Fiction · In the Library · Julia P · SCC Book Club · Short Stories · Translated Work

Things We Lost in the Fire | by Mariana Enríquez

Things We Lost in the Fire

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez; translated by Megan McDowell
(Hogarth Press, 2017, 208 pages)

This was one of our Between the Covers book club titles and it was dark. This isn’t my typical read and it was hard for me to get through. Whenever I picked it up I wanted to keep reading but since my most of my reading time happens right before bed I had to keep setting this aside so I wouldn’t go to bed with too many dark thoughts floating around.

Even though the stories are disturbing this was a beautifully written book. In spite of the subject matter I still wanted to keep reading to see where Enríquez was going to take me. The story that freaked me out the most was “The Neighbor’s Courtyard.” I had a hard time going to sleep after that. I don’t really know what else to say, this was a great collection of short stories from an author I’m glad I got to experience. Whether or not short stories are your thing, if you appreciate dark and haunting tales this hits those notes repeatedly. Now I need a good romance novel… 😉

4/5 stars

Fiction · Series · Theresa F · Translated Work

My Brilliant Friend | by Elena Ferrante

My Brilliant Friend (The Neapolitan Novels, #1)

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante; translated by Ann Goldstein
(Europa Editions, 2012, 331 pages)

This is the first in the four part Neapolitan Novels series and covers the childhood and early adolescence of the two main characters Elena and Lila. I liked it quite a bit and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series but I’m not rushing out to get it which I feel says something about my attitude towards it. The relationship between the two girls is very authentic and that was the most interesting part to read. Even when they were apart they were affected by each other which should seem familiar to anyone who has experienced an intense childhood friendship.

A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship.

The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists, the unforgettable Elena and Lila.” –


Andrew S · Essays · In the Library · Non-Fiction · Translated Work

Notes on the Death of Culture | by Mario Vargas Llosa

Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society
by Mario Vargas Llosa; translated by John King
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015, 227 pages)

The word “culture” gets used in all kinds of ways in today’s culture (see what I did?). Precisely which “culture” is Nobel Prize winning novelist and essayist Mario Vargas Llosa lamenting the death of in this book of critical essays? He speaks not of culture in the broad sense, that is, “as a mere epiphenomenon of social and economic life,” but instead “as an autonomous reality, made up of ideas, aesthetic and ethical values, and works of art and literature that interact with the rest of social existence, and that are often not mere reflections, but rather the wellsprings, of social, economic, political and even religious phenomena” (14). Vargas Llosa is presiding over the funeral of the sort of culture that T. S. Eliot warned was slipping away in 1948 with the publication of his Notes Towards the Definition of Culture. Eliot, with his conception of “higher culture” is a conversation partner for Vargas Llosa throughout the book.

For Vargas Llosa, higher culture has been all but lost in the thicket of what he calls a “civilization of spectacle.” This civilization, defined as it is by celebrity obsession, reality TV, and professional sports, continually and publicly lays before us the crassest elements of our existence in the name of entertainment. This makes the importance of privacy a constant theme for Vargas Llosa. The privacy of our information, of our sex lives, and of our religious faith are essential to a society in which art and literature can flourish. As he sums it up, “with the disappearance of the realm of the private, many of the best achievements of humanity deteriorate and become degraded, beginning with everything that has safeguarded certain forms including eroticism, love, friendship, modesty, good manners, art and morality” (152).

The critiques of Notes on the Death of Culture are well formed and eloquently articulated. Vargas Llosa’s warnings regarding the consequences of the loss of private information in a digital age, occasioned by an essay lambasting Julian Assange, are particularly important. That said, there is a grumpiness and nostalgia that characterizes these essays. This leads me to suspect that Vargas Llosa’s negative views of contemporary culture, as accurate as they are about its more detestable elements, are at least to some degree a result of being out of touch with the better developments in the various societal and artistic arenas that he critiques. I very much enjoyed these reflections from an eloquent curmudgeon, even if I don’t entirely trust them.