Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for April, 2009

On a Hoof and a Prayer: Exploring Argentina at a Gallop

Posted by nliakos on April 13, 2009

by Polly Evans. Bantam UK 2007, Delta Trade Paperbacks 2008

I like travel literature (Bill Bryson being my favorite travel writer), and I enjoyed this book, which I picked up at a discount when my local Borders closed (sob), a victim of the recession.  Polly Evans, a British writer, arranged to combine a tour of Argentina with some riding lessons on huge estancias.  She did not exactly explore Argentina at a gallop; she mostly took buses and airplanes to get around while arranging some riding activities from time to time.  Still, she’s a good writer and has a wicked sense of humor.

Her descriptive passages can be wonderfully impressive, like this one:

“What really struck me about his glacier…was its incredible, indisputable beauty.  It was more radiant by far than any glacier I’d seen in the past…. The white ice glistened.  It towered into amazingly sculpted pinnacles, and then carved itself into astonishingly glowing blue crevasses.  The depth of color was dazzling.  (explanation of why glacier ice appears to be blue)  I’d seen photographs of blue icebergs before,…but I’d always thought that extraordinary hue was due to some kind of photographer’s trick.  Now I realized that the opposite was true.  The photographs I’d seen hadn’t enhanced the color: This ice exuded a blueness that no image I had ever seen had been able to capture.  The ice quite literally shone.  From its crevasses, a thousand electric-blue light bulbs seemed to beam.  It was as though the ice itself was possessed of a tremendous energy.  In the deeper chasms, the ice appeared the color of a lurid snow cone that lightened to shimmering turquoise as each face climbed to a peak.  In places, the elements had carved these freezing mountains into seductive curves, then whipped their summits into sharply tapering spires.  Other sections fell away in sheer smooth drops, like a lustrous sorbet sliced by a knife.  And then, as the glacier rose on and up into the distance, and the peaks and gullies grew ever farther from the eye, the surface of this great expanse of ice took on the appearance of millions of sugary rosettes, the finely piped icing of a cake baked for an army of Patagonian giants.”  (Chapter 19, “On Ice”–a description of the Perito Moreno Glacier)

In addition, there are a lot of interesting historical tidbits–how so many British ended up in Argentina, the economic crisis of the 1970s, Juan and Evita Peron, Felix Aldao (“a very sanguinary monk”), Juan Manuel Rosas (whose 19th-century reign was also “sanguinary”) and Charles Darwin, the Manzaneros (“apple people”) and the savage Yamana of Tierra del Fuego, who apparently tolerated the cold of their frosty homeland without the aid of clothing but were wiped out by European diseases.  I never knew any of this (except Darwin, of course) and was fascinated.

Link to this book on

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Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

Posted by nliakos on April 6, 2009

by Barack Obama, Three Rivers Press 1995, 2004

Barack Obama wrote this book after finishing law school.  It tells the story of his life up to that point, divided into three sections: “Origins” (how his parents met and married and how they separated when he was a baby; his mother’s remarriage and his years in Indonesia; going to high school while living with his maternal grandparents in Hawaii; college; New York); “Chicago” (where he worked as a community organizer), and finally “Kenya” (where he goes to meet his relatives).  I was struck by the honesty with which he recounts his early years.  He was always smart, but not always well-behaved.  In some ways it’s amazing to think, “This man grew up to be President of the United States!”

Speaking for myself, I was most interested in his tales of Indonesia and Kenya, because I doubt that many (if any) other U.S. Presidents have had the opportunities he had to live in other countries, not as a tourist but as someone who belongs there.  (In Indonesia, he learned the language and went to school.  In Kenya, he lived with his relatives, who accepted him wholeheartedly into the family.)  This is a man who has truly had a multi-cultural life.  I was also fascinated by how he learned how to live as a black man in America, despite being raised in a white family.  I don’t think he saw himself as having any choice in the matter.

The book is well-written, although most of the dialog must have been reconstructed from imperfect memories.  Having read it, I would still like to read The Audacity of Hope.

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