Look, that allows you to sign up online for a chance to read new Harper Collins books (literary fiction, general fiction, suspense, biography, cookbooks, and other genres) and write your own reviews before the books hit the stores. Reviewers are selected at random, but you must register to be eligible.
Sign up for First Look.
Read my First Look reviews. (You need to scroll down).

» Posted by Santiago, on Tue, February 13, 2007
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Is America ready for a Female President?

In case you haven’t read it yet, Elayne Boosler, writing on her blog on Huffington Post, answered this question properly and categorically.
Read the terrific article here.

» Posted by Santiago, on Mon, February 12, 2007
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Bookslut on “Tales from the Town of Widows”

Bookslut, a monthly web magazine for book-lovers, recently reviewed Tales from the Town of Widows.
Read the review here.

» Posted by Santiago, on Sun, February 11, 2007
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“Tales…” Reviewed in Chronogram Magazine

By Pauline Uchmanowicz
“Colombian-born-and-raised writer James Cañón spent the past five years working on his lyrically satisfying debut novel, Tales from the Town of Widows & Chronicles from the Land of Men. Cañón sets his story against the backdrop of his native country’s prolonged civil war, focusing on recent atrocities in the annals of its “disappeared” (more than 3,500 people vanished between 1996 and 2000, and the toll continues to mount). The author derived his evocative premise from a Colombian newspaper article about two mountain villages where Communist guerillas had taken away most of the men. Imaginatively chronicling what might happen to the women left behind, Cañón envisions the emergence of an equality-based society…”
Read the full review here.

» Posted by Santiago, on Sun, February 11, 2007
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Canon-ized

The following article appeared recently in The Brooklyn Paper
Canon-ized
By John Varmus
“Name another author who moved to New York at age 26 to learn English and started his writing career with a grammar course at NYU. It doesn’t happen too often — but neither do novels like “Tales from the Town of Widows,” the debut by James Canon, a former Williamsburg resident who will return to the borough for a reading next week. “Brooklyn has the largest, most vibrant community of artists in the New York area,” Canon told GO Brooklyn. “I’m very excited to do a reading where it’s at.” Set in a fictional Colombian town, the book follows the lives of men who are all killed or “recruited” by guerillas, and the women who are left to fend for themselves. Along the way, Canon introduces us to colorful characters, including an ample-bottomed magistrate, a stern schoolmistress and a cow named Perestroika.”

» Posted by Santiago, on Sun, February 11, 2007
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Last stop on my book tour: Iowa City

The evening I arrived in Iowa City, Prairie Lights Books (the iconic Iowa City bookstore where I was to read the next evening), had received a threat about a book on abortion that was to be the subject of that evening’s “Live from Prairie Lights.” Consequently, the reading was cancelled and the store closed earlier. It’s disgraceful that the same people who claim to “protect” life keep threatening it. My own reading, however, went well. No one threatened anyone and the room was packed (we even had people standing in the back). The Q&A section was marked by several important questions both from the auidence and from Julie Englander, who hosted the event. The event was recorded and will air at 8 p.m. on Saturday, February 10th, and at 7 p.m on Sunday, February 11th, on WSUI-AM 910, WOI-AM 640 and KRNI-AM 1010. A program will also be broadcast at 5 p.m on Sunday on KSUI-FM 91.7.
Audience Highlights: Michele Morano, a friend and soon-to-be-published writer, who drove four hours from Chicago to see me and to meet with her publishers. Her book, Grammar Lessons, will be released in a couple of weeks and has already gotten a lot of attention from the media. For information about it, please go to http://www.michelemorano.com

» Posted by Santiago, on Fri, February 02, 2007
» category: News
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