Carlos Eire, the author, was one of some 14,000 unaccompanied children who were airlifted out of Cuba in 1962, three years after the Cuban Revolution. This is his story. I learned that he felt compelled to write this story in the Spring of 2000 while the world was witness to the fate of another Cuban boy, six-year-old Elian Gonzalez. I had assumed the story would flow like a river, from one destination to another, but instead, I am finding that it is told more like a series of waves that undulate, crest and crash on the shore. The subtitle of the book is “Confessions of a Cuban Boy” and indeed, the ocean plays a significant role in many of his confessions. I have read about 120 pages so far, roughly one-third of the book, and I am intrigued by the waves of memories that are sometimes poignant, sometimes hilarious and sometimes sad, but don’t seem to follow a pre-determined path.
In his acknowledgments, Eire says that he wrote the whole book in four months, writing every single night from 10 p.m to 2 or 3 a.m. while teaching, chairing a department, mowing the lawn, swimming with the kids, and doing other research and writing. I have heard other authors talk about the lengthy revision process of writing, revising, rewriting, reorganizing, revising and so on, but Eire claims he wrote without a plan and without revising. It sounds as if this was a story that fermented somewhere in his brain for nearly forty years before it could no longer be contained. Dennis found this very interesting webcast presented at the 2004 National Bookfest. It is quite long (35 minutes) but well worth watching if you would like to meet Carlos Eire.
When I left for Buenos Aires in February, our first book was to be The Tunnel (El Túnel) by Ernesto Sabato. I asked our Argentine friends to suggest an Argentine author that would not be too difficult so that I could read it in Spanish. My first week in B.A., I found the book, walked over to a café, started reading and to my delight, I became completely engrossed. Getting lost in a story while reading in a second language is a kind of ultimate virtual reality. I often say that I like the way my brain feels when I speak a second language–the way I have to think ahead and plan a strategy to express what I’m going to say if I don’t have the vocabulary. When reading in a second language there are all of these marvelous discoveries of idiomatic and syntactic usage that pull me into this other world. The level of difficulty with this novel was perfect because I rarely had to look up more than one or two words per page, but I was able to puzzle out the meaning of expressions that had recognizable roots but were phrased in ways I had never seen before. I hope my students feel this same delight when they are reading in English. Since many of the teachers contributing to this blog are non-native English speakers (but whose English is a whole lot more fluent than my Spanish!) I hope you will share some of the interesting cultural and linguistic gems you notice along the way.
Now, a word about El Túnel. In the very first sentence the narrator, Juan Pablo Castel, tells us that he is a painter and that he killed a woman named Maria Iribarne. In retelling his account of how this murder occurred, Sabato immediately draws in the reader. The first time Juan Pablo saw Maria was at one of his exhibits where she stopped and stared at a corner of the painting, at the essential core of the painting, at the part that revealed the whole story, at the part that everyone else had missed. Observing her observing his painting, Juan Pablo was obsessed to track down this woman.
Strangely enough, my first weekend in Buenos Aires, I went to the district called La Boca where there are brightly coloured houses and many art galleries. I noticed that the paintings that appealed to me the most in all of the galleries were by the same artist, so I searched out his own personal gallery and met the artist himself. I had a delightful chat with him and found that he was absolutely passionate about what he did–painting canvases from morning to night, always searching to express himself in his artwork. I thought how I would love to study art under him, to see how he takes a virgin canvas and turns it into these masterpieces…and then Sabato’s characters started playing games in my head and I felt like Maria talking to Juan Pablo, and just wanted to get away before I had a chance to become another artist’s victim! The power of literature!
As the story progressed and Juan Pablo became more and more obsessed by Maria–wanting to know where she was and what she was doing every moment of the day, I kept asking myself, Is this because he’s crazy or Latino? Does machismo breed this kind of insecurity, or did he have such tunnel vision that he could no longer think clearly? Is Sabato warning us of the danger of viewing life as a tunnel?
Next week the EVO’s will wind down and my adrenaline will wind up as I’m off on an adventure to the southern hemisphere. Although I have visited some 60 countries in my life, this will be the first time for me to cross the equator–I’ll have to see for myself if water really goes down the drain differently!
I had the best of intentions for this blog, but the reality is, I just have my fingers in too many different pies, so rather than abandon the blog, I would like to launch a collaborative virtual book club. With such an international group of contributors among the Blog4Ed moderators, I suggested that we read books from different parts of the world–with the opportunity to learn about each culture first hand from our local members. Since I’m off to Argentina, I asked the Argentinian divas to recommend an author and a book. Suggestions came in for Jorge Luis Borges, Ernesto Sábato and Julio Cortázar. I’m hoping to read the selection in my very rough Spanish, so I asked for something easy. The winner seems to be El Túnel by Ernesto Sábato…I will do a bit of research and post what I learn–then next week I hope to buy the book somewhere on the streets of Buenos Aires!
Here is a link for a wonderful video on Collaboration sent in by Vicky in the Blogging4Educators group:
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As I watched the video, I was thinking that “a gaggle of educators” sounds disorganized and chaotic with all the honking and position-changing, but they may actually be in the process of propelling each other forward to distances none of them could have achieved alone.