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17 May 2009 @ 05:01 pm
review of bilingual book  
Here is my review of a print book in Spanish & English. I recklessly volunteered for the job because Partner said she would help me with the Spanish. Ha. She found it too experimental to get a firm grip on in either language. I'm not sure I can say yo intiendo with confidence, but here is my take.

The author sent me a thank-you message after reading this review here:
www.rainbow-reviews.com

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Unas pintadas de azul/Blue Fingernails by Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes (Bilingual Review Press, Hispanic Research Center, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, 2009).

Technically, this book is a single-author collection of short stories in parallel Spanish and English on facing pages. The effect of the whole work is that of a wild, colorful, hallucinogenic novel in the tradition of James Joyce (the Irish writer given credit for pioneering the stream-of-consciousness novel in the early twentieth century) and other experimental writers who describe life from outside the cultural mainstream.

In the opening story, or cuento, "my name, multitudinous mass," the author suggests that he has many identities drawn from various cultures and creative influences. The speaker claims:

"Sometimes, when I walk down the street, I become other people: William Burroughs, Truman Capote, Rene Marques. Like saying hustler, flaneur, drug addict, artist, writer, genius, pornographer, homosexual (I almost forgot!) and other things that it would take years to enumerate."

The narrator's persona, the "I" of the story, seems gender-fluid and dedicated to the goddess of the sea (which links all the nations of earth) in the African-based religion which itself takes different forms in different regions, called "ju-ju" in its place of origin, "santeria" in the author's native Puerto Rico and "voodoo" in New Orleans and Haiti.

In the title story, "blue fingernails," a film-maker named Jerry has his fingernails painted blue by his friend Silvina, who clearly doesn't trust him to do this himself after he has painted his black, and done it badly. Silvina takes great care to make his fingernails look beautiful as a gesture of friendship:

"Silvina's were pink and she wanted to paint his so that they would match: boy and girl, just like the new Pampers disposable diapers or any other random combination that would say: you and I. Like the green and yellow of the Brazilian flag. Or the black and white of an old TV set, left along the side of a road to Istanbul, that noble city that my grandmother, in her impeccably conservative way, insisted on calling Byzantium."

Jerry and Silvina enjoy the fresh green of the foliage in a park in a future New York City which is dominated by Middle Eastern culture. Both of them have an irresistible urge to feast on "all types of Arabic food." The names "Jerry" and "I" are used interchangeably, and Silvina suggests that her own identity is equally flexible. 

The narrator is fascinated by food, objects, and films as fun-house mirrors of the real world. In the story "rites of devotion to the cult," a woman called Demonio Maria de Cienfuegos (Demon Mary Hundredfires), also called Angel and Angela is chosen to star in "the musical pornographic film Rites of Devotion to the Cult, to be directed by Chi Chi Larue." She asks for payment for the sexual services she will perform on film.

References to chocolate run throughout the narrative, in which New York contains all the cultures of the world, and in which chocolate in various forms represents both pleasure and disgust. In the story "shit" (with the pretty name "la mierda" in Spanish), a man is humiliated by losing control of his bowels in public."Shame compounded his despair, the impossibility of not doing anything. . . His disgust provoked tears, but dear readers, don't feel pity beforehand. Disgust shall soon be yours too, disgust for the sake of art, and the pleasure of a tiny chocolate of the highest quality, Godiva no less -- just in case, just like in the fairy tales you've undoubtedly heard."

The desire of a gender-fluid "man" for male strangers, especially those who reveal thick cocks, also runs through the narrative, and it goes with the panorama of changing scenes and passing strangers who always seem strangely familiar. Readers who are looking for a conventional plot will be disappointed by this book, but readers who enjoy poetic imagery and language-play (including the double negatives that add emphasis in Spanish, and the musical sound of vulgar or insulting Spanish words) will be entertained. This book is not easy to read even in one language only, but its leaps of logic and loose network of characters are worth considering. Reading this book is like being high on a mind-altering substance, but without the negative after-effects.  

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