Showing posts from January, 2018

City of Marvels

The City of Marvels has the form of historical fiction and the light touch of magical realism. The fact that it was recommended to me by a Spanish professor made me read it with an ear for higher meaning – this is so well disguised in the novel that it may not actually exist at all. And yet I think it’s there in spades. The story – a picaresque tale – begins in Barcelona in 1888, and it is the two Barcelona world trade fairs of 1888 and 1929 that situate the story most concretely in time. Early in the narrative, there are, indeed, explanations of Catalan history that might come out of Robert Hughes’ Barcelona -- readable pleas for the uniqueness of the culture and for Barcelona’s status from pre-Roman times. This sets up the background narrator, a shy historian, perhaps. At the foreground is a young, mysterious stranger whose deeds we soon see are unscrupulous, as Onofre Bouvila sets about moving from poverty to power and riches. In the City of Bombs, he begins his journey as an anarc…


In a very fine New Yorker review of John William’s Stoner, Tim Kreider laments that despite the novel becoming an unexpected bestseller in Europe, it remains ‘chronically underappreciated in America’. Kreider senses the presence of not just a great writer, but a wise one – ‘And wisdom is, of course, perennially out of style’ (October 20, 2003). Stoner sold fewer than 2000 copies in 1965 but its modest presence refuses to go away. My “Vintage” copy was given to me by a graduating student – a very fitting gift once you know the story. As a teacher of literature, I take encouragement; this is a novel about a man who teaches novels and plays and poetry diligently, honestly, and as passionately as he can. Not all English teachers are Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society – yet literature can speak through even a dry manner, if we only let the ‘words’ do the talking. William Stoner comes from an unlikely background, as a son of the earth, enrolled initially in Agriculture, until he experienc…