Monday, March 31, 2014

Shark Dialogues

Shark Dialogues
by Kiana Davenport

A giant, image-fevered, luxuriantly wordy saga of a Hawaiian family, focused on the powerful person of a ``life-giver, life-taker'' who encapsulates in her 80-year history the harsh realities and saving myths of Hawaii's native peoples. Throughout, there burns a carefully trimmed flamelet of rage at what Davenport (Wild Spenders, 1984, written as Diana Davenport) sees as the progressive pollution of the islands and the decimation of the people by the greedy commercial interests of, mainly, the US.

In 1834, a one-eyed cannibal (he ate his captain in a lifeboat) from New York married a Tahitian princess, who gave him a dowry of black pearls. Eventually, after years in which the foreign land-grabbers move in and a queen is deposed, the pearls come to beleaguered Pono, the dream-teller, a gold-skinned beauty. And at 16, Pono awakens from a shark-dream to watch Duke, ``huge, dark,'' a pure Polynesian, riding the surf ``like a god.'' She and Duke have four daughters, although Duke, a leper, must remain in the colony. After years of grinding work and humiliation, years in which daughters were expendable, Pono, at her coffee plantation, summons her granddaughters, who are still fearful of this awesome woman and her cane of human veterbrae (once attached to a foe).

The granddaughters arrive: a veterinarian from Manhattan; a lawyer from Australia; the slave/wife of a Japanese Mafia bigwig; one dying of lupus. Also at Pono's home are her ancient, chattering, beloved friend Run Run and her grandson. A mix of races, the women wait for family knowledge. In spite of a death, a run-in with terrorists, and the love-death of Duke and Pono, the scattered family remains whole, with the vision of Pono ``sizzling through the paralysis of mediocre lives.'' As in many such myth-drenched tales of precariously surviving peoples, the characters tend to be inflated into a windy symbolism. Pono, howver, is memorable, the scenery intoxicating, the indictments sobering, and although the dialogue blooms into the pretentious (``Sometimes, child, we die in metaphor''), Davenport has the goods--mainly a powerful narrative surge--to get away with it. With a welcome Hawaiian glossary.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Dance Dance Dance

Dance Dance Dance 
by Haruki Murakami

 The novel follows the surreal misadventures of an unnamed protagonist who makes a living as a commercial writer. The protagonist is compelled to return to the Dolphin Hotel, a seedy establishment where he once stayed with a woman he loved, despite the fact he never even knew her real name. She has since disappeared without a trace, the Dolphin Hotel has been purchased by a large corporation and converted into a slick, fashionable, western-style hotel. The protagonist experiences dreams in which this woman and the Sheep Man — a strange individual dressed in an old sheep skin who speaks in unpunctuated tattoo — appear to him and lead him to uncover two mysteries. The first is metaphysical in nature, viz. how to survive the unsurvivable. The second is the murder of a call-girl in which an old school friend of the protagonist, now a famous film actor, is involved circumstantially. Along the way, the protagonist meets a clairvoyant and troubled 13-year-old girl, her equally troubled parents, a one-armed poet, and a sympathetic receptionist who shares some of his disturbingly real visions.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Life in the Aztec World

Handbook to Life in the Aztec World 
by Manuel Aguilar-Moreno

Since its violent dissolution in 1521, the Aztec Empire of Mexico has continually intrigued us. Recent discoveries resulting from the excavation of the Templo Mayor in the heart of Mexico City have taught us even more about this fascinating culture. The increasing recognition that the achievements of Mesoamerican civilizations were among the most sophisticated of the ancient world has led to a demand for introductions to the basic methods and theories of scholars working throughout the region.

Handbook to Life in the Aztec World gathers the results from recent archaeological discoveries and scholarly research into a single accessible volume. Organized thematically, the handbook covers all aspects of life in the Aztec world: Mesoamerican civilizations and Aztec archeology; evolution of Aztec civilization; geography of the Aztec world; society and government; religion, cosmology, and mythology; funerary beliefs and customs; Aztec art; Aztec architecture; Nahuatl literature; the calendar, astronomy, and mathematics; economy, industry, and trade; daily life; the Aztec after conquest and today. Each chapter includes an extensive bibliography, and more than 165 original line drawings, photographs, and maps complement the text. Handbook to Life in the Aztec World provides all the essential information required by anyone interested in Aztec history or culture.

Letters of Hernan Cortes to Emperor Charles V (#1)

Letters of Hernan Cortes to Emperor Charles V (Volume 1)
Edited by John Greenway

These five letters by the Spanish Conqueror Hernando Cortes were written to the Emperor Charles V of Spain between the years 1519 and 1526. They describe the earliest discoveries of the mainland, the perilous trek into hostile country, the capture of the Aztec capital, the extension of Cortes power throughout Mexico, the expedition to Honduras, and the organization and ordering of the Spanish empire in the new world.