Saturday, August 28, 2010

Book 21, Nicaragua: "Azul" by Rubén Darío

As you can see, I finally managed to get a copy of Azul from Amazon for US$0.99! From the online edition here, the contents seem to be based on the first edition.

Fyi, Darío's known as the great Nicaraguan poet who invented modernismo in the late 19th century, the first literary movement to begin in the Americas and later spread to Europe.

But a couple of surprises:

1. Although Darío's famous as a poet, Azul(his first collection) is actually mostly made up of short stories, descriptive passages. There's a chunk of poems at the end, though.

2. Modernismo isn't actually very modernist. It's excessively flowery and effusive in praise of love and the beauty of young women and nature and jewels, bordering on Aubrey Beardsley-esque decadence. No sex, though. The poems are still pretty structured, too.

3. Hardly any of these pieces take place in Nicaragua. They're set in places with princesses (Italy?) or underground in the gnome kingdom or in Paris or Valparaíso - in fact, all the descriptive passages are about Chile, where Azul was published. The only piece set in Nicaragua is a weird autobiographical-sounding thang called Palomas Blancas y Garrzas Morenas, which is about him falling in love with his cousin while growing up with her and his grandmother, gawking at her 15 year-old body, with hair as blonde as German, no seriously, by the light of the silvered moon, "la luz de una luna argentina, dulce, una bella luna de aquellas del país de Nicaragua."

I'm honestly not that keen on the book. Sure, it's interesting as a cultural artefact, and some of the pieces are pretty cool - there's El Rey Burgués, a sad fable of the bourgeois king who cages the starving poet in his zoo, and La canción de oro, a crazy intense paean about gold and its effects on man. Also the descriptions of the tiger in his poem Estival. But given the difficulty of reading (my book had bizarre spellings: Js instead of Gs and vice versa, &c), I don't think I got a great payoff.

Didn't learn much about Nicaragua, either. There was a casual reference to the swamp crocodiles he encounters after his wedding in Palomas blancas, but this ain't a very nationalistic book. Which is okay, innit?

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Representative quote: Ya tenía quince años y medio Inés. La cabellera, dorada y luminosa al sol, era un tesoro. Blanca y levemente amapolada, su cara era una creación murillesca, si veía de frente. A veces, contemplando su perfil, pensaba en una soberbia medalla siracusana, en un rostro de princesa. El traje, corto antes, había descendido. El seno, firme y esponjado, era un ensueño oculto y supremo; la voz clara y vibrante, las pupilas azules, inefables; la boca llena de fragancia de vida y de color de púrpura. ¡Sana y virginal primavera!

Next book: Paul Theroux's The Mosquito Coast, from Honduras.

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