Kiss of the Spider Woman tells the story of two very different cell mates, Molina and Valentín. Molina is a city dwelling effeminate homosexual who dresses windows for a living while Valentín is a student and member of an anti-goverment revloutionary group. Molina is imprisoned on the charge of “corruption of a minor” and Valentín is a political prisoner. Throughout the course of the novel the two characters become close, forming a relationship that will in one sense destroy them, and in another save them.
Manuel Puig tells this story without a narrator, instead relying entirely on the dialog of the characters. Several devices enrich this storytelling, including the characters’ own stories. Molina has a great love of film and frequently relates one or another of his favorite movies to Valentín. Another device is the generous use of footnotes offereing psychoanalytic theory of homosexuality. Manuel successfully creates a very unique storytelling environment which lends itself well to the plot. The novel as a whole has a very deep parallel sturcture immediately evident in the contrast between the two main characters. Other contrasts presented include those between social norms vs. social fringes, complacency vs. non-complacency.
Although primarily an author, Manuel Puig had worked in television and radio and his writing style, particulary in Kiss of the Spider Woman, incorporates elements of these media. The novel, written while Puig was in exile, has since been made into a play, a musical and a film. In novel form, I found it entertaining and insightful, and found the social commentary useful.
Half of a Yellow Sun is set during the birthing pains of a nation. The year is 1960 and country had just received its independence from the United Kingdom. It is in this atmosphere, both electric and fresh, and filled with a hope distilled by nearly a century of British control, that the lives three very distinct characters come together. They are Ugwu, a houseboy from a rural background, Olanna, the daughter of a wealthy new-money family, and Richard, an English expatriate, writer, and lover of Nigerian art.
Their story is woven together skillfully by Chimamanda Adichie. Ugwu’s claim in life changes dramatically when he becomes employed the boyfriend of Olanna, Odenigbo, a revolutionary minded academic at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka. Soon after adjusting to his new station, Olanna moves in with her partner Odenigbo – Ugwu’s fragile world seems to be ever changing. Richard begins a relationship with Olanna’s sister Kainene around this time and shortly after moves to Nsukka to persue his writing. On Kainene’s request, Olanna invites him into her social circles and he befriends the couple, Ugwu left as the passive observer to the life of his master Odenigbo.
But it is not meant to last. Shadows loom from the colonial past and sieze the infant nation, dragging it into the Nigerian Civil War when the state of Biafra secedes. Ugwu and Olanna are caught in the struggle when Nsukka is one of the first towns to fall, while Robert as an expat is left witnessing atrocities of a war that treats him as invisible. The hopeful atmosphere now blows to fan the flames of a propaganda campeign which drags a short war out into a long one, carrying with it the lives of these three characters. Drama comes to a head during the eventual collapse of Biafra and Ugwu’s fragile existence.
In Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shows an uncommon talent as a story teller. Her characters are vivid, human, and very dynamic. Their scenery, both beautiful and horrifying. I was gripped by this book and would recommend it highly to anyone looking for an excellent story about the more human side of war.
Persepolis is a graphic novel telling the story of the childhood of its author, Marjane Satrapi. Iran was transformed by its revolution of 1979 from a constitutional monarchy to an Islamic republic, enforcing a new culture as well as a new state. Born in 1969, the first volume follows Marjane’s experiences during the Iranian Revolution and the following war with Iran of 1980 through 1988. She captures gracefully the unique perspective of a child struggling to understand the global events unfolding around her.
At the age of 14 after the bombing of an apartment building across the street from her home, she is sent from Iran to study in Vienna, Austria. The second volume picks up here, tracing her education during her time in Vienna. Much of this is spent dealing with the frustrations of finding balance between fitting in as a cultural outsider and retaining her own heritage and identity. Ultimately, she returns home to a country transformed to find out just how much she has changed herself. Persepolis is at times very funny and at times very sad, but remains genuine throughout.