Thursday, November 4, 2010

Book 31, Aruba: "An Island Away" by Daniel Putkowski

Yep, we're doing a detour from the Greater Antilles to the former Netherlands Antilles! And I say former, because regardless of what FIFA codes and World Wide Web drop-down forms indicate, the Netherlands Antilles no longer exist: on 10 October they were dissolved into the countries of Curacao and St Maarten, as well as the municipalities of Bonaire, Saba and St Eustatius.

So I've decided to cover a few of these countries on my tour. Aruba kind of qualifies because it was once part of the Netherlands Antilles (gosh, it's irritating typing that out over and over again) but gained autonomy back in 1986.

And honestly, I'm rather glad I made this detour. Although it's written by an American author whose politics I find both ludicrous and dangerous (look at the Universal Healthcare horror novel he published last year), it's a thoroughly good read.

Though it's got loads of scenes from the viewpoints of guys drinking themselves silly in bars, and the expected snapshots of tourists and luxury hotels and gorgeous beaches, the heart of the tale is the rake's progress of Luz, a Colombian prostitute trying to get by a sanely and classily as she can in the red-light district of Rembrandtstraat. Hawser Press claims that the book reveals how prostitution cannot be called a victimless crime, but of course it's more complex than that - the women in the story are abused by some, but use their intelligence to survive and even prosper, coming out with far more dignity and power than their pious sisters and mothers sitting at home in Bogotá, praying to be rescued by their wayward menfolk.

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Great characters too: the young shipwrecked American tugboat captain Beck, the hard-partying fifty-something Sam, the rotten-toothed but polyglot beggar Frankie, the evil procuress Marcela and the backstabbing whore Inez. But be forewarned: the book's thick. Didn't quite register for me at first 'cos I bought the Kindle version.

Representative quote: "You know what some of the Americans say?" Inez asked as if Luz had a dozen American friends. "They say the only thing better than Colombian cocaine is Colombian pussy. That's what they think of us. Coca y cuca."

Next book: Valerie O. Patterson's The Other Side of Blue, from Curaçao.

P.S. And yes, I changed the template of the blog. Realised the old pattern wasn't very easy on the eyes. Like this one much better - I'm riding on the waves from nation to nation, looking through the window literature. Something liddat.

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