Archives de catégorie : literature

what I have read : Isabel Allende : Ines of my soul

Atacama desert, Chile, 2018, Sylvie GE

Isabel Allende, Ines of my soul, Fourth Estate, 2006, 313 p. I found this book at the Nelson second hand book fair last year. This is the first book by Isabel Allende that I read. I wasn’t expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised by her skill in telling this particular story. It remains to be seen if her other books are just as well written. I felt a real affection from Allende for Inès de Suarez, a seamstress born in Plasencia, Extramedura, Spain in 1507, who embarked for the New World at the age of thirty to join her husband, whom she never found. She instead became a conquistadora who was able to earn the respect of those she met. In 1538, she moved to Cuzco where, as a soldier’s widow, she received a piece of land and « Indians », as the natives of South America were called in those days. Shortly after, she met Pedro de Valdivia, the conquistador of Chile. She becomes his mistress and accompanies him in his long campaign of conquest.

Reading this book, I remembered the beautiful times I spent in South America. In fact, I would have liked to have read this book before travelling there, because Isabel Allende explains quite well the dynamic existing at the time, between the local populations and the Spaniards, the motivations of the conquistadores, their behavior towards « Indians « . One can feel the great respect she feels for the values ​​of the peoples of the territories where she lived, their absolute desire for freedom, their contempt for pain and death, their total incomprehension of the concept of land or human property, their understanding of nature, and many other things. She tells in details the story of Lautaro, of the Mapuche people who, according to what we know of him, would have been captured by the Spaniards when he was very young to take care of the stables and the horses of Valdivia. . After escaping, he led the charge with the Araucanians against the Spaniards. He later captured Valdivia, which he executed a month later. As for Inès Suarez, she was the mistress of Valdivia until the day he had to undergo a trial in Lima, at the end of which he agreed to drop Suarès (and find her a husband) in exchange for his own freedom. In 1549, Suarès married the captain of Valdivia, Rodrigo de Quiroga, with whom she then spent happy days devoting herself to charitable works until her death. We feel Isabel Allende’s affection for all the characters appearing in the 313 pages of her fictionalized story, but based on true documents, which she knows very well. I liked this book enough to make me want to go to the library to see if I could find another Allende book there.

ce que j’ai lu : Isabel Allende : Ines de mon ame

desert d’Atacama, 2018, Chili, Sylvie GE

Isabel Allende. Inès de mon âme, Fourth Estate, London and New York, 313 pages.

J’ai trouvé ce livre à la foire du livre d’occasion de Nelson l’année dernière. Il s’agit du premier livre d’Isabel Allende que je lis. Je ne m’attendais pas à grand-chose, mais j’ai été agréablement surprise par son talent à raconter cette histoire particulière. Il faudrait voir si ses autres livres sont tout aussi bien écrits. J’ai ressenti l’affection  réelle d’Allende pour Inès de Suarez, un couturière née à Plasencia, Extramedura, en Espagne en 1507, qui s’est embarquée pour le Nouveau Monde à l’âge de trente ans afin d’y rejoindre son mari, qu’elle n’a jamais retrouvé. Elle y est en revanche devenue une conquistadora qui a su  s’attirer le respect de ceux qu’elle a côtoyés. En 1538, elle s’installe à Cuzco où , à titre de veuve de soldat, elle reçoit un lopin  de terre et des « Indiens », ainsi qu’on les appelait, a l’epoque . Peu de temps après, elle rencontre Pedro de Valdivia, le conquistador du Chili. Elle devient sa maitresse et l’accompagne dans sa longue campagne de conquête.

En lisant ce livre, je me suis rappelé les beaux moments que j’ai passé en Amérique du Sud (j’imaginais qu’Inés Suarez avait vu le paysage magnifique de la photo dans le désert d’Atacama). En fait, j’aurais aimé avoir lu ce livre avant d’y aller, car Isabel Allende y explique assez bien la dynamique existant à l’époque entre les populations locales et les Espagnols, les motivations des conquistadores, leur comportement à l’égard des « Indiens ». On sent le grand respect qu’elle éprouve pour les valeurs des différents peuples des territoires où elle a vécu, leur désir absolu de liberté, leur mépris de la douleur et de la mort, l’incompréhension totale du concept de propriété terrestre ou humaine, leur compréhension de la nature, et bien d’autres choses encore.

Elle y raconte en detail l’histoire de Lautaro, un Mapuche qui, selon ce que l’on sait de lui, aurait été capturé par les Espagnols alors qu’il était très jeune pour s’occuper des étables et des chevaux de Valdivia. Après s’être échappé, il a mené la charge avec les Araucanians contre les Espagnols. Il a plus tard capturé Valdivia qu’il a exécuté, un mois plus tard.

Quant à Inès Suarez, elle a été la maîtresse de Valdivia jusqu’au jour où il dut subir un procès à Lima, au terme duquel il a accepté de laisser tomber Suarès (et de lui trouver un mari) en échange de sa propre liberté. En 1549, Suarès a épousé le capitaine de Valdivia, Rodrigo de Quiroga, avec qui elle a ensuite coulé des jours heureux  en se consacrant à des œuvres caritatives jusqu’à sa mort.

On sent l’affection d’Isabel Allende pour tous les personnages apparaissant dans les 313 pages de son histoire romancée, mais fondée sur des documents véridiques, qu’elle connaît très bien. Ce livre m’a plu suffisamment pour me donner envie d’aller à la bibliothèque pour voir si je n’y trouverais pas un autre bouquin d’Allende.

What I’ve read : Karl Ove Knausgaard : A death in the family

Nelson, winter 2021, Sylvie GE

A new author, about whom some claim that he is the discovery of the 21st  century: Karl Ove  Knausgaard, from Norway, best known for « My Struggle » (a title inspired by « Mein Kampf », that  seems  unrelated to the German publication (but so far I have only read two of the six volumes under this title)  ). I do not know what aroused my curiosity for this author, who recounted in six volumes his daily  and inner life from all angles, but there we are.  He had previously published other  titles very well received by the critics, crowned with  various awards, but it was « My Struggle » that made him known worldwide. In principle,   what I thought was a kind of autofiction with narcissistic flavors would not appeal to me. And yet. I first read « Spring », which is I believe its penultimate title, when I did not know where to start  (it  seemed more logical to me, but I had  to start with « A death in the family », which recounts, unsurprisingly, the death of his father, but also his adolescence in a very detailed way)  .  In this book, he recounts  insignificant details or important moments, which makes some passages boring  (I don’t always have the patience to read them all). The publisher presents it  as « an emotional journey of absolute fidelity », a very accurate description, in my opinion, of the author’s adolescence with an exceptional memory. He remembers   colors, flavors, moments, noises with an accuracy that leaves me speechless and that I would probably not be able to reproduce. Beyond this literary detail,  and even if some moments are long, I am not sure I can put my finger on the precise reason for  what  touches me so deeply. Perhaps it is his total fidelity to his memories, without any complacency  and hi   honesty. I find  in him no desire to present himself in a favorable light, to autofiction in order to glorify himself or complain, as is often the case in this kind of work. I’ve read a few reviews where it’s mentioned that you hate it or love it, I can imagine both reactions quite easily. As for the author himself, he confessed  that he began to write what would become a monumental work, when he had difficulty writing, that he first did it to grasp the present moment, what was happening in his head, and that he   had no intention of publishing what he wrote, which I find easy to  believe  given what he projects in the eyes of the readers,   a quite ordinary human being  struggling with   a world  he does not always understand. Elsewhere, he confesses that he is  a shameful individual, from whom he tried to free himself by recounting what he considered shameful. It is, I think,  another sign that literature, as well as poetry (which I explore in a very humble way here) is always in movement, always changing, this is such a mysterious and fascinating process at the same time. His family and friends  also appear  in his books and they  do not necessarily appreciate what he has to say about them. It  has led of course  to the questioning  of  his version of the facts  and confirms that any event is experienced in a unique way. He must also live with what he has honestly admitted,  and the possibility that his children will one day read his books (not particularly pleasing). So,  maybe to read or not, it really depends on what you are looking for in a book. As for me, I intend to continue reading  and discover more about him. Will I be able to go to volume 6 or not? To be continued.

What I have read : Virginie Despentes

 Vernon Subutex
I have not read a lot in the last few months as  I’m finishing The Grey Country, my novel about language and identity and I do not have a lot of  time, but I wanted to go back to a book (actually two) from Virginie Despentes  I read last autumn.


Virginie Despentes made her debut as a writer with Fuck me , a book I did not read,  but saw its film version in Christchurch at the Film Festival many years ago (but I left before the end). This book tells the story of a girl raped by three men and her revenge (mostly). Virginie Despentes herself was a victim of rape in her youth (but instead of feeling victim, she  rather felt anger). She has been a prostitute for a while, was  a porn film reviewer, and identifies as a lesbian and a feminist.


Vernon Subutex (spoilers alert !!) was released in 2015 as a  part of a trilogy. I read the first volume in English (a good translation) and the second in French. This is the story of a record store owner who  becomes homeless (volume 1) then guru (more or less, in volume 2), as well as the story of  people around him. I wanted to read the first volume, because it was  talked a lot when it came out and polarised opinions.


In French,  reviewers  who liked the book focused on  her  style (which is sometimes compared to that of Balzac) and the authenticity of the voices. I quite agree with these critics. I rather liked reading the first volume. The pace is sharp and the characters compelling (except the final delirium of Vernon Subutex). I enjoyed it  enough to continue reading the second volume, where the density is lost, the characters are less convincing,  and the story drags. The episode of the girl who « tattoos » the man  she believes to be responsible for the death of her mother is a little too much like the scene from The Girl with a golden tatoo to convince me.

Those who did not like the book  found the thread of the story a little thin (I quite agree with them, but that was not the goal of Despentes, I think) and did not like the characters animated by hatred and power struggles (and I quite agree with them too), which is true but probably corresponds to a certain humanity, probably far from ideal but perhaps a more realistic one. English language reviewers seemed to  like it more, perhaps because, for once, they are presented with something other than the Parisian intelligentsia and a France, which perhaps corresponds more to the one they know. And perhaps for the same reason,   some Parisian intelligentsia did not like Despentes’s book. Or it depicts human beings who are rather ordinary, from the point of view of their character, who may look a little too much like we are : not always noble, sometimes mean, etc. This is probably not the book to read for those who need to regain confidence in humanity. The Irish Times particularly liked Vernon Subutex 1 and even goes so far as to say that Despentes leaves Houellebecq far behind, quite a compliment, given his international prestige. As for me, the second volume disappointed me enough not to make me want to read the third right now, but I may  come back to it one day or the other.