Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book 20, Costa Rica: "The Children of Mariplata" by Miguel Benavides

Well well well, another dark horse. On the insistence of my sister, I went for the youth literature by an actual Costa Rican dude: 55 pages of Aesop-esque fables involving princesses, talking tortoises, disobedient youths and talking sturgeons.

And it's good - "deceptively simple", as the back cover states. A whole bunch of the stories are political agitprop: the eponymous story is about decolonisation and dictatorship, via the allegory of a cultural shift among the fish of the Caribbean. A small fish protests to a big fish that he shouldn't eat him 'cos he's his nephew; the idea sticks, and the big fish nearly starves by abstaining from eating small fish, until he learns to fish for humans using sunken treasure, and everyone starts doing it, but the whole practice of storing human flesh in warehouses during the winter causes the manager to become a tyrant, and then all the fish have to lead a bloody socialist revolution against him...

Yeah, it's odd. But fascinating! The stories are short and simple, so there's no time to weary of the preaching. Even the non-political ones are cool: A Story for Esteban is all about a tortoise who breaks his legs and gets bicycle wheels instead, just 'cos the other animals prayed for him! But he abuses his newfound speed and loses respect for others, and pays the price...

The moral's sometimes a little difficult to discern, though: The Twilight Which Has Lost Its Colour is about these starving little boys who steal bread and go gleaning coffee beans, but they get caught and one of them dies and the mother goes mad, and the narrator ends off by saying:

"Now Ismael is twelve and I am thirteen. We left our wretched village and came to live in the town. If anybody wants to help us, they will find us in Culture Square, working as prostitutes."

View Around the World in 80 Books in a larger map

Despite all the talk of armed revolution against the kleptocratic elites, it's a little confusing to read online that things are pretty okay in Costa Rica now. Decent human rights, democracy, economy picking up because of eco-tourism (and maybe the hot gay sex scenes being filmed there, who knows?). But then these stories were originally published in newspapers in the late eighties; things were probably rather more fucked then.

Representative quote: Also many fishes in their grief saw how their friend the sturgeon was mortally wounded by a huge swordfish, and they relate his last words:
"One life worth more than individual freedom, but collective freedom is proportionally worth more than one life. Long live freedom!"

Next book: Rubén Darío's Azul, from Nicaragua.

No comments: